I'm glad to say that the old place is very much as I remember it, with ornate ceiling and unbreachable stage intact - the latter being a necessary feature in those days - but though I've long since swapped my Fender Telecaster for some rudimentary beer knowledge (a step in the wrong direction?), the nerves were nevertheless jangling as I trod the boards once more.
CAMRA's Mike Roebuck introduces special guest Daisy Claeys (middle)
Being invited to take part in the judging at the first festival to be held here since the seventies was a great privilege (thank you Sarah & Ros) and as with all these events it's as much about the people as it is the ale. Our eclectic team, headed up by special guest Daisy Claeys (Belgium's answer to the late Michael Jackson), unanimously saw Fernandes' wonderful 'Rum For Cover' past the post first ahead of the exceptional 'Niamh's Nemesis' from Five Towns of Wakefield, a stunning IPA of Jaipur magnitude. In the bronze medal position was Leeds Midnight Bell, the brewery's most consistent, though increasingly rare, flagship ale.
Last minute preparations before the doors open for the trade session
I should point out that the available seventy beers had been whittled down overnight (a thankless task I'm sure!) to just eight for the purposes of our judging, so if any one's wondering why (for example Tim) the wondrous Mallinsons Simcoe hasn't featured - it ain't my fault! In fact a host of classy ales are undoubtedly still waiting to be uncovered here, and that, amongst many other good reasons, is why I'll be back again tomorrow!