Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Wigan Beer Festival

I came back from Wigan beer festival on Sunday tired but happy. Wigan is run in a way that I think really works:
  • It has no advance tickets, a system which tends to exclude casual punters.
  • It is open all day, just as CAMRA campaigned for years ago in pubs.
  • It is a good venue with acceptable disability access, an indoor queue at opening time and a courtesy bus between the festival and the town centre.
Wigan has a theme each year. In 2-007 it was James Bond, The Pie Who Loved Me. This year it was the light versus the dark, with Darth Pie Eater versus Luke Pie Walker. The light ales were all on one bar and the dark on the other. I was pleased to notice that the first beer of the festival to sell out was Southport Golden Sands. I found Anglo Dutch Apistus with a faint heather honey taste interesting, although I couldn't drink it all night, but it was popular with women who were unfamiliar with real ale. I also liked Dark Star American Pale Ale, Lytham Gold, and Oakham Bishop's Farewell, among others. I tried a few dark beers but nothing attracted my attention particularly.

Wigan is a friendly festival that attracts quite a broad range of drinkers, including groups of young drinkers who start there and then go on to clubs in town. Unlike, say, Liverpool, you get groups of young women on their own, not dragged along by boyfriends. Many of these go straight to the cider and perry bar, but some try the ales. A group of lads come each year dressed in bear costumes, declaring they were told it was a real bear festival. To get a good idea of what it was like, look at the pictures on the Wigan CAMRA website. I can be seen in one unpacking glasses, something we were close to running out of at one point, it was so busy.

The Light Beer of the Festival was Dark Star American Pale Ale. The Dark Beer of the Festival was Dark Star Expresso Stout.

By 9.00 p.m. on Saturday, every single cask and bottle of beer, cider and perry was empty, and only a few fruit wines remained. So we volunteers went to the Boulevard and the Berkeley in Wigan, where I was introduced to Prospect beers. Nutty Slack is a delicious 3.9% mild which I found to be full of flavour but not overpowering. A dark beer, I announced, to add to the small range of dark beers I drink. Then I tried Silver Tally, which at 3.7% is light but still tasty; I don't often drink beers below 4% as they can be thin, but this one certainly wasn't. Another to enjoy. Finally, I tried Big John, a 4.8% dark beer, and found another dark beer to add to my 'dark' list. Keep an eye out for Prospect beers.

If you weren't at Wigan, you missed a treat.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds good Nev and I'm sorry, with hindsight that I missed it. I'm one of those who used to like the old venue at the mill site, - smaller but cosier I felt, as opposed to the cavernous JJB surroundings.
    I look for something extra too - the music is always an important factor for me. Often this aspect of Beer Fest. programming is an afterthought, a bolt-on, an "OK, let's-get-someone-cheap-and-local" pub rock ethic but I have to say that it was at Wigan, 15 years or so ago, that I saw the great Tim Johnson with his band. I've been a fan ever since. He lived in Manchester then, now he's London-based, his brand of modern jazz, (cool, smooth if you must) has him packing out major venues and to think if it wasn't for Wigan Beer Fest. on a cold, March Saturday afternoon back in the '90s, my life would be the poorer, - I digress I know, but none of us is perfect!


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