Hot on the heels of Cambridge CAMRA’s recent winter ale festival the Ely & District branch held their winter beer festival this past weekend. Since Ely was one of our favorite festivals of 2014, this year’s event was eagerly awaited and definitely warranted another Fueled by Beer trip. So, with a fresh dusting of snow on the ground in Reading, and forecasts for more snow in East Anglia, Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer braved the cold on Saturday and rode the rails back to the Fenlands…
In this post, rather than do a rehash from last year, I’ll try to focus on how this year’s festival differed from the experience in 2014. In last year’s blog post I wrote extensively about traveling to Ely, the city itself, and the venue. For the nitty gritty, you can read it here.
Elysian 2015 – The big picture:
- 75 – Main
- 20 – Reserve
- 42 – LocAle
- 53 – Non-local
- 6,840 Imperial pints
Ranging in strength (% ABV)
- < 4.0 = 21
- 4.0 – 4.9 = 45
- 5.0 – 5.9 = 20
- > 6.0 = 9
Number of beers tasted
- LocAles = 10
- Non-local = 4
For the full beer list in all its geeky glory I’ve lifted all the data from the official festival program and put it in a Google spreadsheet here.
Comparing Elysian 2015 to 2014
Well, in all the ways that matter, this year’s festival was at least as good as last year’s event: the same fantastic venue; great beer selection with plenty of it; really friendly people in attendance; and last but not least, mercifully free from backpack wearing assholes (see the Cambridge post if you haven’t already).
One of the main features of last year’s festival was the heavy American presence that came in the form of groups from the US Air Force bases, primarily Mildenhall.
This year the groups were absent however; but while we didn’t see anyone from Mildenhall, we did meet one couple who made their way over from nearby Lakenheath and another couple who came up from London. Perhaps this year’s festival being on a different weekend (in January versus February) or maybe the inclement weather kept the groups away.
Regardless of the lower American presence, this year’s Saturday attendance had solid local support with the main Elysian Hall comfortably crowded (adults only) and the upstairs Kempen Room also fully utilized (designated kiddie area). Business at the bars was brisk and we noticed reserve casks starting to come on during the afternoon, including one we wanted to taste, so it was all good.
Most Significant Difference
All things considered, other than the different composition in attendance noted above, this year’s festival was pretty much a clone of last year’s event with just one very significant exception: the meteoric rise of local brewery Three Blind Mice.
Leading up to last year’s festival these guys spent three months building out their brewery before completing their first ever brewday in January 2014. Three Blind Mice Brewery officially launched at the 5th Elysian Beer Festival on February 7th, 2014 with four casks of their Number 1 Pale Ale. When Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer arrived on the 8th, Three Blind Mice were completely sold out, such was the excitement surrounding their launch.
Fast forward a year: Three Blind Mice hosted their own bar at this year’s festival – the only brewery to do so. They came with seven different beers and a reserve cask for each one. All stylistic bases were covered from an eminently sessionable Pale Ale at 2.8% ABV to a massive rum infused Imperial Stout at 8.2% ABV.
Out of all the 14 different beers Mr Fueled by Beer tasted throughout the day the best three were from Three Blind Mice:
- Dirty Goulash Imperial Stout – 8.2% ABV – chocolate and coffee with subtle rum kick. 🙂 🙂 🙂
- Odds & Sods IPA – 5.2% ABV – simply the best pale I’ve had on this and many a day. 🙂 🙂
- Black Bank Porter – 4.7% ABV – smooth coffee/chocolate of a porter with hop finish of a CDA. 🙂
Mrs Fueled by Beer also enjoyed the Three Blind Mice beers but her favorites on the day were a little different:
- Wild Weather Ales’ Can’t Stand The Rain – 4.0% ABV – Rye IPA. 🙂 🙂 🙂
- Waen Brewery’s Snowball – 7.0% – Imperial Stout. 🙂 🙂
- Three Blind Mice’s Ditch Oil – 7.0% ABV – Imperial Stout. 🙂
At last year’s festival not a single Berkshire brewery was featured. This year Berkshire was represented – and not by the usual ‘boring brown beer’ breweries we usually see. No, our beloved Wild Weather Ales flew the flag for the Royal County featuring two of Mike’s excellent creations.
As these photos show Wild Weather was well liked at the festival: the cask of Blizzard Double IPA sold out before 4pm; Can’t Stand The Rain Rye IPA went shortly after.
The Prince Albert – A CAMRA LocAle Accredited Pub
In the post for last year’s festival, reviews were given for the Townhouse and Cutter Inn pubs. Mention was also made of the Prince Albert although we didn’t visit back then. However this year we managed to fit in a visit after the festival and it’s fair to say this is probably Ely’s best pub for combining LocAle with above average pub food. Out of Ely’s two LocAle accredited pubs the Townhouse will likely have the wider beer selection but based on our experience the food was not quite as good in quality or value terms. We had an excellent meal at the Prince Albert.
Looking Forward To Next Time
With two Ely winter beer festivals now consigned to history we look forward to returning to the Fenlands in summertime. However it would not be to attend a beer festival. Mr Fueled by Beer now wants to retread the footsteps he walked as a child to rediscover the places he first experienced with his grandfather. Places such as in the following photos. Self-indulgent – certainly – but who would disagree that there is stark beauty in this landscape…