I WAS delighted to be invited to do the official opening at Leeds Beer Festival this year, considering that perhaps the honour reflected on my status as the beer writer for Leeds’s evening newspaper, or the author of a moderately-selling book on the city’s pubs.
And then I noticed that the theme for this year’s event is “Down On the Farm” – and realised that the invitation was probably a comment on my aftershave. No matter, opportunities to bathe in my own self-importance come around only so often, so I’ll be at Pudsey Civic Hall next Thursday lunchtime (March 16), cutting the ribbon, downing the first ceremonial pint of porter or doing whatever is asked of me.
The Leeds CAMRA Beer, Cider and Perry Festival – to give it its Sunday name – has been held in this cavernous municipal barn for 24 years, but this will be the last to be staged here. No announcement has yet been made about next year’s venue, but the event seems set to continue elsewhere.
That’s all for the future; for now though, there are three days and more than 150 real ales to enjoy including many which have been brewed especially to meet the farmyard theme. So no doubt the festival pumpclips will be dominated by cows, sheep, tractors and unfeasibly proportioned dairymaids.
I’d offer some examples but the organisers likes to keep their beer list close to their collective chest, if you’ll pardon the pun. But the event is sponsored by Saltaire, Kirkstall, Leeds, Moorhouses and Ilkley breweries, which should be enough of a guarantee of choice for anyone.
A new LocAle Trail encourages visitors to try beers from some of their local breweries – if you sup five of them you get a freebie. And if you like your beer to brewed locally, then the Festival is giving everyone the chance to get involved. The Leeds Hop Growers stall will be selling starter packs to allow enthusiasts to grow a plant in their garden, yard or even on the roof and nurture its growth through the summer. The aromatic fruits of these labours will be harvested in the autumn and thrown into the brewing vessel at Leeds microbrewery Sunbeam, where brewer Nigel Poustie will be creating the first Leeds-hopped ale.
But even if real ale’s not your thing, there are plenty more reasons to make this trek into the city’s western suburbs. As the name suggests, the Festival bristles with a great choice of real ciders and perries from around the country, not just the scrumpy heartlands of Hereford, Worcester and Somerset but also examples from lesser-known producing areas – including Yorkshire, would you believe?
And what is increasingly apparent with CAMRA, both nationally and particularly in Leeds, is a growing willingness to embrace styles of beer and methods of dispensing it which fall well beyond the strict remit of real ale. The Global Beer Bar will feature the biggest range of international beers of any Yorkshire CAMRA festival. This world of styles and flavours will include milk stouts, fruit and wheat beers and traditional Belgian farmhouse saisons.
And still more controversially, the KeyKeg Bar will serve craft beers dispensed from the kind of vessels which CAMRA was originally established to oppose.
Their inclusion now recognises several things. It acknowledges that it is far more important to judge the quality of beer on its body, its taste and its provenance. More than anything, it demonstrates an understanding that CAMRA’s hard-fought campaign is now won – and has opened for drinkers a world of aroma, texture and flavour.
Pudsey’s loss is some other lucky venue’s gain. Enjoy.