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A walk on the weird side

By thirsty hack Ignatius Rake

Posted February 18, 2014
Readying the Roundhouse
Readying the Roundhouse: It should all be sorted by tomorrow. © CAMRA NWAF

National Winter Ales Festival opens tomorrow in Derby while Rotherham Real Ale & Music Festival kicks off in a fortnight.

As previously reported on the Rake & Herald, tomorrow (19/2/14) sees the start of the National Winter Ales Festival (NWAF) at the Roundhouse in Pride Park, Derby, officially recognised by Guinness World Records as the world's first and oldest surviving railway roundhouse having been constructed back in 1839.

Described in a press release sent to us by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) as "a celebration of all 10 beer styles from around the UK" – viz milds, bitters, best bitters, strong bitters, golden ales, speciality beers, old ales/strong milds, porters, stouts, barley wine and strong old ales – the Derby beer bonanza will see some 400+ perfect potions from more than 100 British breweries up for the downing once its doors swing open to the public at 16:00 local time.

What's more, the festival promises a whole host of "weird and wonderful winter ales" to tempt "fans of unusual brews", including such rare and strange fish as:

Wild Swan, a "3.5% pale bitter with lemon citrus hop flavours" from Derbyshire's own Thornbridge Brewery;

Hopmonster's Snake Oil Stout, an Essex-brewed 5% tipple that combines five different malts with two varieties of hops;

Kiss, a 4.8% honeyed ale brewed with malted oats by Harveys of Sussex; and

Orkney Porter, a 9% dark ale from "the innovative Highland Brewery" in Evie, Orkney that boasts a "roasted grain and dark berry fruit aroma" that "gives way to coffee and chocolate with a hint of smoke complexity".

"CAMRA has two flagship festivals, one in London, the Great British Beer Festival [GBBF], and here in Derby at the National Winter Ales Festival," says NWAF organiser Gillian Hough.

"With over 400 different new, innovative beers combined with old favourites and award winners there really is something here for all palates, from beer enthusiasts [to] newcomers alike."

"With a handpicked range of cider and perries, a celebration of bottled continental beers and mead (honey wine) this is a truly unique event."

In addition to the brews on tap and in bottles, the NWAF will also witness the crowning of this year's National Winter Beer of Britain, an accolade that was last year lauded upon Elland Brewery's 6.5% 1872 Porter that subsequently went on to land the overall top UK gong at the GBBF this past August.

Now that "the finest porters, stouts, old ales and strong milds, barley wines and strong old ales" have "been judged regionally, the very best have moved on to national judging," the press release states.

This, it continues, will involve a blind-tasting undertaken by a special judging panel, with the overall champion announced at approximately 15:00 during the closed-door trade session for licensees, breweries and hacks that kicks off at 13:00.

Furthermore, with live music every night from such potentially copyright-infringing bands as Kins of Leon and Antarctic Monkeys to help the beer slosh down, not to mention brewery bars operated by Batemans, Derby Brewing, Dancing Duck and Leatherbritches, the whole shebang should offer something for pretty much everyone who likes to imbibe proper pints in anything other than total silence.

And on that subject, CAMRA notes that "the mix of old and young, men and women" enjoying real ale is now "better than ever".

"Real ale," it says, "is a thriving market sector as the percentage of adults trying [it] has grown from 34% to 53% in [the] last three years", with the percentage of women giving it a go more than doubling over the same period from 14% to 34%.

Meanwhile, with "Derby well located in the East Midlands" and "only 90 minutes from London", getting to the NWAF needn't prove too Herculean a task.

Heck, what else could you want?

A venue located right across the road from the Pride Park exit of Derby Railway Station perhaps?

Well relax, because your wish has just been granted.

What's more, youngsters under the age of 18 are also welcome as long as they "are well behaved and supervised" and leave by 19.00 as mandated by the bash's booze licence.

Sorry, folks.

It's the law.

Hughes and Harris
Hughes and Harris: The Rotherham sponsors enjoy a quick pint. © BeyondPR

And talking of the law, a completely different press release to arrive at Rake & Herald Towers via the wonders of email informs us that this year will again see Oxley & Coward Solicitors sponsoring the "legendary" Rotherham Real Ale & Music Festival in two weeks' time at the MAGNA Science Adventure Centre on the city's outskirts.

Now in its 22nd year and set to run from March 5 to March 8 under the banner of 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen', this year's festival will have a particular focus on "celebrating ales and areas of the UK with a strong connection to Roman Britain".

Which is a tad ironic really because March 5 is St Piran's Day, the national day of Cornwall, the spiritual home of the Rake & Herald and one former Celtic kingdom that the Romans could never conquer.

But I digress because this second press release notes that over the last two decades the festival "has become a key event in Rotherham's social calendar, attracting well over 10,000 visitors from far and wide" while simultaneously raising wedge for various good causes across South Yorkshire.

Indeed, more than £40,000 [$66,760] was raised last year, with the Rotherham Hospice, Bluebell Wood, Weston Park Hospital and the Magna Trust all standing to benefit from this year's festivities.

"We are proud to be sponsoring the Rotherham Real Ale Festival again and pulling pints and pounds for charity in the process," says Oxley & Coward associate solicitor Liz Harris.

"Getting involved in our local community is important to Oxley & Coward and the festival allows us to do that while raising money for deserving local charities in our region."

"Together with Rotherham Rotary Club we are hoping to make a significant improvement on last year's fundraising efforts."

"It will be a pleasure to be working alongside Oxley & Coward at this year's festival," adds of Rotherham Rotary Club president Darren Hughes.

"The festival is a wonderful opportunity to work alongside friends from Oxley & Coward and further our joint interest in raising money for our local charities."

"For many people, consulting a solicitor can be a sobering prospect," Harris continues.

"So the festival is a great way for us to reach out to local people and show them solicitors are human beings too and that we are here to help with honest advice."

So if you're not sure whether to go for a pint of mild or perhaps a stout instead you now know who to ask.


See also Dry January "a load of old pony", posted 31/1/14.

Ignatius Rake
is a freelance journalist and geographer who has so far visited 70 countries on six continents. A published lyricist, he has fronted punk bands in both the UK and Poland, including the only band ever to be kicked off BBC Radio Cornwall. He has been known to like a pint.

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