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;
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.