This weekend was about as good as weekends are likely to get as it was entirely taken up with beer and motorbikes.
Firstly, on Friday and Saturday (4-5 April) it was the Gloucester CAMRA Beer and Cider Festival at Blackfriars in Gloucester. I spent the Friday evening drinking and the Saturday working as a volunteer, and I enjoyed both about equally. Then, with feet still aching, on Sunday (6 April) it was off to the annual Prescott Bike Festival.
I blogged about Prescott last year and that probably already says most of the important stuff, but I’ll still do a Part 2 to this blog once I’ve had a chance to upload pictures. But for now, the beer, and I think the best (and laziest!) thing I can do is simply re-use the article I have just written for the Citizen:
For many years I yearned to get the chance to see inside Blackfriars. Dating from around 1239 and described as the most complete example of a Dominican House in Europe, for a long time it remained locked away behind impenetrable gates, inaccessible to Gloucester residents except for the occasional guided tour permitted by its owners, English Heritage.
This has all changed over the past couple years, with the Guildhall now managing it as a venue. This has allowed Gloucester CAMRA to use it as the magnificent backdrop to their annual beer and cider festival, the second of which was held last weekend (4-5 April). If there is one thing that can make this superb historic building even more impressive, it is filling it with beer!
The first festival last year was a huge success. All the wise heads said it wouldn’t work on a large scale in the city centre, so ambitions were set fairly low. It turned out that the wise heads weren’t as wise as they thought and the event was massively over-subscribed, with all beer running out long before the end of the festival. Lessons were learnt, and all were determined that this wasn’t going to happen again.
CAMRA festivals are run entirely by volunteers, and the committee started planning way back last summer. It is hard to describe just how much planning is required but, as with all plans, they never survive first contact with the enemy. Setting up the week before the event very little goes exactly according to plan and a lot of problem solving and decision making on the fly is required.
Eventually the venue is ready, the doors open and enthusiastic drinkers pour in – almost 2000 of them over the two days, from all around the country and even some from America.
I have attended beer festivals for many years and I may be biased, but I think that the Gloucester Festival is very special.
Being in the centre of the city it is very accessible, so it gets a good cross-section of attendees, not just the stereo-typical beer festival goers. Alongside the aficionados you have people who have never before tried real ale or cider, and the bar staff don’t rest until they have helped to find the right drink for them: with over 100 different beers plus more than 25 ciders and perries there really is something to suit everyone.
As well as all of this there were bottled world beers, a selection of wines and some delicious Gloucestershire cheeses to go along with it. Entertainment went on throughout the day with a range of acts, culminating in Frankenstein’s Lobster on the Friday and the Strumtroopers on Saturday, both of whom had people singing, dancing and shouting for more. And all of this with the amazing backdrop of Blackfriars itself.
Finally, at around 11:00pm on Saturday night, the festival ends. The volunteers, many of whom have worked for 2 days straight, can finally relax. A quick stock-take is carried out. Over the two days almost 900 gallons (more than 7000 pints!) of ale, 460 litres of cider, 275 litres of perry, 48 kgs of cheese and 4 kgs of chutney were consumed. Not bad going! So good in fact that it encouraged 50 people to sign up as new members of CAMRA.
My personal contribution to the success of this excellent event was small: a bit of help with the set up and a day volunteering at the festival itself, but it was hugely rewarding. It was a privilege to be able to spend time in such a superb building and an honour to work with such a dedicated and enthusiastic bunch of volunteers. I spent time both drinking and working at the festival and I can honestly say I think I enjoyed the time that I was working the most. Don’t ask me to do it too often though; my feet need time to recover!
So look out for next year’s event, and if you are a CAMRA member I strongly recommend you to consider getting involved – this year we had volunteers from as far away as Cardiff, Newcastle and Scotland. If you’re not a member, why not sign up and join in with the group’s social events throughout the year.
To see more information on what you missed last weekend the beer festival website is at http://www.gloucesterbeerfestival.org.uk, or for more information on CAMRA in Gloucester see http://www.camraingloucester.org.uk.