Saturday, May 21, 2011

The 2nd Dewsbury & Heavy Woollen Festival

Friday dawned and brought with it the problem of which of two beer festivals to visit, whether to go up into North Yorkshire and give Skipton a go, or stay nearer to home and take a look at Dewsbury. Having a preview of both beer lists, and with the chance to try out the new Sportsman brewery, there was really no contest, so midday found me queueing outside Dewsbury Town Hall to sample what was on offer here.

The afternoon session was free for Camra members, and at £1 for a refundable glass, and £6 for a beer ticket, I was soon equipped to enter the fray.

The beers were, as usual at Camra festivals, on a mixture of handpull and stillage and arranged in 2 separate bars, one dedicated to Scottish beers. The other a mixture of old favourites and 'spotters' beers, along with a well stocked cider bar. I must admit the larger bar was a bit shambolic as trying to locate some of the beers I wanted was a problem, maybe a straight alphabetical system may have been better.

My first choice was obvious and I settled down, with my 3 companions, to sample the Sportsman 'Alpha'. It was 4.3% and the tasting notes promised 'a refreshing citrus aroma and and grapefruit finish'. What we all got from the beer was an overwhelming taste of paint, which was unpleasant in the extreme. However, it was the first beer from a new brewery so we thought it may have been an infection in the beer or something similar, how wrong we were !

We all had agendas of what to drink, and our second beers were all different, but again the taste of emulsion came through those of taken from the larger bar on handpull, but we were beginning to get a little suspicious when those on gravity and those from the Scottish bar did not have the flavour of Magicote. It was early in the day, and some of the beers we tried were the first beers out of the pumps, in halves, so may be this was the problem. Not the beer itself, but something had tainted the beer lines themselves.

Having discussed the problem, we thought maybe the best way forward was to concentrate, for a while on the Scottish beers, and the those on gravity. From this selection we managed to find untainted beers, and soon managed to get some new beers that tasted as the brewers intended; Cotswold Spring 'Old Sodbury Mild' was well received, Kelburn 'Pivo Estivo' was excellent, but my favourite was Highland 'Orkney IPA' which I could have gladly stayed on all day if there were not plenty of new beers yet to sample.

Soon, it was time to return to the handpulls though, and the choice of beer became a lottery, some tasted tainted, others not. I tried the new Copper Dragon beer ' Conqueror', Nook 'Summer Bitter' , and Bridgehouse 'Barnstormer' all had the underlying paint flavour, but St Georges 'Paragon Steam' did not. By this time one of our number had become so frustrated that he left. I tried another half of the Sportsman beer and this time it was as it should have been, and although not giving the hop hit I expected, was not a bad beer for a first effort.

We had all got fed up with the risk of getting tainted beer from the bar and selected our final couple of beers from stillage. The best of the lot was Black Sheep 'Imperial Russian Stout', at 8.5% it was everything I had hoped for in an Imperial Stout and more, a truly excellent example of its type.

Soon we had exhausted our list of new beers and decided to leave, but not before a long chat with one of the festival organisers about our findings. He was sympathetic and as equally baffled as us as to what may have caused the problem in the beers, but could offer no explanation beyond what we had already suggested.

So, all in all, a day of highs and lows. Some really excellent beers, and some less so, but whether that was the fault of the brewers it is hard to say. All I hope is that the problem can be eliminated for their next festival, and that those punters new to beer festivals were not so put off by some of their beer tasting of Dulux that they will never try real ale again. A shame for those who had obviously spent plenty of time and effort putting the festival together.


Steveg said...

Unfortunately I said goodbye to Tetley's several decades ago, when the accountants took charge of the brewing! Shame really, the bitter could be excellent and the Dark Mild, when on form (and not tainted by pubs filtering back in the cellar) was superb! So I'm afraid I shed my Teley tears years ago.

ChrisM said...

Sounds like they hadn't cleaned/rinsed the lines properly. Did any of your group make a complaint about the tainted beer?

Timbo said...

Chris...we did speak with the staff, frequently !,they did pull beer off to make it drinkable but they were as baffled as we were..they only constant was the lines but apparently they were a mixture of new and old equipment, so even that did not explain it..just hope as the beer got pulled through the quality improved, but we were not going to go back and revisit beer we had drunk previously to check..

ChrisM said...

Could've been cr*p in the pump cylinders, it's very difficult to empty them completely before putting them into storage, so you always end up with a few nasties when dragging them out again, even after just a few weeks. If they've not been cleaned properly I wouldn't like to think what it was you were actually drinking :| The technical staff should have taken the beers off immediately until they had sorted it. That's Dewsbury off my list, then!

Jibber said...

Meanwhile, up at Skipton, their most successful festival yet is drawing to a close. I worked the Friday afternoon session, and even at that early stage, some of the beers were beginning to run off, including the two new brews from Dave Sanders. Most were impressed by the range available from really pale hoppy beers such as Kirkstall Pale to some wonderfully black and mind boggling porters and stouts. All that and Old Tom too! Taylors and Copper Dragon had their own areas and were the only beers on hand pump.

It was nice to see some familiar Huddersfield faces. Chelle from the King's Head made her usual beeline towards the cider.

I understand the festival will be back next year. There were concerns that the town hall was scheduled to be restored and redecorated, which would mean its non-availability. But the local authority is a bit strapped for cash so isn't going ahead!

It would be nice if local CAMRA branches could get together to avoid clashes such as Dewsbury and Skipton. I had every intention to go to Dewsbury today (Saturday) but on leaving the Skipton Fest, we popped into the Narrowboat (Black Sheep Russian Stout, and Dark Star American Pale Ale)and Wetherspoons (Jaipur - £2 with our 'spoons tokens). We somehow managed to get back to Hebden Bridge, but today has been a recovery day!

Steveg said...

Myself, Anne & Tom paid a visit to the fest Sat afternoon and am pleased to say the beer quality issue seemed to have been resolved, probably due to the amount of beer that had been pulled through the lines by then. Reasonable range of beers on offer, no entertainment/noise (thank god) and plenty of pale & hoppy (mainly scottish!) beers to while away the hours on the run up to the widely publicised "Rapture" event! Well done Heavy Wollen Branch!!

Steveg said...

As "Jibber" quite rightly say's, you would think that local CAMRA branch's could get together to co-ordinate the annual Beer Fest diary to prevent potential clashes. Perhaps the Regional Organiser, sorry - Director could be given the right to sign off official CAMRA festivals and tweak the timings somewhat?

Maybe one for our local branch to champion??

Mallinsons Brewing Co said...

There was definately some problem with the lines on that left hand bar. We went yesterday and tried our own beer first and it was ok. Later when it was tried again, it was undrinkable. It seemed that if the beer had been sitting in the line, then it got tainted with a strong paint taste. It's incredibly devastating for brewers to work so hard to get the beer quality spot on, only to have it ruined at point of sale.

Anonymous said...

If the problem was incorrect cleaning of lines, it would only take a couple of pints of fresh water, or beer to flush out unless they had been left in cleaner for a very long time.

Anonymous said...

sorry to disappoint you speculators out there but i was told officially that the problem related to beer glass contamination by programmes.

Timbo said...

Anon..with reference to your comment about programmes and glasses, this was what the problem was assumed to be at first, but taking the programmes from the glasses made no difference, so there must have been some other problem. That would have tainted all the beer, not just those on the handpulls on the larger bar

Anonymous said...

Anon, I tried a half of Mallinsons straight after it had been pulled for 2 other customers and it was fine. I tried it again a couple of hours later and it was undrinkable, smelling and tasting of chemicals. At no time did I put the program into my glass, so that explanation does not fit.

Mallinsons Brewing Co said...

I knew that beer programs were being the scapegoat so attempted to put one in a glass as I entered the fest, and was told it may taint my beer, so I removed it. There were no initial problems, but the mallinsons we had at the end was very poor and the paint taste made it undrinkable. It couldnt have been a glass issue, nor a pump issue, or a line cleaning issue, so there must have been some inherent fault with some of the new lines that were supplied.
But it is very disappointing that this issue was raised very early on and no progress had been made by Saturday apart from warning people not to put programmes in glasses.

Paul said...

The bar manager responds
Much research had been done to find a line that would be suitable for both the beer & the cleaners used, that was then purchased in 3 rolls from .
The product was Tubclair AL details of which can be found at
We made new lines for the majority of the beers on dispense, using some of those kindly loaned by Huddersfield branch alongside them.
The lines were cleaned with Pipeline from Chemisphere, the details of which are here :
All pipes on the Yorkshire bar were treated at the same time, and as a result, may have stayed in the solution for longer than is suggested. However, this had no apparent effect on the older lines borrowed from Huddersfield, only the new ones.
The Scottish Bar was cleaned in one go, but with only 7 lines, was less exposed to the solution. No problem was found with any of the Scottish lines.
The lines ran to a mixture of older, reconditioned or new pumps.
Mike Robinson & Rob from the Rat raised the issue with the taste and the possibility it might be lines first at the end of Thursday.
The suggestion was that inappropriate lines had been bought. They were told what pipe we had used, recommended for beer use.
A search of other potential culprits identified the printing ink of the programme as leaving a smell in the glass, and therefore that practice was stopped.
On Friday one group repeatedly experienced problems of taste.
This group were the authors of the Blog “a Swift One”
Beer was pulled through on each occasion it was mentioned, this seemed to remove the problem. (in all, about 25 people out of the 3000 visitors mentioned this problem).
After each complaint, the beer was tasted. On several occasions, their palates perhaps more skilled than ours, we could not detect what they could.
Eventually, when it became obvious that there was to be no way of us correcting the taste to satisfy them, I spoke to the main protester & suggested he stick to those 48 beers on direct dispense. We had the SIBA supreme champion, Old Sodbury Mild on both Handpump & Barrel dispense, & I gave him a taste of each, joining him in the taste. He avowed he could taste plastic & paint, but I could find nothing different between the two. At this point, returning to his colleagues somewhat upset, he left.
I spoke at length to one of the group and explained my perplexity. There was no common factor, beers such as paragon Steam were found to be fine, but others such as the Baroque were allegedly tainted. Both were on the new lines on the same bar, next to each other, so the cleaning was not indicated.
Saturday saw a full clean, 5 lines at a time, with line cleaner. More water was pulled off this time, & the lines then left in water.
This appeared to work, no taint problems reported on Saturday.

In an attempt to identify the problem and avoid a repeat, a sample of the pipework has been returned to the manufacturers for analysis.

I am saddened that the long, hard work by a dedicated group of volunteers to bring something special to their town has been damaged in this way.

It is sad that in future, anyone searching for the Dewsbury & Heavy Woolen beer festival will get as there first “hit” after the festivals own website, the opinions on the Blog “a swift One”
It is probably unfair of me to think that the following article, regarding Black Sheep Imperial Russian Stout was posted separately, because it might have been seen to give some balance to the previous post.

Lesson learned. Its not the opinions of the many that matter, it’s the criticisms of the few.

I, for one, will not be doing it again.

Festival Bar Manager.

Bernard Poulter MBII ,SLV, Licensee & Publican for 24 years, multiple CAMRA Branch award winner, NVQ level 3 & 4 on-licensed premise management trainer, & lover of well kept beer.

Timbo said...

I take on board Mr Poulters comments and the efforts that he and his team made to resolve the problem that was identified with the beer. It was not my intention to try to 'scupper' the Heavy Woollen Festival. Merely to report the event as I had found it. I am saddened he has responded to the comments made in the way he has, since most of the festival beers were fine, just those on the Yorkshire bar that had been tainted, which led me/us to the view there was a problem with the beer lines.
I would like to clear up a couple of points he made though.
I was the only person out of the 4 he identified who has connections with 'A Swift One', the person he mentions who he spoke to about the 'Old Sodbury Mild' was not me, but a friend from Sheffield. He has tasted many thousands of beers, and I value his opinion, because of his findings he left early, but the rest of the group remained.
Other members of the editorial team visited the festival on Saturday, whereas I went on Friday, and their experience was similar to mine with the beer, as can been seen from the other comments posted. Their group included respected local brewers whose beer was at the festival, and who was disappointed with its taste, commenting that it was still tainted.
My intention in writing on 'A Swift One' is to try to be balanced, and give my views on what i see, whether it be good or bad. I am not in the business of trying to 'hatchet' anyone or anything, merely write what I experience.
The article that followed on the 'Imperial Stout' was not to balance what I had said about the festival, just to promote what I thought was an excellent beer.
I am more than happy to speak face to face with Mr Poulter should he so desire, to try to resolve our differences. I certainly do not wish to harm any future attempts at Dewsbury hosting their own festival again, nor would I want him to step down from his role because of the problems encountered at this festival.