This year’s Robin Hood Beer Festival came and went and was a roaring success in respect of visitors – even more than ever. I visited Nottingham Castle for the event on the Friday evening with a friend, arriving to join the long queue at around 8.30pm. A reasonable time of around twenty minutes or so elapsed before we were through the gate and into the thick of things.
Ten pounds was the standard deal and this included admission, a commemorative half pint jug and two beer tokens to initially whet your whistle with. The first job therefore was to locate more beer tokens, each reasonably priced at £1.25 and entitling the owner to a half pint of beer or cider.
On entering the huge main marquee the fist noticeable thing was the huge amount of visitors crammed in under the canvass. The festival was seriously busy with the equally serious business of drinking beer. My friend and I picked our way through the thickly packed crowd to the area selling the cider. We managed just one glass each, in my case of ‘Perry’s sweet cider. It was a refreshing and tasty start to the proceedings which left me thirsty for more. Unfortunately plans had to be modified as from that point – and indeed for the entire rest of the evening – the cider tables were besieged with frantic customers standing three and four people deep in a desperate attempt to get served. The judicious use of elbows seemed to be a pre-requisite too. Slightly crestfallen, I settled on plumping for a real ale or two – very much a second choice for me.
Next up was a half of stout which shall remain nameless. It wasn’t tasteless however – far from it – the only problem to my obviously too-delicate and pampered taste buds was that it tasted like it had emerged from a drain in the Meadows somewhere. I moved on.
Any reader who has ever been to one of these events will probably identify with the following. Pretty soon, two more drinks on, and I had forgotten the names of any of them. I blame the crushed nature of the event… I do however recall a glass of the admirable local brewer, Castle Rock’s Screech Owl – perhaps not to my personal tastes but undoubtedly a quality brew. This was soon washed down with a half of Dark Peak bitter which demanded a 20p surcharge – due to it’s strength! (6.4%). Through the slight haze, I do recall coming across the Magpie Brewery’ stand where I opted for a glass of ‘Svendemonium’ – named after Notts County’s world-famous Director of Football, Sven-Goran Eriksson. Apparently sales of this brew had been particularly popular with visiting fans of the black and white half of the city’s football fans!
The Castle bandstand – scene of the live music
Beer festivals tend to produce a round of stereotypes regarding their attendees. Visions of older men with large beards and woolly jumpers abound, not that there’s anything wrong with that but I think this conception is unfair and inaccurate. It was very noticeable how many younger people were at the festival, dare I say there was a very good representation of Nottingham 2009 influx of students, this being Fresher’s week at the two local Universities. It was good to see a healthy mix of customers at the event and this underlined it’s wider appeal.
The night wore on very quickly I have to say. I originally had the notion that I’d be outside at the bandstand watching and listening to some live music. I had been interested also in tales of Thai food reputedly on sale, or even a plate of faggots. (A tasty meat dish for any Northern American readers!) Unfortunately the crowds made this problematic, especially with just a half pint of beer in your hands before having to fight your way back into the throng of the beer tent. Without wishing to sounds churlish, the event was something of a disappointment for me in this respect. It seemed as though the appeal of the festival had been well underestimated by it’s organisers. A positive can be perhaps taken from this for subsequent years though. At least the demand is certainly there for this event.
On the above note I was sorry to hear of a friend’s (and other’s) dismay regarding the final evening on Saturday. Calling at around 6pm he reported being turned away, nobody apart from advance ticket holders were being allowed in to the event at this still early hour. Other reports tell of the festival almost completely selling out of beer around this time too. This is noted in two complaining letters in the local press:
‘Can’t say I was impressed, they’d almost completely sold out of everything by half six on Saturday! I wouldn’t call that good organisation when Saturday was clearly going to be the popular night! Everyone I spoke to thought it was disgusting after having to pay to get in. I won’t be returning next year, nor will anyone else I went with!’
Adam, Sandiacre, Nottingham
‘Well if you think that turning away coach loads of drinkers who travelled as far away as Newcastle by 6:45 was a well organised event I don’t know who’s conning who. I went Friday night and there was still barrels which were sold out then, still on the racks come Saturday. They were supposed to have a 100 barrels on standby for Saturday, Where! I got there for 5 on Saturday and by 6:45 to 7pm the place was sold out. People were getting rowdy and a few were escorted out by police, can you blame them, they had queued for 30mins to try and get in, had one drink and then find out there is no more beer. Very disappointed but hopefully better organisation next year.’
It appears as though a greater level of organisation is needed for the event. In fairness it was perhaps not easy to identify the huge and increased demand for the festival but nevertheless the problems on the Saturday evening – some might say the prime night – could well affect the event’s credibility. With the reports circulating about the last night’s problems, who is going to plan a trip down there on the coinciding Saturday next year? This may of course in turn affect attendance and cause further crowding on particularly Friday night.