Aye, dry

Retro-blogging* the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival 2014, Saturday daytime session
*A bit like live-blogging, only different.

11:00 MBCF opens. Planned to be there by now. Am just leaving house. In fact, no wait, did I get that… yes, I had it all along, but more to the point have I got my ticket? My free Winter Warmer Wander ticket which is one of the reasons I’m going on Saturday, as (a) I could have got in free anyway on Wednesday and Thursday nights, which would have been a waste of a freebie and (b) the ticket wasn’t valid on Friday night, which would (ditto) and also have cost money? Where did I put the damn ticket anyway?
11:something Find ticket. Remember something else. Tell self to stop faffing about. Leave house.
12:ish Arrive at Velopark tram stop. Having been sat with my back to the rest of the tram, I’d had the impression that it had emptied out at the previous stop, viz. the Etihad stadium. On leaving the tram I’m slightly surprised to realise that approx. 300 people have left with me & are now streaming – well, trudging – towards the Velodrome itself, which seems to be about ten minutes’ walk away. Start to wonder about the session possibly being a bit busy.
12:ish + ten minutes Reaching the Velodrome, the throng trudges patiently around the corner, between two parked cars and up some steps. (OK, not 300, but there must have been a good 40 or 50 of us.) We then queue to be let in. There are notices on the door saying that the event has been far more successful than expected, and that the entry price has been dropped accordingly. We’re encouraged to drink the Festival dry and then head back into Manchester. (Having just spent a not entirely comfortable half hour getting here from Manchester, I feel this last part could have been phrased better, or not at all.)
A bit later Hand over my ticket. Realise that the reduced entry price is £1 or £0 for CAMRA members, so having the ticket’s made no difference at all. (On reflection, the WWW/Mild Magic incentives are probably aimed more at ordinary punters than at the CAMRA hard core like what I am.)
nn:nn (subsequent timings approximate) Wander around vaguely. It seems a lot like any other arena – a long circular corridor with some stuff in the middle that’s curiously hard to get to. After a bit of trial and error, I find the steps to the stand. Realise that the stand overlooks the cycle track, and that there are no pedestrian crossings. After a bit more wandering I find the steps that lead under the stand and enable you to get at the beer. Five flights down, three flights up.
nn:nn Start with half a pint of Mallinson’s Simcoe. Rather fine. Realise that the notice outside wasn’t joking – there are big gaps in the lineup, several of which have been heroically plugged by late additions (a category which includes the Mallinson’s Simcoe). Do the catalogue-ticking short-listing thing, but make sure to cross-check with what’s actually on the bars as I go along (“Timothy Taylor, Tiny Rebel, Ulverston, Waen… oh, they’ve all gone. Never mind.”) I end up with a pretty decent list even so.
nn:nn Having worked my way along all three of the main bars, have a look at the brewery bars. Say Hi to a fellow CAMRA member working at one of them. Am keen to find out what’s on the other brewery bars, so walk on without stopping to chat. Then feel guilty about not stopping to chat. Then feel guilty about not being behind one of the bars myself. Decide to get another beer.
nn:nn Pleasantly surprised that Coniston No 9 Barley Wine is still on.
nn:nn So where are the loos? Oh, right, down three flights of steps and up five. Of course.
nn:nn Aghast to find that Red Willow Faithless XXX (the beetroot one) has gone off, although it was on when I arrived. This is a bad sign, I think (correctly).
nn:nn Take a third of Wells & Young’s Winter Warmer with me down three flights of steps and up five to find something to eat. Some nice-looking stuff has been laid on for the Festival – Mexican, Indian and, er, pies with gravy – but I end up with a burger and chips from the Velodrome’s cafe. Finish the Winter Warmer about half an hour after starting it, by which point it’s understandably getting a bit tired. (I mention this because this was the only time in the whole day that I had a beer in anything less than good nick.)
nn:nn Another casualty from my hit-list: Thwaites’ Fallen Nun has now gone off. On the plus side, Harbour #5 (one of the late substitutions) knocks my socks off: a really superb pale ale – fruity hops a-go-go. Really starting to hanker after somewhere to sit. Do a quick head-count of people sitting on the floor as I cross the bar area and get to 25 – fewer than the people with actual chairs and a lot fewer than those standing. There is, of course, ample seating in the stands – but, well, eight flights of steps.
nn:nn First Chop Syl – “black jaggery IPA” – is much better than it sounds, and almost as good as it wants to be. Sit on the floor for a bit. It’s not ideal.
nn:nn Next to go off before I get to it: Burton Bridge Old Expensive. (Who’s been drinking that? I’d never even heard of Burton Bridge Old Expensive before today. I’m not convinced I’d even heard of Burton Bridge.) Have a Blackjack King of Clubs (imperial stout). Not bad at all.
nn:nn Mid-afternoon and the beers are really starting to thin out. Drift past the brewery bars, which proportionally seem to have a lot more left on than the main bars. Hawkshead Brodie’s Prime Reserve (8.5%) is on. I admit defeat on the seating front, and take it to a seat in the stands. Rather a peculiar beer – can’t quite work out what style it is; a bit like a black IPA crossed with a Burton. (Update: after tasting some very similar flavours in a pint of Buxton RednikQuantum Fall-en House (which is a stoutporter), I’m going for “strong hoppy porter”. Unusual, almost medicinal tasting, but not at all bad.)
nn:nn What’s left on my list? Not much, and certainly not much that’s still on. The whole of the second bar is marked “no service here”, as there isn’t any beer left there to serve. Crossing the floor, take another quick head-count of people sitting on the floor; I get to 70. Note with some surprise that Coniston No 9 Barley Wine is still on – I guess the strength is putting people off. I go for Dent T’Owd Tup, which is rather good. Find an actual chair that nobody’s using. Hurrah!
16:00ish Eight beers down; less than three pints in total, but mostly strong and some very strong. Alcohol-wise, I’ve had the rough equivalent of four and a half pints of bitter now, and am feeling it. Was hoping to get a bit further before baling out, but body says otherwise. (Have had cold.) Wonder about finishing off with a return visit to Coniston No 9, seeing as it’s still there. Decide, regretfully, that this would be silly. Leave.
16:15ish On tram. Could really fancy a pork pie.
16:30ish Pitch up at the Arndale Market, where – surprise! – a beer festival is in full swing, courtesy of the Micro Bar. It would seem rude to pass by, so I finish my day’s drinking with a half of Ticketybrew’s Jasmine Green Tea special (seen subsequently on the bar at Font in Chorlton). It’s very nice. Then I go and get a pork pie. Then I go home.

On Twitter, Tandleman – who, under his secret true identity, is one of the key festival organisers – remarked that the Festival had ended for him on a low note, with disgruntled punters having a go. I can understand why people might be dissatisfied – the venue wasn’t ideal, and the beer obviously went down much quicker than planned; anyone turning up after 4.00 on Saturday will have had very slim pickings. But I wouldn’t want anyone to think the negatives outweighed the positives overall; I certainly wouldn’t have missed it. Even the heavily-depleted selection that faced me on Saturday morning was an amazing range of beers; just as importantly, every one of them (at least, every one I had) was in good condition. It’s not every festival where you can say you’re pleased with every beer you try. I’ve been to festivals where you have a choice of fifty different brown bitters from regional brewers, and this was nothing like that – come to that, I’ve been to festivals where the most interesting beers are things you’d see on the bar at the likes of Font or Pi, and this was nothing like that either.

This festival had its problems – most of them caused by its own popularity – but there was a huge range of interesting and well-chosen beers, at good prices and in good nick. When the post-mortems are being carried out, that’s the key point that needs to be remembered.


  1. Posted 5 February, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve cheered up now. You do exaggerate the stairs though. But there are quite a few. I know. I was up and down them probably a hundred times.

    It will be better next year.

    • Phil
      Posted 5 February, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I don’t think it’s ever going to be my favourite venue – not until they start hiring out folding chairs, anyway. But then, last year’s Stockport fest didn’t have any of those practical problems, and I wandered round thinking “had that… had that… had that…”. My main memory of this one is the amazing beer – which is saying something when you look at how late I got to it.

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