The 20th Watford Beer Festival has now finished. You can read about the festival in the story below, which was originally published in edition 268 (December 2014/January 2015) of Hertfordshire's Pints of View newsletter. The Watford Beer Festival will be back in November 2015!
The 20th Watford Beer Festival took place at the West Herts Sports Club in Watford from Thursday 6th to Saturday 8th November. The event was successful once again, with overall attendance about the same as last year. However, as with previous years there were some surprises in how attendance varied from day to day. On Thursday the number through the door was significantly lower than last year but despite this sales of beer, cider and perry held up well. It may be that people found it easier to get to the bars and so could drink more. The function room that forms the main venue for the festival is augmented by a small bar with three microbrewed beers provided by the club and a heated marquee that becomes more popular each year. This year we had 12 firkins of beer in the tent so it may be that customers were more evenly spread between the bars. Our Friday night attendance was similar to last year's but the function room seemed very quiet for much of the evening. Again it turned out that this was because so many people were using the marquee. There must have been plenty of customers unwilling to venture to the function room bar too often as the 12 firkins we had out in the marquee effectively ran out by the end of Friday night. We thought that the fireworks in Cassiobury Park would hurt our Saturday attendance but our numbers were up in the evening because of the continuing popularity of our quiz. It's well worth turning up for the quiz on Saturday because the prizes are always excellent. This year's prize was six tickets to the Great British Beer Festival 2015. We needn't have worried about the fireworks because the beer festival venue is close to Cassiobury Park and we saw a small but steady stream of customers after the fireworks had finished, so there was a small positive impact there.
Once again the food was notable for its popularity at the festival. Catering was laid on by Louise and Graham, who were stewards at the club until September. The food is such a draw that I even received a call in advance of the beer festival to find out what was on the menu this year and we always receive plenty of praise for the food on our festival feedback forms. I asked Louise how the food sales had been going to find out whether they too were holding up and it seemed that people were eating more as well as drinking more.
On Friday night the festival was the venue for the presentation of the certificates for the Hertfordshire Beer of the Year 2014 competition, which took place at the St. Albans Beer Festival in September. The winning beer this year was High Five from Alecraft Brewery in St Albans with the runners up being Red Squirrel Brewery's Jack Black and Buntingford Brewery's Oatmeal Stout. Ben Crowley collected the award on behalf of Alecraft. I asked him how High Five was brewed. He explained that it was made using (head brewer) Kevin Yelland's five favourite hops, but revealed no more because the recipe had to be kept secret. Alecraft is based at the Farmer's Boy pub in St Albans where Kevin and Ben brew beers for the pub under the Verulam Brewery name as well as brewing Alecraft beers for other pubs and beer festivals. I asked Ben about the difficulties of trying to sell beers to pubs when there are so many other breweries and a limited number of outlets. He conceded that competition made things hard and that pubs being tied and therefore not free to buy beers from independent brewers also limited the pool of available venues but that winning this award would raise the awareness of the brewery amongst pubs that hadn't taken the beer before. I also spoke to Greg Blesson and Jason Duncan-Anderson of Red Squirrel Brewery about the bar and shop they opened in Chesham in 2013 and one of their latest beers, Mad Squirrel Milk Stout, which is out now and comes highly recommended. I also found out that their brewery shop in Potten End also has a bar and is used as a pub by the locals. It sounds like it would be well worth a visit. Unfortunately Buntingford Brewery was not able to send a representative since Steve and Catherine have been busy refurbishing and renovating the Brown Bear at Braughing. That's another pub worth visiting if you fancy a day out in one of the most rural parts of Hertfordshire.
Every year we ask visitors to vote for the top three beers, ciders or perries that they had at the festival. Here are the top ten (or 11 in this case) beers as voted for by our visitors:
1. Bristol Beer Factory - Milk Stout
2. Saltaire - Triple Chocoholic
3. Jollyboat - Contraband
4. Titanic - Chocolate & Vanilla Stout
5=. Pope's Yard - Galaxian
5=. Buntingford - Oatmeal Stout
7=. Hadrian Border - Secret Kingdom
7=. Truman's – Swift
9. Flipside – Russian Rouble
10=. Redemption – Trinity
10=. Woodforde's – Once Bittern
So after Beerd last year a Bristol brewery has won it again and the dark beers dominate. Congratulations to Bristol Beer Factory and thanks to all our customers. See you again next year!
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