Decadence and Depravity at the Cambridge Beer Festival 1999
By Kier Finlow-Bates.
Originally posted on the cam.misc newsgroup.
(Being a follow-up to Fear and Loathing at the Cambridge Beer Festival 1998)
- It seemed like much more than a year had passed since my last visit to
the Cambridge summer beer festival, but time can be a strange thing.
A year older, and therefore a year wiser, I wanted to make sure that
this visit would be different to the last. Firstly, I informed all my
friends and acquaintances on which day I would be going well in
advance. And secondly, I decided that there should be more to my visit
than just the drinking beer. I intended to take onboard the role of
amateur social anthropologist, with my intended topic being the
festival drunk. I vaguely remembered from my previous visits that
although the vast majority of beerfest goers are polite, sensible and
responsible, there are always a few of those 'types' meandering
incoherently around the Cambridge football grounds, rudely pushing
their way in front of others at the bar, and only asking for pints of
the strongest beers. They should, I imagined, form suitably
interesting subjects, provided they were studied from afar.
* * *
- Jon, one of my best mates, is waiting by the entrance as I arrive late
on Thursday afternoon, and my girlfriend Sue is there with him too.
"Hi guys," I say to them. "Shall we go in?" I pat my
pocket to check that I've got my small pad of paper and a
pen. After all, I'm going to need to take some notes this time.
- Thankfully we've turned up ten minutes before they start charging a
two pound entry fee. At the table immediately to my left they're
selling beer glasses. Sue and Jon each buy a half-pint glass, but I
get a full pint glass (with extra space for the head - there are no
undersized measures at the Cambridge Beer Festival). There's a mark
for half-pint measures so I don't have to drink pints if I don't
want to. Furthermore, I seem to have broken most of the pint glasses
at home so this one will make a nice replacement.
- I start off by buying a pint of Orkney Raven Ale (ABV 3.8%) at the
second bar; it is early in the evening and a beer of that strength
shouldn't be too taxing. It will take a while for the prey of my
literary focus to arrive, so I might as well join in the spirit of
things a bit. Given that my beer is named after a black feathered bird
it is surprisingly light in colour. It is very hoppy in flavour which
initially I find a bit overpowering, but by the end of the pint it has
grown on me. I head down the way to the first bar for a top-up; this
time I have a pint of Bateman's Dark Mild (ABV 3.0%). This is more
my kind of tipple - fruity and malty with a nice dark colour to it. I
drink it down swiftly, as it's not that alcoholic.
- Scott's Strong Mild (ABV 4.4%) also lives up to my expectations. It's
a smooth, slightly quirky dark ale, but try as I may I can't find
the medium chocolate flavours mentioned in the programme.
- I take it with me and sit down on the grass in the sun to relax,
possibly for the first time this week. But then the tombola guy
wanders past, shouting out, "And we have another winner! And we have
- "Look," I tell him, "didn't you learn from last year. What does it
take - death threats?"
- "Oh, it's you," he exclaims. "You wrote that story about the
previous beer festival, didn't you?"
- Fortunately he doesn't
try to sell me a ticket, so I suppose compared to the Morris dancers
skipping about a few yards to my right he is only a mild annoyance. I
drain my pint and stand up.
- As I am swiftly served at the bar for the fourth time in an hour, I
wonder to myself: what is it with everyone here? Have I picked a quiet
night or something? Everyone is polite, and no one jostles me or tries
to push ahead. In fact, I'm served with surprising quickness each
time. No one is careening about, or slumped back in some damp corner.
- I choose a pint of Isle of Skye Black Cuillin (ABV 4.5%). There is no
description to go with this beer in the guide, which is probably a
good thing for its brewers. 'Bland' is the best word I can come
up with. But then again, it's still better than the usual stuff I
buy in my local pub. I guess I'm being spoilt a bit for choice here.
- By this time I've finished my drink I've developed a bit of an
appetite. I go and find Sue and Jon and ask them to accompany me to
the cheese and bread servery, where I harangue the guy behind the
counter until he opens ten minutes early. I am still keeping an eye
out for drunks and miscreants, but so far there has been no sign of
any of them. Perhaps they will arrive later in the evening. In the
meantime I try to decide whether to have Wensleydale or Stilton.
- "There don't seem to be many stereotypical CAMRA people
around," I comment to Jon, who is quietly queuing beside me.
- "You know, the bearded, beer-bellied and be-sandled. These
people all look like computer industry geeks to me."
- "But Keir," Jon says, "You're a computer industry geek too."
- I make a disparaging noise, and head off with my plate of food to the bar for a
pint of Highgate Dark Mild (ABV 3.2%). It disappears as fast as my
bread and Wensleydale. Night has fallen very quickly, so I wander back
onto the field and sit down next to a group of vaguely recognisable
people. They seem to know me, which I suppose is a good thing.
- "Do you want to come back with me tonight," I mumble into the ear of
the girl next to me.
- "Stop being so stupid," Sue answers. "Of course I'm coming
back with you. You live with me."
- She looks at me in what I can
only assume is a disapproving manner, as I wipe away some beer and
saliva that appears to be dribbling from my mouth.
- "Mind you, if you continue on like this, you'll be staying in the
guest room," she adds, and ignoring my protests she gets up to go
- What else is there to do but for me to swagger back over to the bar
and nonchalantly elbow my way through to a pint of Tomos Watkin
Merlin's Stout (ABV 4.2%). Who knows what it tastes like? I
certainly can't remember.
* * *
- I must have switched over to auto-pilot after that last pint, because
events flashed past me unnoticed until I found myself handing a tenner
to a taxi-driver, and staggering to the front door of my house. A five
minute fumble with keys ensued - they seemed to be made out of butter
instead of brass. But I finally managed to get in, and carefully
hauled my way up the stairs using the banisters.
- There, as I stood in my bathroom gripping the sink, I saw him in the
mirror - a monster; a slack jawed, unshaven lout with his hair in
disarray and sticky dark beer stains down the front of his shirt. He
glared at me, unfocussed in his stupor and yet unsettlingly
belligerent. And with a shock I realised that I needn't have
searched so diligently for a yahoo to write about.
- I should simply have looked at myself.
- Keir Finlow-Bates, Cambridge, 27/5/99
Mr. Finlow-Bates again chose well in his beer selection, as the voting results show.
ALE November 1999 No. 296
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