This past weekend Huntingdonshire CAMRA held their latest Booze on the Ouse event, the 20th St Neots Beer & Cider Festival. This year the festival offered over 70 cask ales with a particular focus on LocAle breweries and new beers from London and Yorkshire. There were also ciders and perrys from local producers and a selection of foreign and domestic bottled beers to round things out. Once again Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer rode the rails out of Kings Cross, this time to St Neots…
Based on our previous experience at festivals in Chelmsford, Cambridge and Ely we know that CAMRA’s East Anglia region has more than its fair share of excellent breweries. For this reason – given the focus on LocAle – we figured St Neots was not to be missed and it did not disappoint. The original cask ale list was published on the festival website and in case it goes away, a spreadsheet version has been compiled *here*.
This being the 20th year of the St Neots festival the organizers decided to associate their milestone with an equally auspicious anniversary: the 800th annniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. The central theme of the festival reflected this…
Article 35: let there be throughout our kingdom a single measure for wine and a single measure for ale and a single measure for corn, namely “the London quarter,” and a single width of cloth (whether dyed, russet or halberjet) namely two ells within the selvedges and let it be the same with weights and measures.
As is relates to the festival the “single measure for ale” can of course refer to CAMRA. It’s deliberately tongue-in-cheek and it reflected the slightly irreverent mood of the festival.
We arrived just as doors opened on Saturday, the festival’s final day, at which point only two beers were already sold out. We were very pleasantly surprised by this; too often we arrive on the final day of a multi-day event to find a limited selection, but not at St Neots. Kudos to the beer buyers for this.
Due to CAMRA’s try-before-you-buy tasting policy and third pint measures we were able to sample 15 out of the 72 cask ales while we socialized for the better part of six hours. Out of 16 available LocAles we sampled 3; of 14 London ales we sampled 4; and of 10 Yorkshire beers, we managed 3. The remaining 5 samples were from all around the UK.
Quality at this festival was generally high but as is usually the case there are always some standouts. Best of fest for Mr Fueled by Beer was Knot Just Another IPA from Jo C’s Brewery. Although not a LocAle Jo C’s is from East Anglia: Fakenham in Norfolk. Not surprisingly Mrs Fueled by Beer’s best of fest came from the Porter & Stout category: the Market Porter from London’s Portobello Brewery.
Honorable mentions must also go to Hand Drawn Monkey of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire for their What Would Jephers Do? It was a supremely robust rye ale with a huge malt base and massively hopped, yet only 4.5% ABV. And from the LocAle category local heroes Son of Sid of nearby Little Gransden, Cambridgeshire produced a fantastic special bitter for the festival. In keeping with the Magna Carta theme their beer was called RunnyMead, a delicate golden ale infused with honey – tasty!
We would also be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge one the festival’s biggest surprises: a Greene King ale sold out before the festival ended. Not particularly noted for excellence in the company of so many superb microbreweries, Greene King surprised everyone with their Down the Dragon, a chocolate and chili infused ale just perfect for celebrating next month’s feast day of England’s patron saint St George, of fire-breathing dragon-slaying fame.
By the time we left around 6 pm the venue was getting very crowded and many beers were fast selling out. Later still, at around 8 pm, and with little more than 2 hours to go, the festival sent out a final tweet saying around 80% of the beer had been consumed.
Some photos from the event…