In June this year I pulled my first ever pint. It was at the Guinness Storehouse and I just about managed it under the watchful eye of a trained tour guide. I had to pull on the electric pump twice and tilt the glass, and I got a certificate. This vast experience of the pub trade led me to believe that I was perfectly placed to volunteer at my first ever beer festival and pull about 30 pints an hour, and do you know what? It was! Pulling pints is easy, like falling off a log. I’ve had over ten million hours of observation on the subject so I had a head start.
Central Manchester CAMRA are only a few months old, not that you’d know it from the smooth running of their first event, Left Bank Beer Festival in the fantastic People’s History Museum. The museum is perfectly designed for a beer festival, a high ceilinged former pumping station with the odd drip from the roof. This was the first time I had actually volunteered at a beer festival, I thought it was about time I put something back after taking so, so, so much. I was put behind the bar where the bar manager Heather was testing all the beers for quality, apparently a lot of the beers were ‘green’ or not ready because of the short lead up time, so while I was hanging about a nice chap called Peter showed me how to change the spiles and why that needed to be done at the start and end of every session. (There are solid wood spiles which stop any air getting out of the cask, and then porous ‘soft’ spiles which let excess gas escape. If too much carbon dioxide escapes the beer will be flat.)
Serving behind the bar at a festival gives you a different appreciation of the beers than when you’re simply quaffing them. To the punters, Wily Fox Molten Gold was a pleasant golden ale, but to me it was a pain in the arse because it produced so much sediment that it had about three filters on it and therefore took a lifetime to pour. I’m sure the good people at Five Oh Brew Co. were very pleased with their delicious Simcoe IPA (AKA one of the only IPAs I will happily drink) but it was so unlike a standard IPA that you were conditioned to offer a taster and a stern warning that this was an IPA, but not as you know it.
LBBF was the most parochial beer festival I think I have ever experienced. Almost all of the beers were brewed in and around Manchester with only a few from locations as exotic and far flung as Wigan. I had been keen to give Cloudwater Brewing a try but I can’t say I was impressed by either their pale ale or bitter. Origami Brewing’s Raspberry Wit was very popular with both me and the punters. (Quick note : although bar servers are discouraged from getting roaring drunk, we were encouraged to taste the beers so that we could properly recommend them, a task which I was happy to take on.) However my standout was the rich, treacly, almost chewy Manchester Imperial Stout by Ramsbottom brewery, which at 10% was not to be trifled with but even though it was a warm day it was one of the most popular beers. Irwell’s Costa Del Salford, a golden, was the Clever Name Blockbuster of the day, and Wilson Potter’s Rum In The Black was also a good seller.
I’ll definitely be going back to LBBF, hopefully both as a volunteer and a punter. The range of great Manchester breweries was unparalleled and there were some great surprises in the casks. I didn’t even make it to the kegs or the ciders so even more reason to go back next year when Central Manchester CAMRA have this success under their belt.
For another perspective on the festival check out my fellow bar worker Richard Coldwell’s blog