Almost two months have passed since I set the stage for Fueled by Beer UK and unfortunately there’s been no free time to get out and actually visit some breweries. However this past May Day bank holiday weekend it didn’t matter: many of the breweries on my hit list came to me…
For the last 19 years Reading’s local CAMRA branch has celebrated the May Day weekend with a beer festival, now one of the largest in England. The only remotely comparable event in Seattle sizewise is the annual fathers day weekend Washington Brewers Festival. However, when you consider that CAMRA is all about Real Ale, then only the Washington Brewers Guild Caskfest provides an apples-to-apples comparison. Measured by the number of cask ales on offer the Reading event is six times bigger than Washington’s Caskfest.
After our fantastic experience at the 2012 Caskfest, the 2013 CAMRA-Reading event was just too good to miss – Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer had to be there. We decided to attend the Saturday evening session; the session with the reputation for the most raucous partying. We were not disappointed.
A major part of any CAMRA beer festival, and a significant draw for Mr Fueled by Beer at this one, was the LocAle bar. This is where I could sample some of my hit list breweries; there were 36 from within a 30 mile radius of Reading. Between them they poured 160 different cask ales. Most of our tasting was concentrated there.
Besides LocAle, the Reading Beer Festival showcased more than 400 cask ales from breweries located all through the length and breadth of Great Britain. There were brews from as far afield as Cornwall all the way to the Orkneys, and everywhere in between. In all honesty, just too many to take in.
And then there were the foreign beers: bottled brews from the USofA, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany. And a nice touch: several styles of draft beer from German breweries were available to provide an alternative to all the British cask ales.
And last but not least there were sections set up for the growing Real Cider and Perry producers as well as English wines. Truly something to satisfy every taste.
In raw numbers:
- 36 LocAle breweries / 160 cask ales
- 151 British breweries / 418 cask ales
- 14 German breweries / 25 draft beers
- 102 cider/perry producers
- 7 English wine producers
Here are the cask ales Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer chose from our various tastings – each one a half pint pour…
- Adkin Brewery – Alfred’s Citra Pale
- Binghams Brewery – Ginger Doodle Stout
- Ramsbury Brewery – Silver Pig Stout
- Sherfield Village Brewery – Wakuta Dry Hopped Pale
- Sherfield Village Brewery – Pilgrim Stout + Paprika
- Triple fff Brewing Co – Pressed Rat & Warthog Mild
- White Horse Brewery – Black Horse Porter
- XT Brewing Co – Eight Oak Aged Porter
Around Britain Bar
- Mallinsons (Yorkshire) – Nelson Sauvin Pale
- Stewart (Edinburgh) – Ka Pai IPA
- Weird Beard (London) – Black Pearl Porter
Foreign Beer Bar
- Brauerei Braustelle (Cologne) – Ehrenfelder Alt (draft)
One interesting observation: comparing this festival with all of our previous Washington fests, where Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer could both name standout picks; at the Reading Beer Festival we couldn’t pick a standout because they were all so good.
Some other observations we can make from our first UK beer festival experience however…
As is typically the case in the UK, law enforcement tends to exercise greater latitude and discretion, a more common sense approach, and this was reflected in the entry control process. Unlike in Washington, here they don’t automatically card everyone for age. They simply say, if you look less than 25, be prepared to provide proof of age. Given the legal drinking age here being 18 this provides a lot of latitude and results in a much faster entry process.
Entry was pretty much the same as at Washington beer fests: you line up with your ticket, your bar code is scanned, then you receive your souvenir glass, program, and beer tokens. Unlike Washington, however, there was no bag search to slow things down, and the glass is actually glass – a full pint glass with 1/3, 1/2, and 1 pint measures marked on the side.
While all beer is provided in exchange for a token, just like in Washington, the Reading beer festival bar staff also accepted cash on a per pour basis. For example this came in handy for my German Alt – which I saved until last. I didn’t realize it cost two tokens – when I had only one left – I was able to make up the difference with some loose change.
The only negative I think Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer felt was a certain unfriendliness in one particular area – which was the exact opposite of our experiences in Seattle. In Reading people seem to commandeer tables in the seating areas and then not share their space even when there is space to share. We approached several tables which appeared to have space available, smiled at the occupants, and asked politely if anyone was sitting here. Each time we were turned away with a cold, terse “yes it’s taken”. I know there’s that famous British reserve thing – after all I’m a Brit myself – but after living the last 27 years in America I found this lack of community to be just plain rude.
Overall verdict though – an awesome brewfest experience – one we can’t wait to repeat. 🙂