20th Reading Beer & Cider Festival

When I first thought about writing this post I must confess that a part of me felt like simply copying and pasting the post from last year’s festival and just rearranging it a bit: would anyone even notice I wondered? I’ll admit this was based on an assumption that nothing much would change – well I was wrong…

poster

2014 Official Poster

Each year, for four days leading up to the May Day bank holiday, Reading CAMRA presents its Beer & Cider festival at King’s Meadow beside the River Thames. It has become one of the UK’s largest annual beer festivals and 2014 marked the 20th time the festival has been held – which makes it also one of Britain’s longest running.

rbf2014logo

2014 Official Logo

The festival opened on Thursday, closed on Sunday, and during this time 550+ real ales, 200+ real ciders, 140+ Belgian, Dutch and German bottled and draft beers, plus a selection of British wines were offered. Food was offered by several vendors set up around the festival site. Just as at last year’s event, Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer attended the first of two Saturday sessions. So far, much the same as last year.

However, as I alluded to above, 2014 was not exactly a carbon copy of 2013: here in no particular order are the main differences; unfortunately they represent a step down from last year:

When we arrived at the beginning of our session in 2013 all 550+ rack slots were occupied by available casks. Then, as the day wore on, a few did sell out, at which point a pink sign would be attached. This time, when we entered for our 2014 session only a few minutes after opening, we found a disturbingly large number of casks already bearing tell-tale pink signs. Furthermore, quite a large number of beers listed in the program were not present. In fairness there were ales in the racks that did not appear in the program so the overall number of casks was about right – it’s just that far too many of them were empty.

Friday night crowds

Friday night crowds

As the photo at right shows, the Friday session, unlike our Saturday session, was insanely busy and some pink signs can be clearly seen on some casks. I suspect that the volunteers manning the bars were overwhelmed by higher than anticipated attendance and many more casks sold out early than was the case in 2013.

It’s the only explanation for why there were so many empties at the start of the Saturday session. By the end of the session I noticed some of the empty casks were being removed – there were open gaps in the cask racks and no apparent replacements waiting in the wings to fill the space.

Photos posted to the festival’s Facebook page by folks attending the Sunday session bear this out – and there were even some complaints that visitors were being admitted on Sunday afternoon only to find virtually no beer left – this after paying the entry fee.

I suspect this may be an isolated instance of attendance on the first two days being much higher than anticipated – in other words before the weekend crowds. I hope so because otherwise it means the event is becoming too large to be effectively managed by the local CAMRA branch.

Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer are planning to attend the Cambridge festival later this month; this event is the longest running CAMRA festival of all and claims to be the largest. It will be interesting to see how that event is organized.

Reading’s 2014 Saturday entertainment was decidedly lacklustre. This could be partly due to the fact that our Saturday session was noticeably less crowded and more subdued than in 2013. However too many of the acts were laid back solo performers – nothing much to get a crowd going.

The nearest thing to audience participation came at the end when The Small Strings Ukulele Band took the stage – they were a blast to watch – but there was nothing like the rousing chorus of Land of Hope & Glory we witnessed at the Winchester beerfest. In that event the inebriated crowd sang at the top of their lungs led with such enthusiasm by the brass band that was the Saturday afternoon entertainment there.

Here’s some photos from our visit to 20th Reading Beer & Cider Festival 2014:

So far I haven’t spoken about the beer; of course among the 550+ casks that had beer left in them there was still a dizzying array of fantastic ale to taste. This time around we opted for the third of a pint option which allowed us to sample more beers than in 2013. Here is what Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer chose – as usual smiley faces denote our favourites:

Mr Fueled by Beer – except for 1648 (pretty blah) every one gets   🙂 🙂 🙂

  • 1648 Brewery, E Sussex: Ruby Mild Ale
  • Art Brew, Dorset: Seville Rye Ale
  • Brick Brewery, London: Blenheim Black IPA
  • Corinium Brewing, Gloucestershire: Pliny the Elderflower Golden Ale
  • Itchen Valley Brewing, Hampshire: Belgarum Pale Ale
  • Malt the Brewery, Buckinghamshire: Dark Mild Ale
  • Milton Brewery, Cambridgeshire: Minotaur Dark Mild Ale
  • Partners Brewery, W Yorkshire : Mungo Dark Mild Ale
  • Three Blind Mice Brewery, Cambridgeshire: Lazy Snake Amber Ale
  • Windsor & Eton Brewery, Berkshire: Kohinoor Pale Ale
  • Brauerei Heller, Germany: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen
  • Klosterbrauerei Andechs, Germany: Andechser Dunkles Weissbier

Mrs Fueled by Beer

  • Andwell Brewery, Hampshire: Ginger Muddler Golden Ale
  • ELB, London: Wheat Porter 🙂 🙂 🙂
  • Granite Rock Brewery, Cornwall: Glasney College Porter
  • Mallinson’s Brewery, W Yorkshire: Chocolate Stout
  • Seren Brewing, Pembrokeshire : Indian Ink Black IPA 🙂 🙂
  • Three Blind Mice Brewery, Cambridgeshire: Red Fred Red Ale
  • XT Brewing, Buckinghamshire: “8” Strong Dark Ale 🙂
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