I am a huge fan of beer festivals, having been hooked on ale since the tender age of 19 when I ordered the cheapest alcoholic drink in Guildford Wetherspoons (99p). Obviously this was before real ale became hip.
I’ve attended quite a few local ones; Winchester Cider & Real Ale Festival, the Longest Day Beer Festival, Portsmouth Guildhall Beer Festival (in the olden days), Portsea Island Beer Festival and last year, the first ever Portsmouth Beer Festival in its reincarnated format at Portsmouth Guildhall.
Sadly I’m off the booze at the moment, but not wanting to miss out, my partner in crime Mary suggested we volunteer as bar staff at this year’s one. It’s now put together by the team that organise the fabulous Victorious Festival and run several bars in the area such as Little Johnny Russell’s, The Belle Isle and Meat & Barrel – so you just know it’ll be good. So we signed up and were delighted to learn that we would actually be PAID to help out. After a short briefing we were let loose on the bar and punters.
It was, of course, full of beer geeks. I feel I can say that, as a fully fledged beer geek myself. But all the years of going to beer fests, it’s great to see a wider audience being attracted each time. Even though it’s a predominantly male environment, Mary and I find ourselves among more ladies who haven’t just been dragged there by their other halves. We learnt that there’s a beer & cider society at the University of Portsmouth, that there’s an app called Untappd – which I absolutely need in my life – and that not all beers are vegan-friendly. We also learnt a bit more about the ales from breweries between S and Z as that was our ‘patch’, but sadly without being able to taste them ourselves, we relied a lot on the tasting notes within the official programme (including 120+ cask, draft and bottled beer plus ciders). I did however know a fair bit about the wonderful produce from Staggeringly Good and Tiny Rebel already and enjoyed chatting to festival goers about the virtues of these.
Slightly giddy from the atmosphere, we found ourselves singing and dancing to rival the most tipsy patrons there, so even without the beer buzz we definitely felt part of it. Strumpet Town were by far the most lively of bands, with a distinct sound; using mostly horns to play Northern Soul classics. Elasticated Waste Band were foot-tappingly good, adding a quirky edge to the end of the night. They covered classics such as Take On Me, Super Massive Black Hole and Livin’ On A Prayer… with banjos, ukes and fiddles.
It was a great crowd; there was no trouble, everyone was friendly and polite and we didn’t have to refuse to serve anyone who was too smashed. Certainly the most popular ale in our section was the VelociRapture which was the first one to go on to the second cask – and I don’t think that was purely because of those saying ‘just gimme the strongest beer please’. Fortunately we finished just in time to catch O’Hagan’s sausages, so packed ourselves off with a couple of these for the wander back home.
Thanks for having us, Portsmouth Beer Festival!