33rd Newcastle Beer Festival – Review

Friday, April 3, 2009 15:00 | Filed in Life, Local Interest, Reviews

The Newcastle Beer festival is something of an annual pilgrimage for me. Every year, I find myself at Haymarket Metro station, waiting to cross over the road and walk up the broad path next to the bookshop to take myself to the Newcastle University Student’s Union bar, where the festival is held. And this year, for the 33rd Newcastle Beer Festival, was to be no exception.

Camra This Way (flickr)

Only this year, there was a problem at the outset. The access route to the bar had been replaced by a building site. More tricky than that, a sealed off building site with no obvious way of getting through. I joined a small group of people muttering and pointing, until I stepped back and noticed salvation, in the form of a poster.


After wandering around for quite a bit — it really was somewhat of a detour, I eventually found my way to the entrance to the beer festival. I’d not been in touch with my normal co-attendee since I’d reminded him of the dates of the beer festival the other week, but as for the past four or five years we’d both gone to the beer festival for between two and three p.m., I decided just to make sure to get there for two and I’d see him inside.

And then suddenly, there it was in front of me.

Beer Festival Building (flickr)

The building the Beer Festival bars are in (note: bars — the beer bar and ciders bar are now in different rooms to give a little more space and allow more beers to come in — 115 beers, 32 ciders and 9 perrys) was suddenly there in front of me. Magic.

Now I simply had to buy my new glass (admission is £4 but this includes a souvenir glass which you can return for £2 back if you want) and get some beer. The beer tokens, like last year were £1.20 each (or five for six quid), which you bought up by the glasses, as they didn’t handle any cash at the beer bar. Every beer was one token for one half.

And yes, you only get a half-pint glass. This is for two very good reasons. Firstly, some of the beers (particularly the stronger ones) you wouldn’t really want a whole pint of. Secondly, you’re bound to find some beers you don’t like and having to drink four-fifths of a pint you can’t stand can be quite difficult. Thirdly, it allows you to sample a wider variety of beers, which is surely the point of the beer festival.

Jarrow Brewery's Caulker (flickr)

I started with a beer called Caulker from the Jarrow Brewery. As I had taken the precaution of twittering my thoughts on the beers I was drinking, it’s easy to remember that I thought that this was a “nice light blond beer to start with”.

It’s not my favourite beer from the Jarrow Brewery — that would be Old Cornelius — but as that wasn’t on, it was certainly pleasant enough to be going along with!

Whilst sampling the Caulker, I had a bit of a wander around the festival itself, trying to spot both “interesting” sounding beers, and more importantly, beers that I thought I would actually like, and ideally hadn’t had before. It’s about trying new stuff, I always feel.

Beer Festival Side 1 (flickr)

The beer festival is situated on the dance floor of the Newcastle University Students Union Bar — more of that later — and takes up quite a bit of space. Not all of the beers are on at any one time (generally, some haven’t settled yet, some have run out etc) but usually by the thursday and friday of the beer festival you will find that there are over eighty different beers available at any one time — down two ’sides’ of bar, and with a few mini-stands at the front associated with local brewers (Mordue, Jarrow, Wylam).

Next stop was to look at the stuff on sale, other than beer. There was a tombola with stuff going to charity. I didn’t win (I normally seem to win a beer glass or some pens). Sadly, there was still no sign of the lad who used to sell his hand made pin badges at the beer festival. This was a shame on two counts: firstly there were genuinely brilliant, and people used to gather round to look at them all the time, and you felt obliged to buy at least one every year. Secondly, and more seriously, I knew he had been seriously ill, so the fact we’ve not seen him at the festival for three years is a bit worrying…

I'm lovin' it beer festival t-shirt (flickr)

There was also someone selling books about beer (which I always think are not only quite expensive but rather miss the point) and of course, the T-shirt displays. Oh, you know the sort of thing. The ones with slogans like “it’s not a beer belly, it’s a power cell for a sex machine” or “Oliver Reed and the Tipple of Doom” (in Indiana Jones style), or my own personal favourite “Heart of Gold; Balls of Steel; Knob of Butter”.

But this year I also noticed a spoof on the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” campaign, only here the ‘M’ on the t-shirt was for ‘masturbate’.

I’d also managed to have a Hyde’s Spin Doctor (nice) and a Tryst’s 80/- (“eighty shilling”) which, sadly, I had to describe as the first ‘miss’ of the festival.

Still no sign of anyone else, though… where was my regular co-attendee? So I sent him a text…

Vibrator Vending Machine (flickr)

Meanwhile I was continuing my wander about, and discovered something different that I hadn’t remembered from the year before. Yes, on the edge of the dance floor — which I’ll come back to later — was a series of vending machines. There was one for fizzy drinks, one for snacks, and one for cock rings, lubricant, vibrators, and of course batteries.

Things have changed since my student days. They are certainly less subtle.

But that brings me to something else I’d noticed. When I first started coming to the beer festival, it used to be full of old gits with beards drinking beer and muttering to themselves. Now it’s full of flash young kids with daft clothes who think they look cool. Of course, I rather suspect that both of these groups are, and have always been, there, it’s just that I’ve obviously changed my own personal membership category.

Lees Moonraker, at 7.5% (wonder if it’s called that because it’s “like rocket fuel”?) was the first in the barley wine class that I sampled and was very nice indeed. Certainly not a session ale, but good to try. Old Remedial from the Moulin brewery was next, with a barley-wine type of taste but at 5.2% not quite so powerful.

The Midnight Sun from Williams Bros (5.6%) was described — accurately — as “a traditional rich porter with ginger undertones”. It was lovely to try, but I’m glad I only had a half-pint glass, as I was going off it as I got towards the bottom of the glass.

Sign: No Drinks On The Dance Floor (flickr)

Obviously, what with the beer service area being on what was the Students Union Bar dancefloor, and all the drinkers wandering around near it with their drinks also on the dancefloor, I was a little surprised to see that no drinks were actually allowed on the dance floor.

This presumably would mean that the entire beer festival was in breach of Students Union rules. So sssh! don’t tell ‘em.

By this time, I had company — some ex-colleagues — so despite my normal ‘beer buddy’ for the festival seemingly having vanished, I was doing quite all right.

Next up was Windie Goat’s Priests Wheel at 4.3% ABV. This was actually quite pleasant (“light, amber, hoppy”) even if the only reason I had decided to go for this one was that I’d liked the name of the brewery.

Last of the beers to be sampled was another Barley Wine — Robinson’s Old Tom. This was the strongest beer, at 8.5%, and was also the first one that I’d had before — I just fancied finishing of with one that I knew I would like.

Cider Bar with Applejack (flickr)

And then it was time to wander upstairs to the cider bar, and see Applejack. He is the gentleman wearing the hat, and has his regular page in the event programme telling you about the ciders he has sorted this year. He has also sometimes been described — and, I believe, by himself — as “the twat in the hat”.

As Brother Giles of Prinknash Abbey has apparently turned his hand to other things (yes, Prinknash Abbey is a community of Benedictine monks), I felt obliged to try the last cider. Unfortunately, whilst strong, it wasn’t particularly nice.

The Hecks Port Wine Of Glastonbury Cider was red in colour and, as I said at the time, nice tasting. However, it was like the Midnight Sun in this regard. It started out nice, but I was sick of it long before I’d finished it.

Rosie’s Wicked Wasp cider was quite nice and was a whisky casked cider so had a hint of whisky taste to it, although Rosie’s Rampant Ram (rum casked) was much nicer. Then I moved to Biddendens which was gorgeous. It was a very watery looking cider and initially seemed a bit ominous (prior to tasting, my guess would have been paint thinner with an apple smell) but in fact turned out to be my favourite cider of the night.

So I had a couple of them…

By this time, I believe I was starting to feel the effects of the beer somewhat and it was time to head home before I fell over or did anything too embarrassing. Although I did later discover that I had sent someone a text apologising for offending their boyfriend, when it turned out that a) I hadn’t remembered sending any such text b) it wasn’t their boyfriend and c) I hadn’t actually offended anybody. Ah, that’s what I call a good beer festival.

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4 Comments to 33rd Newcastle Beer Festival – Review

  1. Chris Mansfield (T&N CAMRA Branch Secretary) says:

    April 6th, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Thank you for your positive write up about the festival, it’s nice to know that all our (voluntary!) hard work paid off and that people actually enjoyed it!

    I have to admit, the Ann Summers machine took us by surprise, too!

    Happy drinking for another year, and hope to see you at the 34th festival :-)

  2. JackP says:

    April 6th, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I always appreciate all the hard work that the volunteers put into it – it’s an extremely well run festival (even if the fridays do get ridiculously busy!)

  3. Chris Mansfield (T&N CAMRA Branch Secretary) says:

    April 7th, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Indeed, you should try it from the other side of the bar! In fact, feel free to volunteer next year… ;-)

  4. Gordon Matthewson says:

    April 14th, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Thanks for the guide, finally going to visit this year and hopefully convince a few older friends who have started taking an interst in Real Ale to join me.

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