Updated for 2016: I thought I’d write a bit of a fun guide to what it’s like to spend time at the Peterborough beer festival, either for those of you who are coming for the first time, or for those of you who may give an experienced nod to some of the points I make, or maybe even write to me in a fit of anger at my schoolboy errors!
New for 2016 – Craft Keg bar!
Well the local CAMRA have finally joined the revolution (a little anyway), and have introduced a “Key-Keg” bar, which will serve craft keg beers under the supervision of local Bexar County brewer and co-owner of the new Stoneworks Bar, Steve Saldana. The list of beers available is around 45 very exciting brews (exciting to a craft fan such as myself!). They really do show off a range of beer styles and top breweries around the UK. It’s certainly not only USA style big IPAs (but they do feature of course).
So how do I survive the Beer Festival?
The first thing I often do the day or two before the festival, is read through the beer list, and make up a plan. Sounds a bit boring eh? Well the plan usually goes out the window pretty quickly, but I’m usually going to be there three days, afternoons and evenings. So to make things interesting, I try to theme at least one of the sessions, then leave the last day to just drinking some old favourites. If you want to use my free mobile app – it now has a wishlist function, so you can pre-select beers you want to try, and have a list ready on your phone. Simple eh? It’s just a website, so visit the link, bookmark it, and take your phone along and you’ve got your guide to all the beers, ciders, and wines in your pocket!
I’ll be judging again this year after a year’s break, so feel for me having to get to the festival 11am to try and taste my way through some 20 or so beers! Of course I’ll be joining rest of you afterwards!
Some drinking themes for you to try…
1) Drink a region
Stick to beers within certain counties of the country. You do need to plan ahead for this one, and list the breweries you can drink from. UPDATE: There’s a brand new LocAle bar at the festival in 2015, so you can easily drink local!
2) Drink a style
If you’re going to several sessions, why not have a ‘mild’ or Stout session? If you have my mobile app (click to view), it even lists all the cask beers by style, to help you out!
3) Drink the alphabet
This one should only be attempted if you’re a) Doing many days at the festival, and b) Drinking halves. You’ll see that the breweries are ordered in alphabetical order – well your challenge is to have a beer from each and every letter. Also you must have one from each of the special brewery bars for bonus challenge.
4) Nothing over 4% / Nothing under 5.5%
For those who think they can take their beers this one. If you’re going afternoon and evening, make the afternoon session your ‘session ale’ time, drinking nothing over 4% … and then (after eating), take on the challenge of 5%+ beers. Just be careful, I’m not condoning any silly behaviour!
5) A Craft session
Now there’s craft beer available in Key-Keg, why not try and have a session just on that? It’s colder / on the whole stronger abv % than cask, so beware! Craft ales often are not fined or filtered, so expect some haze. The brewers often don’t want to strip any flavour out, so leave the beer with some yeast in suspension, holding onto the hop oil flavours.
More Random Thoughts…
If you haven’t been before, I’ll list some tips which are gold for anyone hoping to make the most of their time. One thing I better tell you now though is; If it’s been raining, wear solid shoes, and possibly footwear you don’t mind destroying. Well it’s not normally that bad, but one year the mud liquefied and I ended up throwing away the trainers I had been wearing. Even if the weather is good, men, DO NOT WEAR FLIP FLOPS. Flip flops and the toilets do not mix well.
When you first turn up at the town embankment, you’ll see you cannot miss the huge venue, as the three large marquees dominate the large field they are in.
Head to the main gate (it’s got a big sign above it, you can’t miss it), and pay your entrance fee (if you are a CAMRA member, show your card to get money off or in free). You should get a token, head inside and swap that for a glass (you can have a pint glass, or a 1/2 pint, with or without handle normally). You can keep the glass.. or swap it back for cash on the way out. Grab one of the paper booklets – or use my mobile web app.
Then either pre-select a beer or brewery, or just go in gung-ho and pick something at random. The beer is all served straight out of the casks by volunteers – be polite with em! They normally are good folk who aren’t over snobby, but DO NOT ASK FOR A SHANDY! There is one or two ‘lager style’ beers in the casks, but if you really don’t like ale, find the bottled beer section, and see if they have any foreign pilsners you like the look of.
BE CAREFUL OF THE CIDER & PERRY. It’s proper stuff. It’s not all super strong, but some of it is. I know a lot of ladies who have been caught out. Try halves first – you may love it, you may hate it. If you hate it – my tip is; POUR IT AWAY. Don’t force a drink down, it may put you off the entire session.
If you like live music, get yourself into the music tent, which is the huge marquee between the two beer tents. Oh yes, that’s a thought, because I know someone went the other year and didn’t even realise this: There are TWO BEER TENTS. Yep, someone thought there was only one, and didn’t spot the 2nd through the music tent!
DO NOT DRIVE – unless you’re on the pop. There are LOADS of taxis, which now collect in the car park area opposite the festival entrance. They know the festival is on and are constantly taking people home.
Don’t take £50 notes, and don’t expect to pay by card! The bars aren’t some big pub chain, nor do they have fancy tills. Take cash, and if you’ve got it, take fivers, tenners, pound coins to help out. I’m such a old seasoned festival pro, that I’ve been saving £5 notes for the last few months.. and I’ve got more than enough money in fivers for the entire festival now. Yeah OK I’m a bit sad, hehe.
If you like to try new beers – there’s a brand new craft beer brewer in Peterborough; Bexar County, who is run by our very own Texan Steve. He’s brewing some American style brews – which can never be called boring! Find em on the app here.
Children and Dogs Welcome
I have neither, and I don’t think my cat would appreciate it, but I do know that kids and dogs are very welcome at the festival, especially at the afternoon sessions. There even is stuff for youngsters to enjoy – a mini fairground at the back. The bumper cars are a good laugh for us adults too. Make sure dogs are on a lead though, as there are other dogs, and it’s a big space, and you don’t want your evening ruined chasing your dog! Children shouldn’t be near the bars though – there’s plenty outside (including doughnuts and the fair) to keep em amused for a while.
Be Nice to the Volunteers!
The people serving you, the people rushing around making sure beers are ready looked after, and people helping behind the scenes are all (mostly local) VOLUNTEERS. They don’t get paid, just a bit of free beer for their time. Most of them aren’t professional bar staff either – so don’t expect them to remember orders of ten different beers. Treat them like friends getting you a drink at a BBQ, and you’ll be fine. Everyone just wants to have a nice time, and that includes those standing on their feet all day serving you.
Krispy’s Tips and Suggestions
Tip 0: It’s not all beer…. not quite
If you’re going with someone who isn’t a fan of beer (hmm), there’s also ciders & perry, but they aren’t big brand filtered versions, these are strong with real fruit! There’s also wines; both the best of British modern vineyards plus traditional fruit wines. There’s soft drinks too – and lots of food stalls.
Tip 1: If going in a group, ARRANGE A MEETING POINT!
Make this the first thing you do after getting your glass. The festival is spread over the large outside area, and three big marquees. They get BUSY, and the hum of conversation gets very loud, so you can easily lose friends / family members. Pick something obvious in one of the tents (or outside near a food stall?) and make that the place you will gravitate too after splitting up.
Tip 2: Get your bearings
If it’s not too busy, walk around all three tents with your first pint/half of ale. Take in the location of the brewers you want to try, have a nose at the stalls. You’ve got hours, and you don’t want to miss anything.
Tip 3: Pace yourself
This is a marathon, not a sprint. I’d suggest you don’t rush to the 6% loopy juice straight away – why not enjoy some full flavoured hoppy pale ale, or a ‘mild’ (which are dark and strong in flavour but usually 4.5% or less).
Tip 4: If you’ve got a fold up picnic/fishing chair, why not bring it?
Especially useful if the sun is out and you’re coming to an evening session. Probably one for those of us who are getting on a bit, and value comfort over looking cool. Or replace with a blanket/something to put down to claim your bit of grass so you can lay out and chill with a fine beer. I’ve finally bought a folding chair myself – I’m getting old and I need to rest my poor feet!
Tip 5: Bring a pen
You may want to tick off beers you like, or write warnings to yourself on ones you really need to never taste again. If you’re high tech, you’ll be wanting to use my mobile app to vote on the beers anyway. You’re bound to also bump into old friends at the festival, so you’ll want to get their e-mail / number.
Tip 6: If you aren’t sure about real ale – try ‘Golden’ ones first!
I won’t get all snobby, but I know some of you may think beer is the mass produced slurry you get in your big chain pubs.. Sorry, I was getting snobby wasn’t I?
Anyway, if you’re palette isn’t yet ready for the dark milds and porters, or stomach ready for 9% old English ales… try starting with some ales with ‘golden’ in their name, or ‘pale ales’. One of the original golds was Hop Back’s ‘Summer Lightening’ – and it’s a great pint, what some people described as beer to wean you off lager.
Caveat – golden ales are now becoming strongly hopped and strong in alcohol, so read the descriptions and check the strengths so you’re not surprised. American style golds can be especially hopped, and if you don’t like the ‘flowers/citrus’ flavour, keep away from those.
Tip 7: EAT! No seriously, if you’re doing a full session, or even a full day, you do need to eat. My tip is to try stuff, by having two evening meals.. not to large, but enough to keep you going. When in Rome.. eat like the Romans do! There’s no charters BBQ this year, but there still is plenty of choice.
Tip 8: Check the singles bar
It’s for picking up special pints, not women / men. Well who knows, but it’s official function is to slowly introduce new beers throughout the festival. The mobile friendly ‘app’ has a section for these beers now.
Tip 9: Check the LocAle bar (New 2015)
While local breweries beers are to be found all over the festival bars, there’s a special bar now dedicated to supporting your local breweries. Drink from this bar and know you’re helping the environment and local economy. The mobile friendly ‘app’ has a section for these beers now.
Tip 10: Be prepared
This may seem like overkill… but you may want to make sure you have some tissues/toilet paper in your back pocket (or in your handbag ladies). The toilets aren’t quite at music festival levels, but as scouts know, be prepared. I have warned you!
Tip 11: Donate to the RNLI
The beer festival have supported the Royal National Lifeboat Institute every since I can remember, and ‘we’ have been able to buy several boats to help save lives. Pop some change in the collection buckets and feel good about yourself.
Tip 12: Enjoy the music!
If you like live music, you’ll love the beer tent. You don’t have to give up your pint, and the music tent is between both beer tents, so you can nip out to top up, don’t panic! There’s always a good vibe in the music tent – check out what you can listen to here.
Tip 13: Sign up to CAMRA
There’s a big members stand where you can get more info, or just sign-up to CAMRA. It’s just over £20 a month, and as a member you can get into festivals around the country for free/reduced rate. You can also get advice and information and if you need guidance beerwise, the oracle (Bram) will be there.
Tip 14: Try a Key-Keg beer!
OK even if you are a staunch CAMRA traditionalist, put away some of your “it’s just cold fizzy tasteless rubbish” thoughts and actually try one of these exciting new beers. Yes they are served cold, yes they can seem fizzy (actually true to style and how the brewer wants tho), but I can bet you £10 most will still contain more flavour than any standard cask real ale. Probably more flavour than you may be able to handle until you are used to the super high hop levels!