Tag Archives: festival

Pig’s Ear of it

12 Dec
casks of ale
casks of real ale

My trip to the Pig’s Ear beer festival left me feeling a bit disappointed.

East London and City branch of CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) held their annual beer festival for the 28th time this week. That’s a lot of beer. For nearly 30 years this event has resolutely upheld the traditions of British beer. Cask-conditioned real ale was unloved, anachronistic and in decline when CAMRA and it’s network of local branches started 40 years ago, but now thanks to their perseverance and foresight, interest in this unique, traditional craft product is once more on the rise. Nuff respec’.

As I’m a fairly recent convert to the delights of craft beer I haven’t attended many beer festivals. So I was excited about going. A chance to sample some rare and unusual brews, and to get to know more about the local beer scene. Hackney was without a local brewery until this year, now there are several and more are opening all the time. With the festival being held in Clapton, which is rapidly becoming the new Dalston, this event should be something special. A celebration of a burgeoning craft in a vibrant and exciting setting. Surely?….Not so much, no.

So what was wrong with the festival then? The venue is amazing, a beautiful grade II* listed building with plenty of space and a

view from balcony at festival

Drinkers at the Festival

very dramatic atmosphere of its own. You couldn’t find a better building to have a festival. Perhaps with some subtle lighting and decorative touches it could have been enhanced, but that is a minor gripe, because it is a stunning building. Paying £4 to get in (£2 to CAMRA members), is a bit steep, as this only buys you entry. You then have to hire a glass, which involves getting to the other side of the hall and another financial transaction. Why can’t the glass hire and entrance payment be done in one? Probably because a lot of casual visitors would baulk at the idea of handing over £7 just for the opportunity to buy a beer.

Once you have completed these formalities it is time to get a drink. Great, forget having just been fleeced for seven quid, we’re in now, lets relax and have a beer. But where do you start? How do you decide which of the impressive array of beers on offer to choose? You can look in the festival programme, but that doesn’t help much. The choice is dazzling and vast. I asked the barman for one of the brews from the new local breweries. He gave me a taster of one, brewed specially for the festival. It was warm and brown and dull. I asked if there was a different one, but there wasn’t. Only one cask of local ale on offer amongst all this beer seemed a strange situation.

So I thought I’d go completely the other way and try some of the Italian cask ales that the festival had specially imported. A very impressive array of Italian cask ale was lined up on the other side of the hall. This is something you don’t see everyday. I asked the barman here for  a recommendation. His ‘beer of the festival’ was a 9% Double IPA. I asked for a taster, but apparently they don’t do tasters (even though I’d had one on the other bar). So I took him up on his glowing recommendation and had a half. Big mistake. A beer of this strength and body should not be served warm, it was undrinkable. A schoolboy error on my part maybe, ordering such a strong beer, but the barman had done a fairly hard sell on it, saying it was great and there wasn’t much of it left.

I really wanted to like this festival. I love beer, and I love exciting food-related Hackney happenings, but this just didn’t do it for me. I could overlook the lack of ambience (would music distract too much from the drinking?), the lack of seating, the abscence of delicious tasty morsels. I could get over the fact that I was in a crowd of 96.7% males, I wasn’t on the pull. No, I was looking for extraordinary taste sensations, amazing beers delivered in peak condition, the ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ moment, where nothing else can slake the thirst but lovely beer. Unfortuantely this festival didn’t deliver. The main event; the beer, just wasn’t up to it. I don’t mean to imply that the beer should be served ice cold, but it should be served cool. Between 12 and 14 Celsius according to CAMRA’s website. The beers here were served warm in a warm room.

This is real ale at its most unreconstructed and rather than expand the audience for ale, I fear events like this will put the uninitiated off.