In a recent post, I explored how the York branch of CAMRA were going about modernising the traditional CAMRA beer festival. This weekend, I attended a session at Craft Beer Calling, a non-CAMRA affiliated festival. So, what can beer drinkers expect from a festival that doesn’t have to toe the line of CAMRA policy?
Craft Beer Calling (CBC) is held at the fairly spectacular location of Palace of Art in Exhibition Park, Newcastle. Beer fans will recognise it as the home of Wylam Brewery. This was my first trip to Wylam, but I am familiar with their beers. I recall the first time I ever tried ‘Jakehead IPA’ on cask; my reaction was on a par with when I first tried Thornbridge’s ‘Jaipur’, superb. Other great beers I’ve tried from Wylam are ‘Sticky Bud IPA’, an imperial IPA and ‘Club of Slaughters’, an imperial stout.
Although Wylam were hosts of CBC and represented well, this festival was more about the brewing community as a whole. As I walked around the small lake in front of this unique building, there was a sense of great anticipation. The first thing to note about CBC is that although there is a list of participating brewers, there is no actual beer list. I like to focus on beers that I haven’t tried before so always go prepared, but the lack of a beer list left me not knowing what to expect.
As I entered the venue, collecting my half pint glass and queueing for tokens, there was a real sense of excitement around. This was an event that people had been looking forward to, including me! A little bit about the token system. This was a very straight forward system of tokens valued at £1 and £2, which could be exchanged for food and drink. On my experience, I paid £1 or £2 for a third each time, so decent pricing for beer.
Walking through the initial entrance and into the main hall, I was immediately surrounded by brewery bars. To me, CBC is much more of a brewers market than a beer festival. What’s the difference? I see a beer festival is a long bar (or two) with lots of beers from many different breweries. A brewers market is individual brewery stalls, set out market style and staffed by those involved with the brewery. I really like this layout as it gives the consumer opportunity to meet the people behind the beer. It also gives breweries a chance to showcase their brand and beers themselves. There’s no-one better placed to do this than the people who help create and sell that beer. Brewers market or beer festival, ultimately the end result is the same, beer is enjoyed all round.
The main room was a bit like being at home. On reflection, it just shows you the strength of the Leeds and wider West Yorkshire brewing community. North Brewing, Vertical Drinks (think Kirkstall Brewery), and Magic Rock were all represented. I did promise myself that I wouldn’t drink beers that I could easily get at home, but confess I did have Kirkstall’s 6% ‘Brudenell IPA’. I’d seen the popularity of this via Untappd on launch night and so I was pretty keen to try it. This was brewed to celebrate Brudenell Social Club’s anniversary. The recipe is similar to Jaipur, I was told by Will, Kirkstall’s relatively new Head Brewer, who himself came from Thornbridge.
Leaving the main hall towards the right took you into the brewery itself, with more bars set up in any space where one would fit! Beavertown, DEYA, Verdant among many others were homed here. It was an incredible way to use the space and I think added to the great ambience the festival had.
In my post about York CAMRA Beer Festival, I mentioned that some CAMRA beer festivals keep hand pulled cask and keg separate. This can sometimes feel like keg is an afterthought, or something that shouldn’t be associated with cask. CBC was a keg dominant festival, and interestingly the one cask bar was put outside with the food tents! I like to think this was down to temperature control of the casks more than anything else, but it made me smile.
I mentioned ambience earlier. There are so many factors that impact the ambience and the experience you have at a beer festival. Here, the venue, beer and music were excellent. The thing that really made it though was the people. Such a range of people, all having a great time, being respectful to others and just there to enjoy the beer. It was a near perfect mix and I’m hard pushed to think of another beer festival experience I’ve had this year that’s matched this.
The beers, of course, were the most important reason for being at the festival. I wasn’t disappointed and had some great beers from Black Lodge, Almasty and Left Handed Giant amongst others. Here are the three, though, that I recommend you look out for:
Tiny Rebel – Imperial Puft
This is a ramped up 9% version of ‘Stay Puft’. Despite it only being 11:30am when I entered the festival, this was the first one I had. It was a must have when I found out it was available. It didn’t disappoint and, dangerously, didn’t taste its high strength!
Black Lodge – Sichuan Don
Based out of Liverpool, Black Lodge are a new brewery to me. This IPA is brewed using Sichuan pepper and Coriander, not so much hops! This was herbal and spicy, a very unique gruit-beer like flavour
DEYA – Into the Haze
A superb modern IPA, hazy, with lovely citrus and tropical fruit flavours. This was my last beer of the event, and a good one to finish on.
Although this was my first experience of CBC, I don’t think it’ll be my last. An event of great beer, in a great location, with great entertainment and people, top stuff!If you enjoy reading our content, please consider sharing with your friends using the sharing buttons at the bottom of each post. Also, you can subscribe to receive notifications about new blog posts via email. Simply enter your email address into the 'Subscribe to Mike's Tap Room' box at the top left of this page.