This time last year, the UK was in the midst of election fever, and my sleepy north Yorkshire village of Tockwith was hosting a beer festival. The organisers mocked up some publicity photos of themselves as politicians in a polling station. “We campaigned under the banner Vote for Real Ale,” chuckles organiser Adrian Ray.
The people voted with their feet – 36 gallons of beer had run out by 10pm, with the last to sell out a really strong one. “So anyone left at the end got rather sozzled.”
This year’s follow-up event at the weekend expanded to a field, with six marquees, live bands – and much more beer.
Tockwith is typical of an explosion in beer festivals around the UK. Once, they were fairly rare, large-scale events populated by serious older drinkers. Now countless towns and villages have one, reflecting a boom in small-scale brewing and real-ale drinking. August’s annual Great British Beer Festival at Earls Court is the biggie (in 2010, a record 67,000 drinkers sank 200,000 pints), but festivals are held everywhere from Battersea to the Scottish fishing town of Stonehaven.
“People are bored of drinking heavily advertised, mass-produced brands,” explains Jon Howard of the Campaign for Real Ale, which organises 150 festivals a year.
“There’s a fashion aspect to it,” admits Craig Lee of Rudgate Brewery, whose Ruby Mild was Camra’s Champion Beer of 2009. “Real ale is becoming trendy.”
Younger ale drinkers favour beers with funny names, and with most pubs tied to major brewers, a beer festival is the best place to sup a Brewers Droop or Ginger Tosser.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010