Monday, 29 July 2013

South Side Beer Festival

Brewery vans

You know that something is happening on the beer scene when some folks organise a beer festival off their own bat in two months, and have it succeed.

That’s what happened with the first South Side Beer Festival held in the Langside Halls on Saturday.

The people behind this are the exuberant and energetic Dave and Emma of About Shawlands and Glasgow Food & Drink blog. As if putting on a beer festival for the first time wasn’t enough, they had also organised a remarkable event the previous night in a local community pub, the Old Stag Inn.

“Taps Oan” followed a pattern that I hope will become common: find a nice cosy bar that you like, but that sells mostly Carling and Guinness. Then convince the owner to stock something a bit more exciting, for one night. Tell the hipsters, and see what happens.

Actually the Old Stag has sold WEST St Mungo for some time, so it was not quite a leap into the unknown, but still quite a jump to the wide selection of bottles from Williams, Fyne, Cromarty, Anchor and the like that filled the fridges.

Fun in the outside area
There were far too many beers and not enough spare taps, so only a couple of the promised draught beers were actually available. That was fine though, as one of them was Magic Rock Cannonball. At £2.93 a pint. Merriment ensued and the saddest thing was at the end of the night watching the bottles of Sanda Blonde and Alba being taken out of the fridges and the blue WKD and Smirnoff Ice going back in.

The next day dawned and I discovered that I’m too old to drink pints of 7.4% IPA and expect to get away with it. However, after wandering down to Queens Park in blazing sunshine and queueing at the only ATM in the village, I was thirsty again and ready to take a look at the fest.

£10 seemed steep as an entrance fee, especially as it included just one measly half pint, but there were plenty of people willing to pay it, with a 25-minute queue to get into the hall. I’d bought my ticket in advance six weeks before, so it felt less painful on the day.

In the hall
Bear in mind that if you live on the south side, it’s going to cost you several quid to get into the city centre and several hours if you wanted to visit, say, both WEST and Hippo Beers, which are at opposite ends of town. Having all the brewers and retailers in one place might well be a convenience worth paying for – the same could be said for the other criticism heard, that most of the beers were already easily available in Glasgow.

I was more impressed with the venue than I expected to be – it was crowded and is really far too small for a beer festival, even a little one like this, but the outside area makes a delightful beer garden.

With no huge cask stillage as is typical at CAMRA festivals, it had more of the feeling of a book fair as you wandered from stand to stand, saying hello to brewers and sampling their beers.

What was the beer like? Well, the critics were right to some extent that there was no rare and exotic draught beer from Norway or Japan. There was loads of fresh local beer, which for my money is a much better criterion. I’d had most before, of course, but it’s fun to visit some old favourites: Strathaven Summer Glow, a seasonal beer spiked with orange, was heavier on the orange this year and had a slight hint of silage (in a good way), whereas Harviestoun Schiehallion went down nicely with the excellent chicken keema from one of the food stands. I also enjoyed the Clockwork’s nettle beer made with nettles foraged in nearby Queens Park, and a special keg of 18 year Ola Dubh was a nice surprise. 

Dave and Emma are already talking about a second event and some even more ambitious schemes.