US meets UK: Looking Back At The JD Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival

Last month’s US meets UK festival at JD Wetherspoon pubs nationwide provided British real ale fans with a rare chance to enjoy American craft beer in cask conditioned form, and for Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer – besides the excellent beer – it was an interesting insight into how much effort our local pubs put into supporting the Pubco’s special events…

During the first weekend of the festival we visited all four Reading pubs plus two in nearby Maidenhead. Between them we managed to taste nine of the ten US ales being presented – almost all very good (more about the almost all later). It will be interesting to see if future festivals reveal the same amount of effort, or lack of it, at the same pubs.

  1. The Hope Tap – a very respectable effort: festival ales on 6 of 12 pumps including 5 of the 10 US offerings. There were promotional displays in several places, including festival T-shirts (one of which is now being worn in Ohio).
  2. The Monks’ Retreat – a total disappointment: no promo material, no festival ales, we didn’t bother to stop there.
  3. The Back of Beyond – a superb effort: festival ales on 11 of 12 pumps including 5 of the US offerings. Excellent promotional displays drew attention from just inside the entrance to the bar.
  4. The Baron Cadogan – another superb effort: the smallest of our local ‘Spoons, but what they lacked in physical space and pump handles was more than compensated by extra effort. This was the only pub that had Elysian’s Avatar but it was resting in the cellar during our visit. Upon hearing where we were from and what we were up to the manager went down and drew a taster straight from the cask. Wonderful! 🙂
  5. The Greyhound – kinda ho-hum effort on the promo side but festival ale offerings were good; this is where hard to find Sgt Pepper Saison was located.
  6. The Bear – a respectable effort: great promo display and festival ale offerings in quite possibly the most beautiful Wetherspoon pub we’ve seen to date – a historic coaching inn renovated and reopened in 2010.
Pub Number (listed above)
1
2
3
4
5
6
Cambridge Brewery, MA – Sgt Pepper Saison X X
Harpoon Brewery, MA – IPA X
Fat Head’s Brewery, OH – Sunshine Daydream Pale
Terrapin Beer Co, GA – Tree Hugger Altbier X
Abita Brewery, LA – Restoration Pale X X X
21st Amendment, CA – American Bitter Red X X X
Ballast Point Brewery, CA – Even Keel IPA X X
Stone Brewing, CA – Supremely Self-Conscious Black Ale X X X
Ninkasi Brewery, OR – Cream Ale X
Elysian Brewing, WA – Avatar Jasmine IPA X

Standout ales: with the exception of Ninkasi’s Cream Ale, which was disappointingly blah (unlike what we normally associate with the Eugene, OR brewer) all were great but particularly Stone’s CDA, Terrapin’s Alt, Harpoon’s IPA, Abita’s Pale, and Cambridge’s Saison. As for the Avatar from our friends at Elysian? Great as usual but you know what they say about familiarity. 😉

This was a really good festival – much credit is due to JD Wetherspoon who remain the only national Pubco totally committed to advancing the cause of real ale. It must have cost them plenty to bring ten leading US brewers over and commandeer production capacity at ten UK breweries for a month or so. And the collateral promotional costs weren’t cheap either: Wetherspoon went all out to put on a first rate, high quality event and we believe they largely achieved it.

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