It’s been a while since I last contemplated beer. June has been a stressful month, a constant stream of fist-fights and running battles against all manner of bastards; hell, I didn’t even have time to celebrate my birthday. So, finally, a weekend has arrived where I can sit down and wonder where I left off. Ah yes, that’s right, it was the Great Welsh Beer Festival (GWBF) at the start of June. Remember that?
The moment may have passed but the GWBF is an annual thing, so why not pour a beer and ruminate with me on what was and what could be.
This was my first ever visit to the GWBF and I liked the cosy size of the Motorpoint arena in Cardiff. I say cosy, it’s the second largest beer festival I’ve been to, but I easily navigated my way to the food stand, the toilets or, more importantly, the next beer without having to shove through mobs and walk for ten minutes.
The amount of seating was also another positive point: of any large festival I’ve been to, be it Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), Craft Beer Rising, RumFest or what have you, GWBF had the best volume of seating. It was never enough, of course, it never is, but the tables and chairs provided was commendable.
It was great to see some of Wales’ best breweries there: Tiny Rebel, Otley, Brains and Kite. It was a shame that Pixie Spring were absent, I was really looking forward to seeing one of Wales’ latest breweries and sample their wares, and many breweries from the north were represented. Despite my best efforts, though, I didn’t find that elusive ‘hidden gem’; it was the main players who continued to shine this year.
There were three things lacking from GWBF 2013; however, only one is important, the rest are ‘nice to haves’. Let’s run through them.
It would have been nice to have more ‘games of chance and whimsy’. An experience that was unique to GBBF was the plethora of skittles and other such games that involved throwing blocks of wood at other blocks of wood. Pint in one hand, bowling ball in the other, I felt like a hellass king as I knocked down pins. It’s a good little earner for CAMRA, too, because hardly anyone ever wins at those things. Doesn’t make it any less fun, though.
Pork scratchings – these were noticeably missing from GWBF. They had great big mountains of the things at GBBF piled as high as the ceiling, and for a fiver you were rewarded with several bags the size of your head. Perfect munching for soaking up the beer. That said, it was amusing to come back home in a drunken state with £10 worth of olives. They were damn tasty.
So let’s put on our golf shoes and get to the brass tacks. What is my main gripe? Well, it was the glass given to every thirsty punter on arrival.
The glass is the one of the most crucial elements of any booze based festival. It is your friend. There are many like it, but only one is yours. If you drop it, crowds of people will clap and jeer, and you’ll have to buy a new one, because without it you can’t get a drink, and that’s why we’re here folks, for the drink.
So what was wrong with it? Well it was a half pint glass. From the CAMRA tickers to the craft beer geeks and everyone in between, people enjoy a festival because it allows them to sample a wide range of new beers. The best way to do that is to drink third measures. Then, when you find that absolutely amazing nectar of the gods of which there’s only one barrel at the whole festival, you can swoop in and buy a pint. Or, if you don’t like what you’re drinking, you aren’t lumbered with a half pint minus the first awful swig. All it takes is a pint glass with third/half/pint markings. GWBF could even provide a range of glassware, but I find that’s a bit fiddly. All you need is a sturdy pint glass with the magic lines etched into it and you’re set for the day.
(Frankly, the less said about the swivel-eyed red crocodile that passed for a logo on the glass, the better. Any second year art student paid with a fistful of beer tokens could have done a better job.)
These are all very personal observations. A final critique is one I hope could be considered objective. There was a foreign beer bar at GWBF, ably staffed by the gentlemen of The Bottle Shop in Cardiff, but somewhat understocked. Three kegs were on tap and no bottles. The guys at the shop are certainly capable and willing to provide more, so it would be good if Cardiff CAMRA make for a bigger push on this next year.
Months of (voluntary) work and planning go into CAMRA festivals of this size, and it’s impressive to see them run smoothly regardless of any catastrophes which may happen behind the scenes. In spite of my minor grumbles, I had a good time. See you there next year.
Best beer: Tiny Rebel Urban IPA aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. For those who might raise an eyebrow at the prospect of one brewery winning all the awards, I say to you try this. You’ll lose any doubts.
Best discovery: I’m from oop North (Wales) so I want to see one of my northern kinsmen knocking the stuffing out of these here southern softie breweries. Against the likes of Otley and Tiny Rebel, it ain’t happening any time soon. All the same, it was a pleasure coming across Sandstone Brewery, whose Onyx and Edge were on offer; in terms of quality they were amongst the best beers going.