It was 5pm on a Wednesday and an expectant crowd was gathered outside The Star - not to celebrate its achievement on being voted 2009 Pub of the Year (though well done Sam, you deserve it) but to get first pickings at this year's Spring festival. The door opened and the throng split - some taking advantage of the beers on the main bar, others making their way to sample the delights in the marquee.
The format is the tried and tested method with all 46 beers in the marquee being cellar cooled and handpulled, supplemented by many more served on the main bar inside. As usual there's a splendid array of pump clips promising beers from all over the country in all styles and strengths. As the more ardent 'tickers' scoured the programme for the unusual, I set to work sampling the new beers from Mallinsons (surprise, surprise!), and these two set the standard for me, being both light, hoppy and very drinkable.
The most notable rarities are from new(ish) breweries such as Garthela, Silverstone, Montys and Wild Walker with festival specials from Goose Eye and Wensleydale and even a collection of George Formby themed beers from Great Heck! To try everything in one night is an impossibility of course so these are a few of what was managed - with the assistance of some friends!
Interesting fruit beers this time have come from Coach House with their Lemon and Ginger (very gingery!), Boggart's Lemonale tasting of lemonade believe it or not and Caledonian Raspberry Fool with a very nice fruit tang. Several bitters with strengths from 3.7% to 5.7% were sampled, all different in taste, with the best being Kirkby Lonsdale's Ruskins (3.9%), a good effort from a new brewery and Phoenix OTT (5%) that was full of balanced flavour. Pictish weighed in with 4% Spiral, a little darker than their usual fayre, Howard Town with the 5.5% SDB (Strong Dark Bitter), and Yorkshire Dales with a couple of beers - the Scabba Wath at 4% going down particularly well.
In addition we tried stouts from Hornbeam, Kinver (their Tornado having a massive honey background) and Titanic (chocolate & vanilla) plus dark beers from Wild Walker, Great Heck, and Coach House - to name a few. There's even Fulstow's Raging Recall available - allegedly based on the Carling lager recipe according to the programme notes. Make up your own mind here!
Again, Sam and the team have done a fabulous job sourcing and presenting all the different and interesting beers, and were rewarded with a good turn out of enthusiasts from all over the country on this opening night. I recognised people from Derby, Cambridge, and even the Stoke boys were back in town, showing how well thought of the Star fest is in 'tickers' circles. So if you have never visited then now is the time. The festival continues until Sunday so no excuses!
(PS No payment from Mallinsons was received in the production of this article!!)