festival review: St Albans beer & cider festival

I’ve been to far too few of these this year, so I was pleased to be able to squeeze in a pilgrimage to St Albans at the weekend.

As a relative newbie to Herts, I had no idea how popular this was. Arriving on Saturday evening, we found a queue of around 50 people waiting to get in due to a ‘one in, one out’ policy. Mercifully, the queue moved quickly and we were in within 20 minutes.

There was lots of interesting little stores in the foyer, with home brew kits and books for sale. One of the highlights of this area was a huge pot of beer mats for sale for 10p each. Rummaging heaven.

The main room had a substantial selection, with a huge wall hosting ales from all over the country, and a Herts bar where beers by Tring Brewery seemed to be pride of place. I was pleasantly surprised by how much was still available, given that the festival was well into its final day. The only negative for me was the huge screen showing the rugby. It meant a lot of people milling around and getting in the way, and the noise levels made it really difficult to speak to the staff behind the bar to ask about the ales.

Oakham Brewery had their own bar at the festival, upstairs away from the crowds. I’ve always loved their ales and I tried the ‘Dreamcatcher’, a heady light brown ale reminiscent of pungent Belgian brews.

It was time for some food, so we headed to the stalls outside. There wasn’t a huge choice, but I was delighted to find a decent looking Bratwurst stall. They only had sausages which were stuffed with cheese, so I braved it. The verdict? A nice touch, but would have been much better if served chopped up like traditional German Currywurst. It was nearly impossible not to be caught off-guard by the molten cheese in the centre, and I still have a burnt tongue as I write this.

We headed downstairs to the international beer bar, where things seemed much more relaxed. Most choices were bottled, but there was some excellent unfiltered beer available on draft from And Union, a brewery specialising in modern Bavarian craft beer. The ‘Hand Werk’ IPA was wonderfully refreshing.

Just as we were heading off, an auction was running, with beer-related items being sold for charity. A nice touch.

All in all, St Albans beer festival is one of the good ones. It’s always going to be a challenge to create a beer and cider event where there is a little more to do that just drink, but in this case, I’d say they’ve succeeded.