EastWestFest – 15-16/05/2015

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I’ve been saying for over a year now that “Beer People Are Good People”. I’ve said it THAT often, that the predictive text on my phone even predicts that as a hashtag on occasion! My conversations with beery folk of all stripes have led me to that conclusion. And, for me, there are few – if any – better than a gentleman by the name of Malcolm Bastow. The brewer/owner of Five Towns Brewery of Outwood in Wakefield,

Back at the start of 2014 when I first tweeted that I had been coerced into curating a beer festival and shouted “HELP” on Twitter, Malcolm was one of the first to respond. He offered me a great deal on beer. As he has made some of the best beers that I have drunk in the last two years, I tore his proverbial hand off. He came over to The Independent Salford Beer Festival (as it became) with his lovely wife Beverley and I was chuffed to bits when one of the two beers he brought (Raven King) was voted Beer of the Festival, attracting rave reviews from people such as Deeekos (Twitter handle) and Rowan Molyneux. People who really know their stuff.

When he asked me to give him a small hand in a beer festival he was planning in Wakefield, I was both honoured and humbled. I still feel (and I’m not prone to false modesty) that I know little about beer. But he trusted my judgement. Coming from Malcolm, that meant a lot to me.

So I pledged to go to Wakefield. I consulted the Oracle (aka The Arch Nemesis) and booked hotels and trains. The day came. And I was stupidly (for a 50 yr old) excited.

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Getting off the train at Leeds (to change for Wakefield Westgate) we had half an hour to kill. Irrespective of the question, beer was the answer. So we walked the 60 seconds to the Leeds Brewery Tap. On entering this rather modern looking pub, there was a bonus. Sunbeam Brewery had had a Tap Takeover and some of their beers were still on the bar. At the risk of stirring up the recent debate about Craft Beer being the death of Mild, I had to tweet Tony Naylor (the excellent Guardian journo) with an image of Sunbeam Chocolate Mild. Assuredly a Mild that lacks nothing in smooth chocolaty flavour. A “delight”……Hold that happy thought for later!

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore the delights of this two floored pub (with an ACE roof terrace!) as we had to hurtle back into the station – being on restrictive “Advanced” tickets!

Back on the train we go. I made a mental note to contact Virgin Rail about the fact that there is free WiFi on their East Coast Service. Ahem….West Coast Mainline please!

1/2 an hour later. There we were. Wakefield Labour Club. Affectionately referred to locally as “The Red Shed”.

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Because it’s red. And a shed.

From outside I heard someone say “The Mancs are here”! Feeling suitably charmed, we sauntered in, to be greeted by Beverley doing the honours with glasses and tokens. That glass….

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Nice innit? And, in a bold move (that I may yet replicate at #ISBF2015), the only choice of glassware. Nobody grumbled. And very few gave them back. No surprise there then!

I could prattle on about the beer (which WAS excellent) for pages and pages (as you well know), but what marked this day, for me, was the sheer friendliness. Chatting with people I have never met. And laughter. And stories. The banter (mostly at my expense!). It felt like I belonged. And it felt good. I felt at home.

It’s hard to single people out, but I hugely enjoyed my chat with Andrew Helm from Revolutions Brewing of Castleford. We share similar tastes in politics……and the more important things in life, like beer and music. Another of life’s good guys, we eventually got around to talking beer. And a planned collab for our little Salford bash. No secrets to be spilled, but it will be both big and dark. And have a solid music theme. I’m excited. (Great news to hear that he’s delivered a load of beer to the Piccadilly Tap!)

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(OH, if only people had….)

Malcolm seems to pull good people into his orbit of friendship. It was great (not to mention instructive) to talk with the likes of Charlie & David (two of the guys from the excellent “A Swift One” blogging collective), Alex (a lady involved with the superb Leeds International fest), Bob – a gent, Scott (GBK) Nightingale there were just too many to remember. Especially when you have a Swiss cheese for a brain, like me.

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(Because remembering this stuff matters)

As far as the beer is concerned, I focussed on Yorkshire beers. For 3 reasons.

  1. Because I love it.
  2. Because I can’t get much of it over here.
  3. As research for ISBF2015.

I learned the following.

  1. There are some really promising new breweries springing up under the shadow of the White Rose (Whippet & Learn To Brew)
  2. I definitely want Rat, Blue Bee & Sunbeam breweries represented at St. Sebastians’ this year.
  3. Judging by the comments, we brew some damn good beer over here too!

There was a raffle in each session. Both the Arch Nemesis and Deeekos won prizes. The Arch Nemesis wished that he hadn’t – it was a Tetley Bitter T-Shirt that he spent the rest of the day trying to give away! I, of course, won sod all. Other than the chance to drink some simply great beer.

My beery highlights?

Sunbeam AlesShepherds Delight. A tawny coloured beer with more than a hint of Turkish Delight to it. Intriguing and delicious.

Revolutions BrewingThe Golden Age Of Wireless. A golden mild. With vanilla. It just worked. Beautifully smooth.

Allgates (or Turks Head Brewing Co!) – Shogi Porter. Listed as a Porter, but the huge quantities of Sorachi Ace hops turned it into a Black IPA. A fine beer indeed.

Blue BeeReal. Pale, sharp and lemony. My #2 of the day.

Whippet Brewing CoTest Brew No. 1 – A smooth smoky Stout. Yum.

Atom BeersSchroedinger’s Cat. Pale, light and super hoppy. A delight.

Brewsmith Nelson Sauvin Pale. Just as it should be. Tart and refreshing.

Thirst Class AlePale & Interesting. A pale ale that started good and finished even better. More refreshment, just when my taste buds had started to jade a little.

And then we get to my personal favourite.

Five Towns BreweryMay Day DIPA

I am living proof this evening, that drinking copious amounts of Double IPA is neither big nor clever. But it was, quite simply, ASTONISHINGLY GOOD.

In the main (non-festival) bar, they had one of Malcolm’s beers on. Strange Brew, a strong pale ale at 7%. I wanted one. But the final pint was sold to the guy in front of me. Cursing with a smile on my face, I retreated. It was 9pm.

At 9pm – being the final session – Malcolm made the strategic decision to lower the price of the beer. From £3 a pint, to £1. And, even at 8.4% abv, that included the May Day. Well. If I couldn’t have Strange Brew….

So I hit it. Hard. Repeatedly. My head said that it was that thing known as A Bad Idea. But it smelt divine. Big, bold and citrussy. It tasted like heaven should taste. Nectar. And it was 50 BLOODY PENCE A HALF!

I didn’t stop hitting it till chucking out time. This morning.

To describe it….Big, bold and citrussy. Tropical. Bitter and resinous of finish. It felt light enough to almost session. It was Ruinous. A complete and utter Beergasm. If a beer can leave Charlie (The Ale Ambler) with a smile on his face, it is good enough for me. To sum it up, it knocked me down sideways and lifted me up again. It was astonishingly good indeed.

We, the Greater Manchester tendency wobbled off to our respective hotel rooms. With lopsided grins.

It was a fantastic day.

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And the Arch Nemesis got rid of that T-Shirt. As you can see!

Now. Being the consummate host, Malcolm had arranged to come to a couple of local beer landmarks with us. I was MORE than up for it. I felt great this morning. But the May Day had wreaked havoc with the Arch Nemesis! But, being the sympathetic soul that I am, I dragged him out on a route march! To….

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The Fernandes Brewery Tap (5, Avison Yard, Wakefield WF1 1UA)

We were there before opening. I was thirsty. Unlike my weary accomplice…..

What. A. Gorgeous. Pub. The pictures simply do not do this place justice. All the wood that you could shake a….er….stick at. a stunning place to drink beer on a Sunday (what felt like) Morning. Both the Rat Brewery – Rye Rat of The Caribbean and the Fernandes’ own Malt Shovel Mild were superb. Friendly service. The whole package. Malcolm met us hot from taking down his festival. I’m glad he suggested this place.

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Harry’s Bar (107B Westgate, Wakefield WF1 1EL)

A gem of a place. A small bar with extremely friendly staff. And great beer. Well worth the stiff walk from Fernandes. And close to Westgate train station – crucial, given that our train was going in 40 minutes!

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8 hand-pulled beers. A cider. And TWO of Malcolm’s own beers (one is the “house beer”). I tried the Five Towns “Mi Usual” which, given Mr Bastow’s penchant for the stronger brews, is hardly his “usual” being only 3.7% abv. It was a sharp, lemony treat. Light and refreshing after that hike!

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Also on the bar, was a beer from a brewery that my Arch Nemesis has spoken of in reverential tones on many an occasion. But one that I was yet to try. So I did.

Tigertops Brewery (Wakefield) – Outland IPA. A big, fruity and chewy IPA. Boldly hopped and simply superb.

If you are in Wakefield, you need to try to make time for BOTH of these bars. They are special.

We had to dash. We got to Westgate station only to discover that we actually had an extra 20 minutes. I’d cocked up on the times. My ailing associate scowled. Ailingly.

Again, I thank Malcolm & Beverley for making us just so welcome. And at home. All their friends too, those mentioned above and those that the May Day is to blame for any omission.

This really was a special little festival. That was for some local good causes. People coming together to make a difference. And that shit matters. More so now than ever. Being in a Labour Club made it feel even more right.

It was special both for the beer, but even more for the people that were there. It was small, in an age of increasingly mega festivals. It was intimate. It was fun.

It’s now a fixture on my beer calendar. It should be on yours too.

Better wrap this up ‘cos I’m off to Brighton tomorrow at the crack of a Sparrows’ doo-dah.

Beer may feature.

So, for now…

Slainte!

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