this week saw the 20th Rotherham real ale and music festival take place at the Magna science adventure centre at Templeborough in Rotherham. Wednesday 29th February was the first official day of trading, although puzzlingly there is no mention of this in the programme.
The festival opened at 18.00 last night and we got in at about 18.20. We would have been there earlier, but there is only one bus route that serves the festival, run by Wirst South Yorkshire. We were catching the 17.25 number 69 which was inevitably 15 minutes late. So well done for that.
I had got my ticket earlier in the week from Shakespeares but even then, Magna, or Rotherham or White Rose festival is still an expensive do. No doubt the cost covers the rental of the enormous and unique festival venue, plus the large numbers of bands. Its not really explained in the programme but either way its been expensive for many many years now so its not a surprise. So buying in advance, £8.00 gets you a festival glass (which then secures free entry on Saturday day, which I think is to be applauded), entrance to the festival and a decent sized programme, listing the 230+ beers, 20 odd ciders and perrys, world bottled beers and wines available. Its worth remembering that the festival is also a Charity event, as the various Bluebell Wood staff behind the bars attests.
As with previous years the bars are split regionally. The first bar in the large entrance hall is the North and East Yorkshire bar, adjoining this in the incredibly tall room (really hangar is the only viable description) is a stage, the Clark's bar and the West Yorkshire bar. There are also the North East, Scottish and West Midlands bars centred around the main corridor, and a Raw brewery bar in the dining room. Down the corridor on the right is the large South Yorkshire bar, with another stage, the foreign bottled beers and wine, the Cider and Perry bar and the Bombardier bus.
The range of beers present is very impressive, a good mix of established and brand new breweries, large regionals and micro's alike. Breweries new to me were plentiful, and included Treboom from near York, Brass Castle from Pocklington which I erroneously thought was based in a hotel in the lake District (perhaps it being on the North and East Yorkshire bar should have suggested my error), Owenshaw Mill from West Yorkshire, Birds from the West Midlands and Barneys, currently brewed of the Old Egglesbrech plant at the Behind The Wall pub in Falkirk.
Notable this year was the fact that my first pint in the Baa's of Steel themed event was one of the best - the fantastic 3.8% Ciffhanger from Brass Castle was a wonderfully refreshing well balanced hoppy ale which started me off nicely - and was a popular choice with many of the others in our party. Me and Mr Robbery had been joined by Dave, Ian, Dave B, Malcolm and Allie, for our tour of the bars. Its always nice to go with a group so that you can each find the best beers in the different locations - or forewarn each other of the worst on offer.....
The beers I tried last night, in no particular order were :
Brass Castle Cliffhanger and Bad Kitty vanilla porter
Brown Cow Thriller in Vanilla porter
North Riding Neilsons Sauvin
Birds Black Widow
Strathven Craignill Mild
Geeves Tunnel Mouth
Oakwell Dark Mild
Youngs London Porter
Golcar Dark Mild
Elland Beyond the pale, and their 1872 Porter
Revolutions Milk and Alcohol, milk stout
Beer highlights were both the Brass Castle beers, the Revolutions milk stout, the North Riding Neilsons Sauvin, and our finisher on the night, the Elland 1872 porter which was fantastic. The only disappointing beers were from Barneys and the rather lamentable Golcar Mild - tasted too much of a Selby Brewery beer, but without the alcohol. Too earthy for me.
Alas, despite being a great festival there are a few areas where improvement is required. For a start, given how much you have paid to get in, almost all the food sold is £5.00 upwards - it may well be a very nice handcrafted steak and ale pie but a fiver for a pie and gravy is steep, although ut did seem to be a large portion.
The transport was problematic - they did sensibly provide plenty of "last buses" to Meadowhall but we were catching the First South Yorks 69 at 20 past 11. We could not get hold of any timetable information from the venue, which seems daft, and when we needed directions they fell well short. On leaving the venue, we were disorientated; trying to walk in a hurry across the car park is confusing because on the long path in you skirt the edge of the building and don't really go in the car park - it looked like we were crossing a road into the venue, which we weren't. And the beer wouldn't have helped....
We asked a volunteer in a high-vis vest which way to walk to the bus and he sent us all the way down the mile long slip road out onto Sheffield Road at Ickles, so we missed the last bus by about 5 minutes. Had we thought about his woeful suggestion we would have realised that we had only to carry on the way we'd been going and take a left down the side of the building to get out onto the main road. Luckily we found a couple of lads heading to Crookes who had also been misdirected, so organised a taxi for the four of us via town which didn't cost too much in the end.
Anyway, back to the positives, having successfully ferried my glass home I am hopeful of a quick return visit tomorrow, to try some of the other new brews that I missed. I can also confirm that there is more heating thos year - coupled with a sudden temperature rise of late this makes for a much more comfortable visit.
The festival is open tonight from 18.00 (£10.00 on the door) and all day from 12.00 tomorrow (£8.00 on the door) - generous discounts available for CAMRA members.
I highly recommend you give it a try.