White Horse CAMRA’s Beer Festival recently concluded at The Beacon Wantage and Mr Fueled by Beer visited on opening day, Friday, for the meet the brewer session. The festival, which provided a great showcase for the area’s small-batch brewers as well as brewers from further afield, was well attended and declared a great success. The organisers look forward to repeating the event in 2018…
Wantage is not served by rail but connecting bus service was available from Didcot Parkway station provided by Thames Travel (routes 32A/X32, return fare £5.60, more info). Mr Fueled by Beer’s experience was good; the buses, which are modern single-deckers with WiFi, ran on time in both directions. Opting to travel to the festival by train and bus provided a comfortable, safe alternative to driving.
Wantage Beer Festival is one of the region’s smaller, more intimate events and as promised there was heavy emphasis on small local breweries whose beers are hard to find outside their immediate area. On paper and in the experience itself, Wantage Beer Festival ticked all the right boxes for Mr Fueled by Beer: small festival; accessible by public transport; rarely found local beers; and free entry for CAMRA members. There was nothing not to like.
Over the course of the two days visitors were encouraged to vote for their favourite beer and in the end the award for Beer of the Festival went to “Hair of the Doug”, a beautifully executed unfined Ginger Pale Ale by local brewer LoveBeer Brewery of Milton, Oxfordshire. Mr Fueled by Beer enjoyed the opportunity to chat with LoveBeer’s owner, Jim Southey, and bring a bottle of his award-winning beer home for Mrs Fueled by Beer. The runner up award was shared between another local brewer, Bellingers Brewery of Grove near Wantage and Indigenous Brewery of Chaddleworth, West Berkshire. The winning beers were Gallipoli Stout and Billy No Mates Pale Ale respectively. Indigenous brewer Kevin Brady, whose beers can often be found at the Cow & Cask micropub and better pubs around Newbury, also produces Ammo Belle American Pale Ale, much loved by Mr Fueled by Beer. This was the beer that won overall gold in the LocAle Beers of the Festival contest at Reading Beer Festival 2016; no mean feat considering there were more than two dozen LocAle breweries and around 100 different beers in contention. Billy No Mates has many of Ammo Belle’s qualities but at a lower strength.
For his part, Mr Fueled by Beer sampled 9 of the 28 cask ales, including the aforementioned “Hair of the Doug”, “Gallipoli” and “Billy No Mates”, to which he can attest that their recognition was well deserved. However his favourite of the festival came from 2016-startup, Little Ox Brewery, of Freeland near Witney in Oxfordshire. “Double Wipe Out” was a special double dry-hopped version of Wipe Out American Pale Ale. Measuring in at 4.2% ABV and unfined it was simply superb. Little Ox was an unknown brewery before the festival; they will be on my radar going forward.