Warwick is renowned for its Castle and its proximity to tourist hotspot Stratford on Avon. Warwick is not renowned for many beery events. However, every July for the last few years, Warwick Racecourse has hosted a Beer Festival. This year’s event coincidentally coincided with the inaugural Birmingham Beer Week twenty miles up the road. Hosted by Warwick Court Leet for the last few years, the event has two purposes: to provide the local community an enjoyable weekend of beer and also importantly to raise money to support local charities and good causes. Local businesses sponsor individual casks whilst breweries’ including Purity and Byatt’s provided further significant sponsorship this year.
We decided to hit the Friday evening session as in previous years several casks had run dry by the Saturday afternoon. Weather was poor but there was already a sizable crowd by the time we arrived, which meant that the indoor area was quite packed due to little of the outdoor seating being used. We purchased our custom half-pint glass and tasting notes and headed for the bar.
Eighty-five beers were on offer, all on gravity cask dispense, augmented by thirty ciders available for those seeking solace in the form of apples. Those looking for Lambics, searching for Saisons or delving for DIPA’s may have been a little disappointed though as this is a traditional CAMRA real ale style festival. First drink of the evening had to be Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild, a long time favourite beer from the Black Country and fairly rare to find in Warwickshire. It’s rich fruitiness makes it a dangerously drinkable beer especially as although billed as a mild, it is a powerful 6% ABV.
The serving system at this festival is a little different to the norm, as the casks are all numbered to match your tasting notes so you order purely by number, not by beer name and tokens are used for payment equating to £1.50 a half pint. Whilst this speeds up service, it does mean your tasting notes are essential as the bar staff have little knowledge about what they are actually serving. The volunteers worked hard though and there were no long waits to get served.
Food was available but I have to say that the options were fairly limited as there was only one burger van offering a choice of hot dogs, burgers and hog roast. If you are vegetarian your only option was chips! I think in these diverse times a vegetarian/vegan option should be provided. Sadly, no options for water to drink or rinse your glass were provided either, unless you purchased some bottled water. This does seem to be a pretty common omission at most other festivals. Live music was provided throughout the festival ranging from acoustic duos to full bands playing a mixture of covers and original material. Sadly the incessant drizzle meant no option to get outside for a quieter conversation with friends.
Standout beers of the festival for me included the rare occasionally brewed Black Voodoo from West Yorkshire’s Fernandes Brewery, a smooth full-bodied stout with a chocolate orange and vanilla flavour that would make it a perfect dessert beer. Along similar lines was the Plum Porter from Titanic Brewery, which was dark and well rounded with the plums to the fore but not overly sweet or cloying. An imperial version of this would be a real winter favourite. I tended to go for the darker beers on offer, finding some of the pale ales a bit bland and lacking the hoppy bite and zest that my palate has become accustomed to over the last few years. The one beer that did have a decent hop-kick though was the classic Citra from Oakham Ales, which provided the pungent grapefruit and lychee goodness that I was craving.
Overall, despite the poor weather being a slight hindrance, the festival had another successful year. The organisers put a lot of work in, including having to replace the posters in Warwick three times after they had been stolen, presumably by some underground temperance movement! Here’s to another successful festival next year.