Friday, 1 March 2013

Magna - smegma?


                    am just recovering from the drinkathon of last night's Rotherham real ale and music festival at Magna. Its been a fixture in my life for about the last 12 years, during which time I've only missed one. To be honest, I've long been aware that its overpriced, but I usually see my mate Matt and his family on the Saturday and that's a tradition I don't want to break.

Am saying all this because last night's session was one of the worst I've been to. Some reasons for this were entirely self inflicted by the organisers; others were out of their hands. Both of these factors are cold comfort.

I went straight from work with my £8.00 advance ticket, and before I even got in, having walked round from the bus stop in near darkness (put a light on for God's sake!) I was immediately stopped and told I had to have my bag searched. I don't know if this happens at other beer festivals, its been a while since Sheffield but its not really a good way to welcome anyone. Immediately one of the three bouncers spotted my "illegal" lucozade bottle, which had water in. "You can't bring that in, its against licensing law, because the seal's broken - you can either sup it or throw it away". Being just water I didn't care and gave it them to dispose of.

I don't pretend to know licensing law but the idea that an unsealed container cannot be taken into the premises seems frankly implausible. Thank God my half pint of milk that I was taking home from work was in a sandwich bag in case it leaked - I'd have been most dischuffed waking up this morning to drink black tea....

Once inside I bought tickets and grabbed my glass, and headed for the Yorkshire bar. I tried a taste of the Whalebone Brewery Diana Mild - it was a bit Selby-ish - it tasted of under cleaned pipes and must. It wasn't unpleasant, but at the same time it wasn't good. The bloke next to me laughed at my description and despite of it, bought himself a half. He took a sip, mused, then turned to me and said "hmmm, very pipey". We both laughed, little knowing how prescient this phrase would become.

I wandered on through the rooms, nothing with disbelief the signs everywhere banning festival glasses from the toilets. Is this another licensing law? And where, if you'll excuse my French, the fuck am I going to put my glass, essentially my ticket for Saturday, whilst I''m in the loo? Some one, perhaps in jest, noted that there was to be a table where everyone could leave them - nut they are all identical. The epic retardation of this concept riled me further. And worse was to come.

I spotted Shakespeares Robin and Aunty Colleen from CAMRA in the main hall, and bad news was afoot regarding some mucky pipes. It seemed handpumps loaned from CAMRA hadn't been washed. The Raw Citra tasted of stale Laphroaigh. Tasted straight from the cask it was fine. I was drinking a very palatable and enjoyable Harthill village Dark Hart, and when I'd finished went to try the Raw Citra Black. It tasted of antiseptic. It was quickly established that this line wasn't clean either.

I moved onto the Thornbridge bar because I figured the delights of Halcyon would soothe my damaged palate - it didn't. It tasted of glue. Jesus wept. This time the man behind the bar insisted it was fine, as he just had done to the customer before me who suggested it might be wrong.

I gently pushed him towards admitting that Halcyon doesn't taste of glue, then went to give poor old Robin yet another taster of phenolic/adhesive/paint based beer. He pointed me in the direction of one of the bar managers and I got my token and 50p back. The organisers were as annoyed as the punters, and were trying valliantly to replace the offending pumps. Maybe some gravity beers will appear....

Next up was Geeves Smokey Joe. I had it a week or so ago in Leeds and it was excellent. This had that "pipey"taste that the Whalebone had. Smokey Joe does not. Luckily I was saved by a half of Doncaster Brewery Mucky Bucket Black IPA. Finally I had some clean tasting hops.

By now I'd caught up with Greg Robbery, Ally and Malc and Mrs Greg. We were sat on the Bombardier bus with two blokes who were hammered an hour after the festival had opened - seems the armies of security staff had been too busy rewriting the licensing lawas to spot that these entrants were hammered. Still, at least I had some company, and the chance to try some other beers.

So as to not make this the longest post in history, I'll quickly list the rest of the ales supped :

2 East Coast brewery beers that I can't recall the names of; 1 pale and 1 porter, both excellent;
Treboom Baron Saturday;
Offbeat Kilter;
Red Willow Smokeless;
Arbor Oyster Stout;
Bristol Milk Stout;
Harbour Pale Ale;
I tried the Yeovil Stout Hearted but that was pipey;
Elland 1872 Porter.

The Elland and East Coast beers were probably the stars, although the Bristol and Arbor ones scored highly as well. There were really no bad beers in the ones I bought, and plenty I still want to try. Magic Rock were listed but their beer did not arrive, which is a shame, and once you got over the puzzle of Cheshire Brewery Robinsons being in the Lancashire room, not the, erm, Cheshire room, there was an admirable line up of great beers. Well, potentially great beers....

Finally, the food was cheerlessly dry. I never expect good food at a beer festival but the cheese burger was so cynically onion free and served on dry hard breadcakes you needed another half for your mouth to recover. Poor.

So, am back tomorrow to meet my friends, and hopefully to try the 15 or so beers I didn't manage to yesterday, I will not be carrying a bag so won't have to have an intimate search of my internal storage, and my friends will look after my glass when I need the loo (last night, the deciet of the bag was my saviour).

I will however, be taking a step back and wondering whether this is a one off glitch, or whether its just going to become more annoying, and have more rules than Grindleford Cafe, in future.

Basically, if you run a festival that is very expensive to attend, you need to make sure its shit hot. It wasn't. By a country mile.

Wee Beefy


  1. If it's any comfort, I got through security without having them take any interest in my rucksack whatsoever. That said, I think there was too many bouncers there.

    The thing that got me last night were the crowds. The queue to get in was the biggest I've ever seen for a beer festival and it appears to have outgrown what is actually a pretty huge venue to start with.

    As to the beers, the all new Dronfield brewery's Amber Ale was very nice and extremely drinkable. Bristol Beer Factory Bitter Californian and Thwaites 13 Guns were also pretty decent.

    1. Just off back now. I think Magna 2013 will be forever known as "passport-gate", after someone was refused entry because their passport had expired. Astonishing! I also spotted the Dronfield brewery but thought it was a cuckoo? Will try it if there's any left. And the 13 guns looked interesting, so the same applies.

    2. Hello mate, I tried both the 13 Guns and the Dronfield Amber. Post coming later re, but I can confirm that both were good recommendations.

  2. Even the landlord of the whalebone doesn't drink the Diana mild! If you're ever in hull, the timmy taylor landlord there is always spot on.

    1. Thanks! Good advice I reckon. Will bare that in mind when in Hull.....

  3. Some odd comments here... 3,000+ people all drinking, many to excess? How many door staff would you suggest might be appropriate?

    Are expired passports a valid form of identity? Maybe try travelling with one, or speaking to the Rotherham Licensing Officer and Police who were in attendance at Magna.

    How should Security establish whether an unopened bottle of water is, say Vodka? Or deter/detect and prevent the ever present threat of terrorism without random bag checks.

    To me this was a great festival, and Security contributed in a small way to this. I would say that though - I was one of them.

  4. Opened not unopened, sorry!

    1. Hello, thanks for the comments.

      Re the passport, it was only needed to establish the age - so whilst its not valid as a form of legal identity or permission to travel to another country, if (big if, admittedly) the photo looks the same it seems churlish to claim it doesn't prove your age.

      Also, the licensing laws surely only pertain to the sale of alcohol - checking for explosives is incredibly unlikely to be covered by that legislative structure. If security were checking people's bags for opened or unopened bottles of vodka, then they should say so. If they were checking for liquid semtex, communicate that. I don't mind random checks (not that they seemed random mind) to ensure people aren't bringing stuff in that they shouldn't, but that should be confirmed.

      I do wonder why this is not the practice at other festivals though....

      A serious question finally - do you know why glasses weren't allowed in the toilets? I genuinely can't think of an explanation. A steer on this would be helpful, thanks.

  5. Hi again, I'll do my best to answer your questions. It's a criminal offence to sell alcohol to under 18's and I would not be willing to risk a conviction, fine of up to £5k or put the venue license at risk by accepting an invalid form of id which is what an out of date passport is. I do this job week in week out and regularly see under 18's attempt to use their older siblings out of date passport as ID. If I think the person in front of me looks old enough and they are not being abusive I might ask to see a credit card to confirm they are the person on the passport, but we had been requested to make sure everyone entering the Festival was of age.

    Your 2nd point about licensing law I accept. I explained to everyone who's bag I searched that I was simply looking for alcohol, usually asking with a smile if the bag contained any machetes/bazookas or anything like that? I'm not sure why you were given the explanation that it was licensing law. I think you would be surprised though at the number of bottles of alcohol that the searches found.

    I did wonder myself about the glasses in toilets rule so asked about this yesterday. The answer I was given was that last year a lot of glasses got broken in the toilets, particularly in the sinks so this year it was decided to try and keep glasses out of the toilets.


    1. Thanks, its nice to get some clarity.

      I do have sympathy with you on the risks of admitting underage drinkers - I worked in an off license for years and it was a constant battle to make sure you weren't leaving yourself open to prosecution. I think in the shop we may have been more flexible perhaps. I'm quite disheartened that so many people were trying to take their own booze in though.

      And it definitely wasn't you that searched my bag, from the description. I think cracking a joke is the best approach.

      Re glasses, well, I'm still not convinced it was the right idea. I suspect the fact that the signs warning about this were entitled "Corporate Events" probably made me more annoyed. I managed fine Saturday when I was with my friends, but there were plenty of lone drinkers there, who, had they obeyed the edict, would have to have asked the bar staff or tombola staff to look after their glass, which probably creates its own problems.


  6. No problem - will take what you have said on board. Excellent blog by the way.

    1. Thanks. Its good to have the opportunity to discuss some of the niggles with someone. WB

  7. On the glasses in toilets thing, I was told there was a practical purpose - namely there isn't CCTV in toilets, so if anyone was attacked with a glass then it would be easier to catch / witness / prosecute. (Incidentally I got round the problem every time by just putting my glass in my inside pocket)

    The food is a common grumble since the event moved to Magna. Apparently last year they had more complaints about the food than everything else put together. Magna provide the food, the staff and quality and price is as they see fit. As I understand it, the organisers would gladly serve food at a lower price / higher quality (and even have an organisation who would like to do the catering) but for Magna it is a complete no-no.

    1. Interesting, although the food being venue provided makes sesne. That said, as I was pleased to clarify in my return visit post, they were serving really nice roast pork sarnies at £3.00 a go. So credit where, and all that.

      And I put my glass in my bag Thursday. It wouldn't fit in my coat pocket though, due to my coat recently having mysteriously shrunk....