26 May 2008

Newark Beer Festival - So many beers, so little conditioning time...

Unlucky for some, and sadly so it proved to be for us at CAMRA's 13th Newark Beer Festival last weekend.

We were long overdue a meet up at a big beer festival. Having settled on late May, we had narrowed our choice of festival venue down to three of the best: Cambridge, Northampton and Newark. We had never been to Newark before and having been most impressed by the preview on their website, opted to book a room above a local pub and venture forth into unknown Nottinghamshire. With the fest falling on a bank holiday weekend, this would also give us the added bonus of an additional day's recovery time - should it be needed.

The festival site was located opposite the imposing Newark Castle on the banks of the River Trent, with adjoining marquees inside a fenced off perimeter. Over 160 ales were scheduled to be on sale over the three days, with a healthy number of new breweries having been sought out and offered the opportunity to showcase their beers to appreciative festival punters. Some 35 ales were to be kept back until the Saturday, until space could be freed up on the crowded stillages.

We arrived excitedly at lunchtime on the opening day (I having left my membership card in London and unable to blag my way out of handing over the £4.50 entrance fee -- balls) and managed to home in on a few early winners. Those particularly worthy of note included Concrete Cow Black Monk; the hugely impressive Brampton Brewery's Mild; the equally noteworthy Red Squirrel London Porter; and the beer of the festival, Malt B's Smarties Night Porter, which sold out within 6 hours of opening.

Disappointingly, our enjoyment of these fine brews proved to be the exception to the hazy green norm. As the weather turned so did our fortune. An unforgivable number of the beers were simply not ready, served murky and astringent. The worst were unfit for consumption. No fault can be attributed to the ever-dedicated team of volunteer staff, with the traditional evaporative cooling method employed and constantly adhered to. It would seem that the organisers simply did not allow enough time for the casks to settle before the doors opened. I find it difficult to believe that this was the fault of the much-regarded Cellarman; more likely to be due to the time the council allowed CAMRA to commandeer Riverside Park for conditioning or unforeseen logistical problems with wholesalers. The majority of the dodgy casks were in no better nick the following day and if anything, in general, the beers held until the Saturday were even less palatable. If the quality of those that were flogged to the public were anything to go by, I dread to think of the state of those deemed not saleable.

Fortunately for Newark CAMRA, our observations did not seem to result in any loss in atmosphere nor turnover. The live entertainment was excellent and by 8pm Saturday just a handful of beers remained on sale and there were smiles all round. We ended the evening in the cracking Castle pub just over the river, which Pan-C will blog more about shortly. However, our sour festival experience is likely to turn us off a repeat visit next May.

Dubbel B


  1. Speaking as a CAMRA Cellarman, I am saddened to read this.

  2. Tandleman,

    Thanks very much for your comment. We were very saddened too. In a good three or four years of attending beer festivals up and down the country, we've always been bowled over by the quality and conditioning of virtually everything on sale (you always get the odd 1 or 2 that haven't travelled so well). As far as we were concerned CAMRA could do no wrong in this regard.

    I'm sure this will be a one-off (don't like to start the blog off with a moan!) but it's definitely something Newark should look closely at when planning for 2009.

  3. Hey, hey, hey. Welcome to the world of beer blogging. Good start guys (although you should have come to Northampton!)

    Keep it up.

  4. Looks like I struck lucky then with ten beers in decent nick including that sublime Pictish Green Bullet.

    It'd be a shame if you're put off visiting again, I've always found it to be a cracking festival. Mind you, you could always give the Midlands a chance to redeem itself with a trip up to Derby BF next week...


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