Thursday, 29 April 2010

It’s beginning to look a lot like a beer festival

Blogging about beer, I constantly find myself coming up against things I don't know, and I realised a while back that I want to know more detail about how real ale is conditioned and served.

There are two ways to learn about handling cask beer. You can go and work in a pub, where you spend more time serving Foster's than cask. Or you can volunteer to help at a CAMRA festival, and that's what I spent Tuesday doing at Paisley.

All the real ale had already been delivered and stillaged on Monday so on Tuesday it was down to building the bars. I say building—I mostly watched other people (who knew what they were doing) building. I never realised there was so much carpentry involved. There's more to it than just banging some planks onto trestles; the bar has to stand up to four days of people leaning on it, and the constant vibration from the handpumps, so it absolutely needs to be stable. There are four bars at Paisley; cider and English beer in the main hall, and Scottish beer and foreign beer in the side hall. I was on the Scottish bar as that's where the staff beer was, a nice drop of Fyne Piper's Gold.

Paisley has a fair-sized foreign beer bar, and the bar couldn't be completed until that bar's beer was delivered because we needed access to the cellar for three pallets of European bottled and draught beer. Fortunately it arrived at just the right moment.

After unloading many, many boxes of bottles, it didn't take too long to get the barrels into the cellar, and my mouth is already watering thinking of all that lovely Altbier. And Löwenbräu deliver ridiculously fake-looking rubber-covered barrels with an (allegedly) wood-effect finish. You feel like you're in a Disney film, probably Snow White, rolling these things about. Another thing I learned was that there doesn't seem to be any standard size or shape for Dutch kegs.

Once the bar was built, what really gets the hall looking like a beer festival is putting the handpumps on the bar. Cue unboxing, mounting and connecting 22 Angram pumps, accompanied by much cursing of the previous festival to have used the things, who had stuck sticky paper address labels on the wooden plinths.

Beer line cleaner is dangerous stuff, apparently, so it was on with the goggles, rubber aprons and huge gloves like the ones vets wear to deliver calves. If I'd known you get to dress up in this gear I'd have joined CAMRA years ago. Everyone hates this job so was happy to let the two newbies do most of it. If anyone gets poisoned from traces of beer line cleaner at the Scottish beer bar, it's my fault.

I'm going back tonight just for the ticks. Some weird omissions though. No Harviestoun? No BrewDog? No West? As far as the beer list goes, I'm quite relaxed about it this year and there are only a few I am really keen to try:
  • Bernard světlý ležák, 12º světlý unfiltered, and 12º černy
  • De Ranke XX Bitter
  • Neuzeller Porter
  • Thornbridge Seaforth
  • Tryst Black IPA
  • Tin Pot Beetroot and Black Pepper Pot
  • Belhaven 70/–
  • Fyne Cairn Dhu 60/–
And some that I've had before and definitely want to drink again:
  • Mahrs Kellerbier
  • Uerige Alt
  • Orkney IPA
  • Fyne Crannog
and I may also manage to leave space for the 9% Orkney Porter.

If I can't get all the ticks, I expect there will still be plenty to choose from.


  1. Gutted I won't be able to make it this year - bloody exams!

  2. Mahrs and Uerige are definitely exciting, although some of the glamour of alt is lost in the UK without the smart little glasses and grumpy waiters. Enjoy!