3rd Annual Tilehurst Festival

This one almost sneaked past us, coming as it did on the same May Day Bank Holiday weekend as the Reading Beer & Cider Festival. However Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer took a couple of hours out of their Sunday afternoon recovering from Saturday’s massive ale consumption to waddle over to Prospect Park and consume even more…

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Real ale and a whole lot more

At first we thought there must be some mistake: we distinctly remembered last year’s festival being on a very warm day; a day where dozy wasps (yellow jackets) were being smashed on the bar-top with a cask mallet; in other words a late summer day.

This latest event only came to light literally on the day when Sherfield Village Brewery posted a comment on the Reading Beer Festival Facebook page saying that that event had been everything they hoped for – another way of saying all their beer had gone perhaps – and so they would be “helping out” at the Tilehurst Festival on Sunday.

Last year’s real ale & cider at the Tilehurst Festival was notable because it was delivered in the form of The Nag’s Legs – the traveling version of Reading CAMRA’s pub of the year The Nag’s Head. The Nag’s mobile pub is hard to beat: a very large marquee with a cask ale and cider bar at one end and a craft keg bar at the other end. In between the bars, all under canvas, is picnic bench seating, with no kids allowed inside. This must have been a major logistic undertaking to transport, set up, and tear down just for an afternoon’s work, maybe too much for the Nag to be trotted out for another outing.

Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer actually stopped in at the Nag’s on Saturday evening after attending the Reading Beer Festival and we noticed that the Nag’s Legs was in its usual stable behind the pub so we had no clue there would be a real ale tent within walking distance of our house the following day.

As it turned out, the real ale & cider tent at this latest Tilehurst Festival, while maybe not as civilized as The Nag’s Legs – was nonetheless very well put together. The large tent had a single long serving bar along the back with cask real ale & cider on one side and craft keg taps on the other. There were also wines and spirits too. It was evident that in addition to the role played by Pete Cook, owner of Sherfield Village Brewery, who supplied much of the real ale and manned the bar, the bar appeared to also be manned by folks we recognized from previous Reading CAMRA pub of the year award winner, The Alehouse. Always nice to see Reading’s foremost real ale institutions supporting local community events.

The main downside of this year’s beer tent was the  lack of seating: you stood in line, purchased your desired tipple, then took it outside into the crowd. A crowd, unfortunately, comprising hordes of kids chasing each other with soap bubble guns. Bubbles popping in your real ale – not a good combination.

Of course you can’t blame the beer tent operators for that however the festival organizers could have put some cordoning up outside the entrance to keep the kids out, and our beer safe from their bubble wars. In fairness to the kids, observations made by Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer of some of their parents suggested that many kids might be thanked for adding some flavor to the Stella, Peroni, etc. that Dad brought in his cooler, too cheap to buy decent beer in the tent.

Unfortunately, after filling up on bowls of noodles and plates of Quesadillas, we neglected to take a full accounting of the 10 cask ales being poured during our visit but they represented the following CAMRA LocAle designated breweries and I’ve filled in the brews as best as I can recall:

Notable improvements at this year’s Tilehurst Festival: vastly expanded food options. These included a Taco/Quesadilla stand operated by a Californian lady who we met at last year’s Newbury Beer Festival. We’ll no doubt see her again later this year when the next Newbury event convenes. There was a Chinese noodle stand; also a Jamaican food stand offering staples such as peas & rice, jerk chicken and curried goat. The usual lineup of nasty British burgers, hot dogs, and chips. And to cap it all there was chilli – courtesy of the 4th annual Reading Chilli Cookoff competition. All in all there was just more of everything and the organizers’ gamble was rewarded with a much larger crowd than before.

The music offering was comprised of various local bands: particularly enjoyed by Mr Fueled by Beer: a band simply called “45rpm“. These guys were unusual in that they played nothing but new wave and punk. They looked like they were in their teens during the late 70s heyday of The Clash, Ramones, Pistols, etc. and they continue to play that material – with no apology – and still dress the part – spiked hair an’all – presumably now early 50-somethings.

During a band change the MC came on and asked the crowd for a show of hands of who was at last year’s event and who was attending for the first time. Twice as many were in the latter category versus the roughly one third of us who were in the former group. The MC then made a comment that rumour has it the organizing committee is talking about making the Tilehurst Festival a twice-yearly event. Perhaps this upcoming August Bank Holiday – the weekend of the Reading Rock Festival – will feature another Tilehurst Festival. We’ll be watching out for it – it’s a fun event that’s well worth attending 🙂

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