Cheddar Ales Brewery Beer Festival

I headed across to England the weekend before Glastonbury Festival so that I could spend father’s day at home, but this gave me a free day on the Saturday. What to do with my time? The answer arose in an email from the Cheddar Ales complementary club via CAMRA, go to the Cheddar Ales Brewery Beer Festival! Free entry for CAMRA members too (or £3 for others) including programme and souvenir glass, bargainous.
So after convincing a friend from Bristol to pick me up at the airport we both headed to a field somewhere near Cheddar for an enjoyable afternoon of ale supping. Fearing the site may be tricky to find as I had neglected to make note of the post code we decided to drive on instinct and luckily found the place with no trouble at all. We opted to camp overnight for the modest rate of £5 a tent to take full advantage of the beer list on offer. This was essentially just a field with the use of the car boot sale toilet facilities but mustn’t grumble.

We ambled up to the brewery shortly after opening and availed ourselves of our first halves. I adopted the tried and tested drink lower ABV first method whereas my counterpart went for the riskier “jab a finger onto the programme” technique. I began with a half of Castle Rock Harvest Pale, current CAMRA “Champion Beer of Britain”. It was nice enough but I’ve had plenty of better similarly coloured “session” beers. My friend jumped in at the stronger end (6% ABV) with Coach House Brewing Co’s Blueberry Classic. Blueberry was there yes, but not much else, Waen’s Porter House Blue was much more enjoyable when I tried it last month. I opted for Downton Quadhop, another session beer at 3.9% and one I have had before. I was not disappointed by this one, good bitter kick and a pithy aroma. Then I had to have a pint of Thornbidge Jaipur because I was worried it might sell out!

There was entertainment aplenty throughout the day with four bands of differing genres (I particularly enjoyed the Tonemasters) and activities for any younger attendees such as face painting which a number of older children also indulged in. Playing the beer ticker spotting game also proved fruitful with a number of bearded individuals making studious notes. I maintain that my notes were mere aide memoirs and I have less of a beard and more of a slight stubble...

After my first few beers I decided to investigate the BBQ. A good range of food for meat eaters including breakfast rolls alongside the more usual sausages and burgers. However there was only one vegetarian option, marinated flat mushroom with onions and Stilton, which shockingly cost as much as the meaty version though obviously only a fraction of the price. I grudgingly paid the price not having had the foresight to bring anything else and to add insult to injury was given a tiny slither of Stilton which was barely discernible against the bread roll. Definitely bringing a packed lunch next time!

The nearby handmade chocolate company also did a good trade, choosing to open for hungry beer suppers to peruse. I bought a chocolate hedgehog and a bag of miss-shapes which I left at home when I went to Glastonbury Festival only to return home and find them all demolished by my sister!

After a few more beers (Moor Illusion particularly tasty, tropical fruit schwartzbier!) we headed into the village, only a 25 minute stroll away. Here we sampled the delights of the Cheddar cheese factory shop and filled the hole left by lunch with an excellent portion of chips. Also spotted West Country Ales shop and made a mental note to visit the following day. This interlude left us feeling refreshed for the afternoon session and returned in time for the start of the second band, accompanied by the two strong milds on offer Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby and Arbor Ales Festival Mild. The former sweet, alcoholic and malty, the latter rich roasty and with a creamy texture and my preference.  Despite there being plenty of beers to choose from, some people still thought it necessary to smuggle in their own wine (see above).

After some ska and a break-dancing battle between young and old we headed back to the tent for a spot to eat cooked on the camping stove. We returned for another few halves of stronger beers to find the majority of the festival beers had sold out. I’m not sure what the people planning to attend on Sunday would have been left with! After waiting for the final band to take the stage, we decided to call it a night when they were still sound checking half an hour after they were due to begin and adjourned to the tent.

Next morning was damp and dreary but we were soon perked up by a full English (or Veggie English) in my case in the very fairly priced car boot cafe. We then whiled away an hour or so wandering around the stalls in what seemed an amalgamation of car boot sale, weekly market and antiques fair, a great way to spend the morning.  After a brief detour to the aforementioned West Country Ales* we left Cheddar behind to return home for a day before a long week at Glastonbury Festival.
On balance it was a well organised festival with a great beer list (although I’d have liked to see a few a few more session bitters/milds) and ideal location. In looking at their recent blog post they also raised £2,650 for charity, an impressive sum, well done guys! Food prices aside I enjoyed myself and as it’s on the weekend before Glastonbury every year may look to make it a permanent fixture on my calendar. See you there in 2013!+

*Where I perhaps spent more than I had intended to!
+ No Glastonbury next year!


Bonus Picture: An alternative career for me perhaps?

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