I’ll be honest – I don’t really feel like writing a review this morning. I feel mainly like going back to bed. And when I consulted my notes today, it looks like I have just written “beer = good” in my festival program and “Strict rules in. Motorways” on my phone, along with two badly taken photos. And nothing else. The first one is true, if not as helpful to writing this review as I might like. I have no idea what the second one means. Not a great start. However, that’s just my irresponsible drinking, and you shouldn’t let that put you off going to the Reading Beer Festival. So how was it this year?
The first challenge at the beer festival is it’s sheer size. Trying to find anyone can involve some wandering up and down, especially when they are too busy chatting to notice their phones. Fortunately Mr. Affable’s shiny head sticks up above the crowd, so I was able to spot him, drinking with a few folks that I only see once a year – at the Beer Festival. In fact, some of these guys travel from a fair distance for the beer festival – I met people not just from Reading, but also from Windsor, Maidenhead, and even Redhill (including one who had over 11,000 unique beers on untappd – way to go!). Being local, I just think of it as a nice thing to do in Reading. But the Reading beer festival is actually one of the best beer festivals in the country, and people travel from far and wide to come here. So if you are local, make the most of it, and head down there.
I had prepared a “must taste” list before going, and as luck would have it, Dan was drinking one of the beers on my list – The Hoppy Botanist by Campervan Brewery (we were sat by the “C” section). Dan warned that it was OK, but perhaps I should just order a half. I didn’t heed his advice, and got a full pint. He was right – I should have got a half. It’s advertised as a rhubarb and custard flavoured beer. It tasted just like those boiled sweets you used to get, which is nice for a few sips, but too much for a full pint. More of a success on the unusual flavours was Bermuda Triangle Holiday Home by Elusive Brewing – hints of a bounty bar, but only a little bit of a hint.
There’s great food at the beer festival. I went for the curry in the end. £9.50 for the Snack Mix. I don’t know why they call it “snack” – it’s basically everything they sell, all on one big tray – rice, curry, dhal, nann bread, and more that I only have a hazy recollection of now. There are also some great actual snacks to buy – biltong, olives, and so on, as well as Pipers crisps behind the bar. However, due to the happy coincidence of the delivery man arriving with some jars of Snaffling Pig pork scratchings just that afternoon, I also took a jar with me. They went down pretty fast, and helped the drinking along.
After that, I moved on to some of the IPAs that I had been wanting to try, starting with the 11% Beast From The East, by Siren Craft. I had the sense to only order a third of a pint this time, and it was fantastic beer – quite sweet, and lightly hoppy. While I was at the Key Keg bar, Doug the barman recommended a few other great beers – Pretty Mess (Burning Sky Brewery), which is so hoppy it almost burns your throat, and Warszawa by Five Towns Brewery, which was a very sour cherry beer. Some of the best beers at the festival are at the Key Keg bar, but unfortunately many of them are not on at the same time, which prevented me from hitting all the items on my list. Because of the way Key Keg works (it’s like a pressurised wine box), they can only serve a few at at time. But it’s a really popular way for small breweries to sell beer because they don’t need to spend a fortune on barrels, do give it a go and see what is on there.
I could go on listing great beers, but it becomes boring after a while. In short though, go to the bar and talk to the people working to get some beer recommendations. They generally have some good ideas, and will steer you towards the right beers. I managed to tick only 2 of the beers off my planned list, but the best beers were all recommended by the staff, and were probably better than what I had picked out anyway.
The atmosphere at the beer festival is not remotely comparable to a pub. You are in a giant tent, which gets cold later on (Simon, didn’t I warn you not to wear shorts?). The toilets are portacabins. There’s not enough space to get a seat easily. By the end of the weekend, it’ll smell of fermenting grass. And you have to pay for the privilege of this. Despite all of that, it’s full of friendly people, having a good time. Friday night and Saturday night feature some great bands, and Sunday is family day. It works.
|Beer Quality||Considering it’s just barrels on shelf, and were moved in just this week, it’s hard to see how they achieve the high quality. Every pint was spot on.|
|Beer Selection||622 beers to choose from. 10 out of 10. No-one can top this.|
|Drink vs Food||Very definitely all about the drink. Food is there so that you can keep drinking without starving.|
|Music||A great mix of bands Friday and Saturday, and you can wander far enough away if you don’t like them.|
|Snacks||Pipers crisps behind the bar, olives, jerked meat stalls.|
|Atmosphere||Thursday night is a pretty chilled night. Gets more lively Friday and Saturday.|
|Price||£11 to get in, and beer varies in price – about £4 a pint for regular beer.|
|Space||It’s massive, but there still aren’t enough tables by a long way. Needs more benches.|
That score is way higher than any of the local pubs, primarily because of the range and quality of the beer. It’s odd though – you wouldn’t choose to pay to go drink there every night of the year. But for once a year, it’s unmissable.