A beginners guide

Taken from pages 31 & 32 of Canny Bevvy (Spring 2012).

So what is real ale?

In the early 1970s, CAMRA coined the term “real ale” to make it easy for people to differentiate between the bland processed beers being pushed by the big brewers and the traditional beers whose very existence was under threat.

Real ale is a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask through a process called secondary fermentation. It is this process which makes real ale unique amongst beers and develops the wonderful tastes and aromas which processed beers can never seem to provide.

But isn’t a beer fest just old men sitting round drinking warm beer?

Certainly not – we get a really good mix of visitors and while that undoubtedly includes ale aficionados, we also get workers popping in for a few pints at the end of their shift, clubbers starting off their night with us, and, being where it is, plenty of students.

And our bar manager would take issue with the suggestion we serve warm beer. Real ale is best served between 11 and 13 degrees Celsius and we have the equipment to ensure that we keep it at just the right temperature.

But I don’t like beer!

There are over 700 breweries across the UK producing thousands of distinctive ales, so perhaps it’s just that you haven’t found the right one for you yet.

We’ve got over 120, so the festival is your chance to try a few different ones out so you have the chance to appreciate the different styles and flavours without getting too worse for wear.

And, even if you really can’t find a beer that’s to your taste we’ve some fantastic farm-produced cider and perry.

So when’s the best time to visit?

It really depends on what you want. If you want a reasonably quiet time to do some tasting and chat to the bar staff, then the lunchtimes are probably best.

On the other hand, if you’re coming to have a good time with a group of friends, the Thursday and Friday evening sessions are lively, but be aware that you might have to queue to get in at really busy times. Having a £10 note ready to pay for entry, a glass, and your first few drinks tokens will help to speed things up.

Saturday is usually a laid-back day with lots of good music to accompany the drinking.

But I’ve been told it’s not worth going on Saturday because you may run out.

As real ale has to stand for some days before it can be drunk and any that’s left when we close on Saturday has to be poured away, ordering the correct amount of beer for a festival is very tricky. Inevitably the choice of ales, ciders and perries will reduce progressively on Saturday but you can still have a great time.

Why do I have to pay for a glass?

It’s standard practice at beer festivals to hire a glass when you come in and hang on to it throughout your visit. When you leave, you can hand your glass in and get your money back. However, if you’d like to take your souvenir glass away then that’s fine too.

So when you’ve finished in Newcastle, where do you take the festival next?

Many people don’t realise that the festival is organised and run by local CAMRA members, who give their time to make the event a success. However, CAMRA branches across the country hold their own festivals, so if you can’t wait a whole year for the next one check camra.org.uk for info.