Leeds Beer Festival shows CAMRA is moving with the times

Leeds Beer Festival organiser David Dixon.Leeds Beer Festival organiser David Dixon.
Leeds Beer Festival organiser David Dixon.
A BODY set up to preserve the traditions of the past is perhaps institutionally resistant to the changes of the future.

That the Campaign for Real Ale rejected – albeit by a small margin – a motion to embrace quality lagers and craft beers into their circle of love was seen by many as symbolic of an organisation stuck in a timewarp.

Yet the city’s giant CAMRA festival has for some years now been open to beers which don’t meet its original remit. A host of interesting continental beers and even craft keg ales have all found their way past the eagle-eyed gatekeepers and onto the festival floor. Some of the group’s dyed-in-the-wool drinkers wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole, but that they are there at all, speaks volumes.

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And this year will see the festival make its biggest change in almost a quarter of a century, as it leaves its home at Pudsey Civic Centre and heads into Leeds itself to set up shop at Leeds Beckett University.

Transport was a key issue behind the move, as long-time organiser Dave Dixon explains: “People were telling us that Pudsey was too far out of town for a festival. Moving it was easier said than done, given that the old venue was so good, but we have finally found somewhere to carry on the tradition.”

This might all be true, but I have no doubt that the emergence of Leeds International Beer Festival, staged every September in the magnificent Victorian Town Hall, and which made the Pudsey event seem rather like an anachronistic ugly sister, has given fresh impetus to the move.

The change of venue has necessitated a change of date – for some reason the Leeds Beckett bar is busy in term-time – but relocating the event in the warmth of a balmy June, rather than soggy April, and placing it within much easier access for thousands across the city, could be the absolute shot in the arm that the festival needs to revive its whole image. It will be last stop on the Otley Run too.

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As usual Leeds CAMRA is organising the beer festival over three days, starting from Thursday 7th June. There are sessions in the afternoon and evening on both Thursday and Friday, plus all-day opening on Saturday.

Moving to June has necessitated cooling to be used on all the events beers and ciders, but Dave admits: “We had been concerned in the past that sometimes the beer was a bit too warm, so this is something we were thinking about doing anyway.”

The festival will feature over100 real ales from around the UK, more keg beers than ever before, countless bottles and cans and plus 25 ciders. Among the five Yorkshire ciders, drinkers will be able to try the Leeds Urban Harvest Cider which was made from windfalls collected in local gardens.

Similarly, the event’s Locale Trail will encourage drinkers to try locally-brewed beers, and their aim is to include products from every brewery in Leeds, a number which seems to grow week on week.

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You can choose the size of your glassware too: “A significant number of people have said that they like the opportunity to drink in thirds and so we are keeping that,” says Dave. “But we have also re-introduced pint glasses allowing people to drink in halves or pints if they want, or thirds and two thirds for those who don’t.”

Tickets are on sale now at leedsbeerfestival.co.uk


Leeds Beckett Students’ Union Bar, Portland Way, LS1 3HE

Host: Dave Dixon and Leeds CAMRA

Type: Quality festival celebrating the best of hand-pulled cask ale, plus keg beers, ciders and beers from overseas

Opening Hours: Thursday 7th June and Friday 8th June 11am-4pm and 5-11pm; Saturday 9th June 11am-11pm

Beers: Phenomenal choice of more than 100 real ales plus ciders, perries, craft keg and international beers

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Admission: Prices vary. Up to £5 a session - reductions for students and CAMRA members

Disabled: Straightforward access to the ground floor and accessible lift to upper floor

Entertainment: Programme of live music

Parking: Town centre car parks nearby

Website: leedsbeerfestival.co.uk

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