Sunday, 27 October 2013

A rather good beer festival


       I've been going to the Sheffield or Steel City beer and cider festival since 1994. I've been to the Nelson Mandela building, the Philadelphia WMC (I think!), a tent near a graveyard, Darnall Social Club and Ponds Forge. This year I went to the first three sessions it was so good. But why was it good?

I started on Wednesday because I now know that Wednesday is a public not trade only session. Wednesday is also a quiet session, and no-one seems to know you can go so there was loads of seating to choose from. The absence of turgid covers of "rog" classics also made Wednesday an excellent day to turn up and chat. It was already looking like this was going to be a good fest.

Further evidence came when I tried some of the best beers i've had in a while on the first night - after which it seemed daft not to go back and have then again. How the impeccable North Riding and Steel City CC was still available Friday night I'll never know - it was one of the beers of the festival.

The Tynebank Rauchbier was another stand out ale - the first time I've tried a cask Rauchbier and apart from being a little sweeter than a Bamberg version this was a very accomplished brew. Great Heck didn't disappoint as always, especially with their Black Jesus black IPA and their Jigsaw IPA. Binghams and Bad Seed both supplied impeccable stouts, Ashover an award winning Citra, On The edge a truly original Crystal Black, Abbeydale their redoubtable Black Mass, Magic Rock impeccable Dark Arts and Sinpleton at 2.6%, and I was pleased to get to try some of the Stod Fold Blonde. Stod Fold is a new brewery based on a farm hundreds of miles from surfaced roads or electricity in deepest West Yorkshire....

There is a price advantage to going Wednesday - it was, I think, £2.50. And Thursday wasn't too expensive if you got in early - so my flexi time was used to do just that. Even Friday was affordable arriving when I did before 5. Although, by this time it was obvious I was at the edge of my tolerance of luvverly beer - it was a very very slow start indeed!

It was also good, even though I didn't make it Saturday, to see  a reduced price for the later sessions - making sure this happens by announcing at the beginning is much more honest and fair. And, I hear the Ponds Forge cafe was doing excellent food - enough people told me that it was good value for me to consider including it in my praise. I just wish I'd thought to go on the Wednesday....

There were gripes - the pasty stall sold pasties with almost no filling  at way over the odds, one low gravity beer was expensive (and a couple of the stronger ones), plus the Saturday day session seemed a little more expensive than normal. Yet none of those issues had any impact on my enjoyment, nor stopped me racking up 20 hours over three nights "assisting" with the supping of much ale. Your'e welcome.

Oh and two session were a bit warm....

The interesting feature here though is that the bits that were good were sufficiently excellent to mean the gripes didn't make any odds. I did hear someone complain that because Dave Unpro had done the beer list (I'm not sure that's true - Unpro?) there were only really hoppy IPAs and Black IPAs but personally I thought a smattering of more sessionable trad bitters and hopless southern ales ensured there was a good balance. It just so happens the hoppier ones were amongst the best on offer at the festival.

So, overall, I say congratulations to all involved for a rather good beer festival.

Wee Beefy


  1. I only got down on the Saturday at about 7pm as I was busy with work Thurs/Fri, and didn't know that the Weds session was public (now I do).

    Two comments:

    1) The beer was very good but as you can imagine there was a limited selection to be had. This happens with all cask beer festivals though so not much you can do (except maybe stagger the casks a bit more to come on at the right time?)

    2) Last year (or was it the year before... the first Ponds Forge year) I found the place soulless, it was like drinking in a giant hospital. They've clearly worked on it because it felt less clinical this time (putting the beer in the middle seemed to help). I still prefer the cemetary park setting though by miles. Maybe they should put gazebos indoors? :-)

    Oh and as an aside, having belgian beer for sale in bottles was pretty cool, even if the selection was quite limited they chose good ones.


    1. Hello,

      I also liked the cemetery park in terms of atmosphere - and I understand your concerns re availability. Its a shame you couldn't have got down any other time since (obviously) there was more choice. Naturally, my attending on those days contributed a lot to why I liked it!

      I too noticed the layout was different and seemed to work much better. I was horrified by the choice of venue 2 years ago and had doubts last year but either by becoming accustomed or improvements, I actually don't mind the current venue.

      It is, perhaps, a question for another post, how much "other" not strictly beer related matters influence your enjoyment. Or not, as the case may be. Having asked and attempted to answer the question why was it good, I'm still not completely sure of all of the factors that meant I had such a bloody good time.....

  2. Much as I'd love to take credit for the whole list, I only ordered about a quarter of them (though I'd like to think that included the more interesting ones ;-) ). I did order some hoppy stuff (as if anyone's shocked!), but I also ordered some stouts and even at least one best bitter. I'll also confess to ordering the pumpkin ones, which were, er, interesting! But everyone knows hoppy beers are best, so that's ok...

    1. I thought it was quite well balanced personally. Not convinced by pumpkin beers but you don't know until you try. My personal preference for stouts and hoppy pales was well catered for but I can see where a session bitter fan might be at a loss. I still think sharing beer ordering duties brings benefits.