The success of a beer festival is dependent on a number of things - not the least of which is good ale of course! And not just good - it helps to have an imaginative selection, examples from new brewers, plenty of different styles and at least as much choice as your neighbouring pub had at their last fest! Now if your neighbour happens to be The Star Inn at Folly Hall, and it's doing three festivals a year and it's averaging sixty odd beers a time and it's sourcing them from every corner of the UK then you might, just might justifiably feel that it's really not worth the effort trying to compete. Well at the risk of sounding like one big (unpaid) commercial for Ossett Pub Co. on this blog recently, I have to say that the management at the Rat & Ratchet (Chapel Hill, Huddersfield) has shown in the last eighteen months that not only does it want to out-do it's stable mates (it's still the only one of the ten Ossett pubs to stage a beer festival) but take on it's illustrious neighbours too. A successful first festival last September sandwiched between two popular mini mild fests, then mild pub of the year has seen the Rat pull it's paws out of the gutter shake off it's slimy lethargic image and dash headlong to capture the holy grail - that freshly deposited pool of pavement pizza, that dropped carton of half-eaten curry (or whatever it is rats prize above all else) - the highly coveted and much merited CAMRA Huddersfield Pub of the Year Award. Of course it's one thing being bestowed with these accolades but quite another keeping them coming, as consistency and goodwill are always the watchwords in the fickle world of pub popularity. This weekend's festival was therefore going to be the acid test for Kendal-Smith and crew as they attempted to live up to their rapid rise to fame and firmly establish the pub at the top of the local real ale tree. So down to the serious business of ale tasting and having plenty of time to spend at this 'do' I decided to get through all the unfamiliar beers during my first session and leave old favourites and the very tempting array of ciders (if they survived) until the back end. A quick glance at the list gives you the lowdown on the ABV spread, with a slight bias toward the stronger ales which is as it should be given that a guarantee of body and flavour (in most cases) will shift the beer quicker under festival conditions. Of the previously untried sub-4%ers then the outstanding beer for me had to be Fernandes (can these people do any wrong at the moment?!) Pathfinder at 3.8% whilst Brown Cow Silver Cascade, Skinners Betty Stogs and Westerham William Wilberforce Freedom Ale were IMO the best of the premiums. New brewers Leeds sent their 4.8% Midnight Bell which was my clear winner in the mild category with Atomic's 5.0% Halflife topping the strong beers.
I apologise for always mentioning the weather on here but it has been rather an issue this summer as I'm sure you're aware. Well for those not living locally I have to report that it's been nearly two weeks since we had any rain in this part of Yorkshire (which is a bloody miracle in itself), and on Friday afternoon we could all actually enjoy our beer alfresco! By the time the stronger stuff was being sampled the outdoor drinking had to be abandoned as the rising temperature was not doing me or the beer any favours. And of course there comes a point at any mass sampling when over-loaded taste buds simply stop reporting an accurate picture of what's really going on to the brain. At this stage I've even known people to rave about John Smiths, having unknowingly been fetched one from the bar (good trick this if you ever need to bring some clever-dick CAMRA bigwig down to earth)!
So to the Verdict. Was the festival a success? Did it live up to expectations? Was it an improvement on last year's? Did I get to sup some wonderful ales and have a great time? And, like a good turn on the X-Factor, it's got to be four yeses. Well... what else am I going to say - it's my local for Christ's sake!