It seems like only yesterday when we set off to jump on the train to Wrexham to cover the North Wales Beer Festival, the first event we ever blogged about. Armed with a pad to write tasting notes on and a lot of enthusiasm, we headed towards the great unknown. It was in fact almost a year ago.
Since then we’ve covered several beer festivals, beer club events and reviewed numerous pubs, but this event is still the one that, for want of a better phrase, deflowered our blog. Excuse us while we feel a little nostalgic.
This year the festival had grown as an event even if not in the number of attendees. Whether the smaller numbers were due to the slightly earlier timing of the festival itself, or other factors is unclear, but having said that, when we came to the scene of crime it was already buzzing with atmosphere and people enjoying their ale. It didn’t feel like there were fewer patrons, quite the opposite, but you can’t argue with hard numbers.
As is our way, we attended the Saturday evening session, heading for the familiar site at Wrexham Football Club for 6pm. I’m not sure if the numerous people there were leftovers from the AM sitting but the place seemed heaving from the word go. This year, the beer was dispensed from numerous handpumps instead of barrels, which made the setting look more professional but perhaps made the bar area a little busy. Not enough to cause massive queues though, so can’t really complain.
Tom however did mention that he usually prefers to have his beer straight from the barrel. No accounting for taste, it seems.
The beer list this year was innovative and brave, as it was last year. You could easily navigate through the session ales, but it was equally easy to find some outrageous beers we’ve never tried before. One of our absolute favourites was the Black Jack’s Smoked DunkelLager, a deliriously gorgeous black lager with a powerful smoky sensation. I personally never thought you could match a lager with such a strong smoky effect, but this one definitely worked. In fact, perhaps the lightness of the lager worked better with the smoke than a traditionally smoked ale would have done. Who knows! All we know is that it was spot on.
The entertainment was rather fitting as well – a bunch of live musicians playing what can only be described as folk music. I’m convinced I heard some Irish drinking songs at some point. Personally I think those are the best kind of tunes to raise a glass to, however amongst our own group there were great differences in opinion. Can’t please them all.
The only grave disappointment of the evening was that Axiom Brewery’s beer New Dawn was not available. The brewer was unhappy with the finish (they are all perfectionists, damn it) so rather than having a merely “OK” beer they weren’t perfectly happy with be served they decided to pull it from the festival. We were aware of this unfortunate matter before hand so we weren’t too heartbroken on the day. We had time to adjust. It still hurts though.
On a somewhat unrelated note, there were also awards to be won, and we’re not referring to the raffle (in which we won bugger all). The champion Beer of North Wales was, drum roll please, Heavy Industry’s Nelson’ Eye, with second and third place going to Big Bog Quagmire and Buzzard Pale of Clwyd respectively. Congratulations to the breweries, whose beers now go forward to the Great Welsh Beer & Cider Festival in Cardiff later in the year.
Overall we enjoyed ourselves immensely. The event was well organised, the beer list was well thought through and the event also seemed to flow better than last year. I’m not convinced it wasn’t because in the last year I’ve become a seasoned beer festival goer, but it’s hard work herding all the breweries together and ensuring they deliver as, when and what agreed, setting up a massive serving area and keeping patrons happy at the same time. The North Wales Beer Festival managed to tick all the boxes again this year. Next year, we will attend again.