One of my favourite days out of the year, a trip to Barrow Hill Roundhouse at Staveley near Chesterfield. A train ride from Doncaster to Chesterfield then there are free heritage buses provided every half an hour to the festival itself, but don't forget to drop a few quid in the collection bucket to help keep these buses running.
I went with Dave, David and Tony again. Dave is the one on oxygen and Tony carries the spare tank. Because of this I arranged for us to get straight in on arrival, despite the 12 noon opening time, and get us seated at the Bombardier double decker bus, thanks to Mike who looks after that. Some people in the queue wondered what was going on as we squeezed past them to get in.
I sorted out our tickets at the gate and we got our programmes and glasses then headed into the main roundhouse building to get some seats as they are very limited at this event. I appreciate that priority is given to safety and they have to leave room for people to walk round and get to the bars. There is some seating in the marquee at the entrance, more outside around the food concessions stands and they had a couple of brake vans on the platform you could sit in too.
Beer of the Festival had been announced as Shiny Brewery's 'Affinity'. A further 16 beers had awards in various categories from the Thursday judging. We tried a few and, as tends to happen with us, nobody agreed that the winners we tried were any better than other beers we had that day. In fact Tony gave the first 5 beers he had 8 out of 10, and after that much lower scores.
I usually try and get a reference point so will start with a beer I already know. That meant a short wander to bar one and the Timothy Taylors handpumps where I had Le Champion followed by Boltmaker. Through the afternoon I had various beers, I can't remember in what order but here's the ones I had of the 250+ on offer. Fuggle Bunny 'Cotton Tail', then their new one 'Mystic Makrut'. To be honest, I couldn't tell much difference. Both had a heavy Grapefruit taste. Dave tried the Cotton Tail and didn't like. I popped back out to the bus and had Wells Bombardier and had a chat with Mike and his staff. I'll be heading for the Great Central Railway beerfest in September and was delighted to find Great Central beers on offer. I had marked 'Peak' as one to try, but it wasn't ready. So I had their 'Hymek', looking very much like used diesel but not a bad drink. I also have Kennett & Avon 'Rusty Lane' and Church End 'What the fox's hat' on my list of ones I went for.
There is a dedicated Derbyshire bar, featuring beers from the county. Apart from the Shiney 'Affinity', I had Boot Beer's 'Boot Bitter' and Barlow Brewery's 'Bettys Blonde'. The others had their own choices, between us we covered about 50 of the brews on offer. There were ciders and world beers and a racket they called entertainment. In a big cavernous place like that the acoustics are terrible. The sound was just mush unless you wre stood in front of the speakers. No escape to the marque, they had a jazz band on in there.
Why beer festivals have to have this extra noise annoys me. We are there for the beer, we'd like the bar staff to be able to hear what we are ordering and what they say to us, likewise at our table when we are discussing the beers. We were having to wait for breaks in the "music"/din and that's our only gripe with these things.
Part of the admission included free train rides during the day time, last run about 4.45 to finish by 5pm, which is also the time where children must leave. They have a couple of of BR carriages with an 03 shunter at one end and this time it was a small green tank steam loco on the other end. There's a three-quarter mile run at 20mph to a dead end and then you come back. Lots of other loco's on show in the roundhouse itself and in the extensive yards, although a lot are closed of during the festival. You can get to see a lot in the far side of the yard from the train ride.
The food stands 'out the back' include someone who's become an old friend at this event, Jeff Gaunt was a local butcher who retired, but carried on taking his stand to events and providing some real meaty treats. I had the tomato sausage first, very tasty and of a style I can't find anywhere locally. Later I went for the liver and onions, in a roll, very tender and no gristly bits at all. Before I left I had one last trip to Jeff and had a beefburger, home made of course.
Also out there was a stand with a pizza oven making fresh ones all day. One doing Chinese noodles or Lincolnshire sausages with onions in massive paella pans. Next to them was a pie stand, lots of varieties and their own pork scratchings too. A veggie curry stand seemed to be stuck out on it's own, with few customers. Another stand did pulled pork sandwiches, another was doing Derbyshire Oatcakes. Inside the roundhouse they have their own cafe/canteen which does the usual whatever with chips, tea, coffee and all that.
Admission costs are £6.50 for the main two days, if you buy tickets in advance, otherwise £8.50 on the gate. If you're going in 2017 then the Corner Pin should be selling tickets again, they were a late addition to the list of outlets for 2016. CAMRA members can take their membership card and programme to the CAMRA stand and get a sticker that's worth £1.50 off your first, or next, drink. Beer Tokens were £5 a card and beer prices ranged between £1.50 a half to £1.90 (Thornbridge Jaipur !)
They promote the event as the most atmospheric beer festival of the year and there's certainly an atmosphere through the day. I'm already looking forward to next year!