Friday, May 06, 2011

Its Festival time in Halifax

Friday saw the start of the Halifax Camra beer festival, held as usual at The Square Chapel, a stone's throw from the railway station. One of the nicer venues for a beer festival, and somewhat historic, it is one of the local festivals I try to fit into my intinery for the year. This year it has happily coincided with a festival just up the road at the Three Pigeons, and another at the Pump Room so to kill two birds with one stone (to pardon the rather dodgy pun), I trekked across to Calderdale to see what was on offer.

I started at the Mayfest. £3 entry, and refundable £2 for a glass, and off upstairs to the beer hall. I was a bit surprised that there were no programmes available when the festival opened, and I did not realise how much I relied on one to plan my drinking for the afternoon. It was a case of going to the bar, seeing what was on offer, going back to my seat, checking if it was a new beer, then going and buying it. A bit of a time consuming process.

The beer range, as would be expected, covered all styles but in my opinion was a little uninspired. For someone who had visited other festivals recently, trying to find something new became a trial, and without a programme, somewhat frustrating. That is not to say there were not some interesting beers on offer, they just took some finding. Most of the beer was served from stillage, with a few on handpull, and as is usual at Camra festivals, thirds were available. Most cost around £2.60 a pint, a bit of a logistical problem when the beer tokens were £5 each.

So what beer was on offer. Local breweries were represented by Bridgehouse, Bridestones, Little Valley. Mallinsons, Two Roses, and Old Spot, to name but a few and there were plenty of beers from over the Pennines, with Arkwrights, Fuzzy Duck, Lytham and Burscough all in evidence, along with some midland breweries.

I started with 'Balmy Days' from Hopping Mad, a good 3.9% palette cleanser; an probably the best beer I tried. The others were a bit disappointing, and some downright awful, but that is the risk in buying beer blind. Soon I had tried Mr Grundys 'Passchendale', Fuzzy Duck 'Cunning Stunt', and Two Roses 'Barnsley Pride', none of which inspired me, and without tasting notes a bit difficult to describe. All average bitters, and a bit on the brown side. Old Spot ' Its Mild' did what it said on the clip, as did Goose Eye 'Amarillo Pale' - but I expected more from it, and I finally tried Bridgehouse 'Moorland Bitter' at 5.2%, but again it did not hit the spot.

Soon I got fed up with what I considered average beers, maybe it had been my choice of beer that was unlucky, maybe not, so I left to try the other two nearby festivals.

The closest was the Pump Room. Promising 20 beers on offer, and all handpulled, but again I was disappointed. Not all were on, and the one's that were seemed to be a selection from a wholesalers list, and nothing new or very inspiring. I took a half of Tring 'Wooden Wonder', found it almost undrinkable and replaced it with a Salopian 'Surrealism' which was better but at £1.40 a half, a bit expensive. I was the only person trying the beer, the others in the pub drinking lager. So I hoped the festival at The Three Pigeons would save the day. I was sadly mistaken. I was the only drinker in the pub, and the beer range, on the main bar and a makeshift bar in the back room, was pedestrian. It did have all styles of beer on offer but nothing very interesting. A quick half of Northern 'Two Tone' and then off.

All in all, a very disappointing day, I had expected much from the three festivals, and none delivered. The beer range was average, and the quality in some cases left a lot to be desired. Unfortunately none of the festivals were well patronised either, which is a shame for those who have made the effort to put the events on. But that is the lot of the beer ticker, we cannot be lucky all the time.


WestYorkshireman said...

I was also over in Halifax for the festival on Friday, I also found the beers at the Camra fest a little uninspiring and the lack of a programme was poor to say the least.

Myself and my fellow drinkers soon moved onto the Three Pigeons and arrived around 3.45pm to find the pub busy and getting busier as the afternoon went on, some lads we saw earlier at the Camra fest had also de camped here as they were also non too impressed with the beers.

All the beers I tried were enjoyable and well kept at the Three Pigeons.

Onto the Pump rooms and the seating area outside was heaving and there were a few drinkers in the pub too, a lot seemed to be on the real ales.

Just stayed for the one beer which was enjoyable and again in good condition, then we caught the train to Huddersfield.

I guess the pubs must have got busier as the day went on and the sun coming out maybe helped too.

Jibber said...

One of the reasons that the Halifax festival falls short of the mark is that it occurs in May. As any CAMRA member knows, May is the month for mild beers.

One has to ask, why does CAMRA need to promote this syle of beer? It rather suggests that it's not very good. Traditional, yes. A little social corner of English drinking tradition, yes. But if it were that good a style of beer, why do CAMRA need to ram it down our throats every May? It would sell itself.

That, of course, is why no CAMRA branch has to my knowledge, put on a 'Pale and Hoppy' beer festival. (Certain pubs have, including the Salopian Bar in Shropshire). That style of beer is far too popular, and CAMRA seems to feel it has to re-educate our palates to appreciate traditional and often mundane styles that are out of fashion.

As I have said before, the best way of enjoying a variety of beers is to create your own itinerant beer festival, as I and a colleague did last Saturday. Starting off in Huddersfield (Uncle Bruce's), we went to Wakefield (Fernandes, the Red Shed and the Bull and Fairhouse), Horbury (Cricketers), Dewsbury (West Riding LRR)and back to Uncle Bruce's on Huddersfield Station. A superb choice of beers, decent prices, and no nonsense about a 'mild trail'.

Oh and incidentally, we were unanimous about the best beer of the day. It was Hophead (£2.30 at the King's Head which is one of the reasons we went there twice!)