Last weekend saw another extremely successful Gloucester CAMRA Beer and Cider Festival. This was the festival’s third year and it was once again held in the magnificent Blackfriars Priory. As last year, I gave some of my time to help with the setting up and running of the event.
Much had been learnt from the previous two events and this year it was planned and managed by a much reduced committee of just four hard working stalwarts. They did a fantastic job of planning the event and selecting more than 100 varied and interesting beers and 25 ciders and perries. There was also a foreign bottled beer bar, wine and cheese and some superb entertainment throughout the weekend.
Every year the festival supports a worthy charity, and this year it was the Royal British Legion. The committee approached Hillside Brewery, one of the festival sponsors, to brew a special beer in support of the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal. As the festival happened to coincide with the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, they came up with a superb ale called ANZAC: for every pint drunk during the festival, £1 was donated to the charity.
When it comes to the actual event, the small committee obviously can’t run the whole thing on their own, so they have to call in a small army of volunteers. These are all CAMRA members and they help with everything from setting up the venue, racking the beers, working on the bars and then, finally, on Sunday, taking everything down again, leaving Blackfriars in the state that we found it.
Sadly, this year there was one less volunteer than expected. Trevor Carter, one of Gloucestershire CAMRA’s stalwart members, who helped out as bar manager last year and was planning to do so again this year, passed away, aged 51, just a couple of weeks before the event. In honour of this well-liked Cornishman, Battledown Brewery produced a special beer: a 7.2% Imperial Stout aptly named Cornish Curmudgeon; one of the first beers of the festival to sell out.
The city centre location means that the festival attracts a diverse range of people, from the beer enthusiasts drinking third pints to enable them to sample as many different beers as possible, to those who don’t normally drink beer but who enjoy the atmosphere of the event and take the opportunity to try something new. “What have you got that tastes like lager” is a more common request than you might imagine.
The weather was very kind again this year: the sun shone and throughout both days people could be found relaxing and chatting in the grassed cloister area. There were also plenty of other spaces away from the hubbub of the main bar to sit and relax, including the wonderfully historic south range of the priory.
As with the previous two years, the event rounded off on Saturday night with a superb set by the Strumtroopers, which had everyone singing and dancing along – including all the bar staff, who at times seem to be having at least as much fun as the customers.
By the end of the weekend over 7000 beers and 1000 ciders had been drunk, and sales of ANZAC, along with generous donations of money and unused beer tokens from festival goers, raised an impressive £1000 for the Poppy Appeal.
So that is it for another year. Like most of the volunteers I am already looking forward to helping out at next year’s event – if you would like to join in and are a CAMRA member then get in touch through the CAMRA in Gloucester website. If you aren’t a CAMRA member then sign up: the website gives lots of information about other social activities that the Gloucester branch get up to.
If your thirst for beer festivals is not sated, then fear not: next weekend, over the bank holiday (1-4 May), Ben, the landlord at the Fountain in Westgate Street, is holding a Birthday Beer Festival as he celebrates turning the ripe old age of 25; then on 5-6 June the Pelican in St Mary Street hosts its annual beer festival celebrating the anniversary of the pub’s rebirth.
Gloucester’s reputation for real ale and cider, like the beer festival itself, keeps going from strength to strength: long may it continue!