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.