Let’s say you run a small CAMRA branch and you want to host a beer festival. But you’re sandwiched between branches who put on two of England’s largest and most well attended events. What do you do? One option is to go for quality over quantity…
I don’t know if this is what Slough, Windsor & Maidenhead CAMRA intended for their festival but over three days last weekend it certainly delivered a high quality Fueled by Beer experience. First just consider the getting there.
An issue we took with the recent Ealing Festival was the lack of signage from the train station. Mr Fueled by Beer had to resort to Google Maps on his smartphone to find the way. What if you don’t have such a device in your pocket? At Maidenhead station, right outside, there was a large banner announcing the beer festival. Then, all along the walking route, direction signs were posted at every crossing and street corner all the way to the venue.
As beer festivals go the venue was novel: Maidenhead United’s football ground. And part of the entertainment during our Saturday afternoon visit was a preseason friendly between the home team and local derby opponents Slough Town. They might only be minor league clubs but it was manly stuff to go with the beer on a very hot summer afternoon that saw the mercury hit 30ºC/86ºF.
The beer selection was exceptionally well thought out. Having been to several festivals featuring 200+, 300+, even 500+ different ales, you get to recognise many usual suspects that show up all the time. Kudos to Maidenhead: their carefully selected 70+ casks included the best from the area’s LocAle breweries as well as several regional and national brewers who have provided some of our favourite picks at previous festivals.
However what stood out in Maidenhead were the number of brewers we had not previously encountered and their unique offerings. The best example of these was Williams Bros Brewing from Scotland and their Fraoch Heather & Bog Myrtle Ale. This ancient brew dates from the time before the almighty hop, when beer was brewed with all kinds of herbs and other botanicals to impart aroma and flavor. Not unlike the Gruut beer we encountered in Ghent, Belgium – which also uses ancient brewing methods that predate the hop – Fraoch is a one-of-a-kind beer. You can’t describe it – you just have to try it. And when you do, you might also give it three smileys just like Mrs Fueled by Beer. 🙂 🙂 🙂
I started out this post by referencing quality vs quantity, and I also mentioned the exceptionally warm temperatures that prevailed over the entire weekend. These factors, combined with the football, enticed twice as many attendees as previous years. As a result, and with a cruel quantitative irony, the beer started to run out long before Saturday’s session closed. Not to be beaten, the festival reopened on Sunday with free admission and some additional casks brought in overnight from some of the LocAle brewers. Quality prevailed. Here are some photos from our visit: