Preview: 2015 Leeds Beer Cider and Perry Festival

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MORE than 180 different real ales, a heavily-stocked global beer and more ciders than you can shake a stick at – the Leeds Cider, Beer and Perry Festival, organised by the city’s branch of the Campaign For Real Ale, opens on Thursday (March 12) at Pudsey Civic Hall.

This year’s festival is the 22nd to be held at the cavernous out-of-town venue, and with Leeds being chosen as a host city for the rugby world cup this year, it has taken the oval ball game as its theme.

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Beers like Scrum Down from Conwy and Tighthead from Everards in Leicestershire will allow the most devoted egg-chaser to drink his fill of rugby-branded beers, though plenty of the other ales seem to have only a tenuous connection to the theme.

On the weekend when Wales and Ireland meet in Cardiff and England and Scotland play for the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham, real ales from all four home nations are on offer, while the global beer bar will include offerings from Italy and France.

The northern code is well represented too, with ales from big league towns such as Wigan, Bradford and Hull – and plenty from Leeds brewers Ridgeside, Wharfe Bank, Kirkstall and Leeds Brewery itself. Naturally, the event could only be opened by Ronnie the Rhino.

The event is the first under the chairmanship of Mike Hampshire – and the festival will always have a special place in his heart. “I started drinking ales about 10 years ago,” he told me. “Funnily enough it was the Leeds CAMRA Beer festival that got me hooked!”

He joined the Campaign shortly afterwards, and by 2012 was helping to organise the annual Pudsey event.

“In 2014, I was elected as branch chairman which is a proud personal achievement,” says Mike.

He takes over the reins at a time when the standing of beer could barely be higher – new breweries opening almost daily, pubs selling an eclectic selection of real ales and quality craft beers, and public understanding and appreciation of the product at an all-time high.

This is all far cry from the dark days of the 1970s, when cask ale was being squeezed to the margins by giant brewers’ efforts to foist characterless keg brands onto the public. That bleak landscape created a perfect backdrop for the foundation of the Campaign for Real Ale; the vast array of beers on offer at Pudsey shows just how that landscape has been transformed.

And while acknowledging that CAMRA’s founding aims have been realised, Mike rejects my tongue-in-cheek suggestion that it’s time for the UK’s largest consumer group to be disbanded.

“We go beyond just championing cask ale,” he says. “We also fight for the rights of drinkers, pubs and breweries.

“ In the last two years we have driven change that resulted in the scrapping of the beer duty escalator and two budget reductions on beer.

“More recently we secured an amendment to the Small Business Bill which will see fairer deals for pub landlords and managers who work for pub companies like Enterprise.”

And when the Leeds branch lays on the best real ale festival this side of Olympia, year after year, it’s hard to argue that CAMRA’s work is done. In addition to the dizzying array of real ales there’s music, good food, and a weird and wonderful choice of ciders and perries, while the global beer bar offers further cosmopolitan choice.

There’s even a good cause, with funds being raised to support the excellent work of St. Gemma’s Hospice in Moortown.

Leeds Beer Cider and Perry Festival

Where is it?: Pudsey Civic Hall, Dawson’s Corner, Stanningley, LS28 5TA

How do I get there?: By rail – Pudsey Civic Hall is five minutes walk from New Pudsey station on the Caldervale Line which serves Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield, York and Manchester. By bus – numerous bus services available throughout the day. By car – Civic Hall is close to Dawson’s Corner roundabout on Leeds ring road. Parking available.

When is it?: Thursday 12 March, 11am-3pm, 5-11pm; Friday 13 March, 11am-3pm, 5-11pm; Saturday 14 March 11am-11pm. CAMRA members can gain admission 15 mins earlier to all sessions.

Who can get in?: Over 18s only – take ID if you look young. Full disabled access.

How much is it?: Thurs and Fri lunch sessions free; Thurs evening £4, Fri evening and Sat afternoon £5, Sat evening £3. CAMRA members free, except Fri evening (£3)

Further information: www.leedsbeerfestival.co.uk

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