ALE Autumn 2001 No. 304

St Albans Beer Festival

It seemed a good idea to visit St Albans for this event at the end of September. Getting there from Cambridge by public transport is fairly straightforward: a train from Cambridge to Hatfield (if you get the wrong train you'll have to change at Hitchin or Stevenage) and then a bus from Hatfield Station every 15 mins to St Albans (30 to 40 minutes), passing CAMRA HQ en route. Then ask for directions, because the Arena isn't visible from St Peter's Street.

We arrived at about 5.30 on the Friday and as expected there were a good number of people already drinking. There was an amazing selection of beers, all of which seemed still to be available; at any rate, there were no cask-end signs missing or turned around. The main bar had 144 casks, all apparently firkins (for those who are interested, these were arranged in 9 bays, 4 casks per bay on 4 levels). The stage bar had, I think, 5 bays of similar dimensions. Cider seemed to be in good supply but not being a cider drinker I can't say more than this. There appeared to be a substantial foreign bottled beer bar downstairs (near the toilets, for some reason). Again, having no personal interest in these products and no knowledge of good, bad or indifferent, the main hall beckoned.

More people were beginning to arrive, but it was still easy to get served. The long list of beers in the programme listed beers only by brewery name, location, name of beer and ABV, but one aptly named brewery caught my eye. As Ian and I are Church Bell Ringers, Ring O' Bells from Launceston in Cornwall was soon tracked down and Porker's Pride (at a modest 3.8% ABV) selected. A good beer! But I'll spare you the list of our subsequent selections.

It was soon time to get some food, which was provided by the Arena Outlet. This included Frankfurters with various toppings, chips and some alternatives which I don't remember. Quality could not be faulted and the price was reasonable for such a venue.

By now the hall was very full which must have delighted the organisers and the treasurer! This is only to be expected on a Friday evening. The ever present problem of too few bar staff (does any Festival claim to have too many?) increased the time taken to get served, so pints rather than halves were now the order of the day.

During the evening my daughter and her friend had joined us, having endured an even longer bus journey. Ian and I agreed to delay our return bus in favour of a shared taxi for only 1 per person more than the single bus fare.

It was an enjoyable outing, A return next year? Well, maybe! Bedford Beer Festival was the following week. If it is the same next year, watch out Bedford - there may be spies in the camp.

Derek Wright

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Cambridge & District CAMRA