Derby CAMRA has just completed the latest running of their summer beer festival which is held each year in a marquee in the Market Place. The event commemorates the charter by which Queen Elizabeth II granted city status to Derby in 1977, her Silver Jubilee year…
As mentioned in his preview post, Mr Fueled by Beer had it on good authority that this festival was worth a visit so on its first full day, Thursday, he rode the rails on Cross Country Trains through Birmingham to spend the day in Derby. Four hours were spent volunteering on the glasses and beer card counter followed by another couple hours or so experiencing the festival from the viewpoint of a customer. Following are my personal observations of the festival’s pros and cons:
The most obvious pro was the festival’s low barrier to entry for CAMRA members – free at all times – thus demonstrating from the get-go that CAMRA members are valued above all other visitors. Also, the festival did away with cash bars for the first time this year, instead introducing a prepaid beer card system. On entry visitors could purchase a £10 “package deal”, a card incorporating a £3 deposit for the souvenir glass and £7 worth of beer or cider. Visitors bringing their own glasses could forego the package deal and instead purchase beer cards in £5 or £10 increments. These same cards were also used to ‘top-up’ the package deal if the customer ran out. When the customer was ready to leave they could optionally return their undamaged glass for a refund of the deposit as well as any unspent beer card value.
These arrangements made for much speedier service at the bars and greatly simplified things for the bar staff. I served quite a few visitors who evidently dropped in to the afternoon session for a quick lunchtime pie and a pint then left after a short time. Processing their refunds when they appeared at the counter in manageable numbers was no problem. However, because I wasn’t there for closing, I don’t know if an inundation of refund seekers after last orders caused any issues. I do know this was a concern of the manager.
Drink selection was very good and real ale condition was excellent on a day when the mercury hit 27 °C in Derby, all the more remarkable because it felt several degrees hotter inside the marquee. Given that it was so hot, Mr Fueled by Beer stuck with low strength pale ales. He enjoyed several local brews not seen in the Reading area including Sunchaser, a really nice 4% ABV blonde ale from the Everard Brewery bar. Then there was Clod Hopper, a tasty 3.9% ABV golden ale from the Boot Inn at Repton. Also notable, New Moon, a 3.7% ABV golden ale from Shiny Brewing of Derby. This beer’s flavor was much ‘bigger’ than its modest strength would have you believe. And finally there was Riber Gold, a 4.3% ABV golden ale from Wolds Farm at Matlock on the edge of the Peak District.
Now to the cons – mainly relating to the venue. Derby’s Market Place is hemmed in by substantial buildings on the north and south sides and a screen of trees at the west end. All these limit air flow at ground level. The marquee’s west to east orientation might have facilitated some air flow if the ends were open to the prevailing wind however most of the openings were on the south side facing a building. With the sun beating down on the canvas in an essentially confined space it became unbearably hot inside. Unfortunately there is little relief beyond the canvas due to very limited space between the marquee and perimeter fence; coupled with virtually no shade; and extremely limited seating. For most people visiting this festival, the choice will between standing indefinitely or sitting on the ground; either way, on an unforgiving concrete surface.
Food options were uninspiring, mostly comprising the all-too ubiquitous festival fare: Yuleys Bratwurst, a curry stand and Piper’s Crisps. The one bright spot was Morgan’s Deli, a local family owned business. They had superb pork pies for carnivores, other vegetarian-friendly pies, a selection of cold meats and all-British artisan cheeses, and some very nice sandwiches. I was invited to visit their shop nearby but didn’t have time before needing to get back to the train station but if I ever find myself in Derby again I would like to visit them.
All things considered, and with the benefit of hindsight, it’s fair to say that Derby CAMRA runs a workmanlike festival; perhaps worth a visit if you live in the East Midlands. However, is it worth making a five hour round trip by car or train? I don’t think so.