Well I had a fun September. Over 3 weekends I drank through 3 different beer festivals around the south of England. What’s sticking with me, as a traveller and a beererer, is that I quite possibly live in the best place in the world for beer festivals. Think I’m wrong? Let me know.
I’ve reviewed each one according to certain important criteria but I haven’t given scores or a favourite. You can decide which would be best for you.
Faversham Hop Festival 1-2 September 2018
The concept: born from a harvest festival dedicated to our favourite pungent herb, the party takes over the town with garlands of hops and hop hats for sale. It is definitely more beer fest than harvest fest so don’t worry there’s not too much worshipping the land.
The beer: Shepherd Neame have Faversham sewn up so while there are lots of super-local brewers to support there is only the one “known” brewery around. Great to see so many small brewers out in force but there is very little variety in the ales.
The location: Faversham, Kent. It’s a gorgeous part of the world – the picturesque town centre is surrounded by arable countryside and Whitstable’s oyster coast is just 10 minutes away.
The food: serious beer festers will know the strategic importance of the beer fest meal. Too soon and you’re too full to drink, but too late and it’s game over. Here was a great selection with the shops of Faversham getting involved plus plenty of pop ups selling vegan, Mexican, hog roast, desserts… the lot.
The entertainment: hugely varied and dotted around so half the fun of exploring is finding the ents. International musicians and dancers take the main stage, there’s a smaller stage with folk music and a 3rd louder stage with the modern stuff. The pinnacle for me is the marauding troupes of morris and country dancers. Kind of out of fashion now but I like them; traditions we should embrace and enjoy.
The crowd: crowd is the word. It was a warm sunny day and the hordes had descended so at points I couldn’t move forward or back for several minutes. Overall though the vibe was good so we all drank through it. Downside is that as darkness came the revellers gave way to the chavs and Kent’s dullest lights were out aggressively so it was definitely time to pack up and head off. After 6 hours that’s probably not too bad a thing.
The Beavertown Extravaganza 2018 7-8 Sep 2018
The concept: no self respecting beer nob could have missed the furore: London’s leading light in craft brewing started the sell out process with 49% going to Heineken. Beavertown and its annual bacchanal to craft beer took some hits as breweries dropped out and tickets were discounted. I stuck with it and I’m so pleased I did. The Surrey Quays warehouse was buzzing and although there were a few less breweries than last year the experience was unchanged. £45, souvenir taster glass on the way in and as many 100ml super-strength beers as you can manage.
The beer: variety is the key here. The breweries are international (plenty of representation from the UK too) and they bring their most outlandish creations to this showcase. From lagers to lambics, from brown ales to barley wines, from saisons to sours and plenty of IPAs and Imperial stouts along the way. I didn’t get to ty the maple bourbon bacon burger Imperial stout but that gives you an idea of what’s going on. I mean they’re great, but I think I got gout like 4 times that day. Lots of mead there this year too – an interesting development.
The location: Printworks, Surrey Quays, south east London. It’s a pretty huge event space and ideal for this kind of thing EXCEPT that non-existent fucking air con. It was absurdly hot, to the point we were encamped outside and making swift forays back in to grab beers and dash back air-side.
The food: pricey, but good. The outdoor space has food trucks galore and at various points I think I had a quesadilla, a samosa, chips and a slice of pizza. I didn’t buy a pizza so not sure where I got that from. It was a good slice of pizza.
The entertainment: basically someone’s rock playlist over the speakers. Some choons in there. There was also a woman on a guitar in a corner at one point but the nature of the event meant she got kind of lost. She would have been perfect in Faversham though.
The crowd: industrial level hipster beer nerds. There is a friendly feel but none of that community atmosphere you would get at a traditional beer festival. It is more like an industry event testing the servers on Instagram and Untappd.
Bransgore Beer Festival 28-30 September 2018
The concept: in its 8th year, this is the classic English beer festival. Big bit of grass, put a big tent in it, fill it with ales. I love that it is organised and run by the local Rotary Club, ably assisted by the Scouts. A true community affair.
The beer: remember this is a small beer festival in a small rural village: they had 80something beers and 45 ciders and perries.
* mic drop *
Breweries represent all corners of Britain including the Orkneys and Wales and among the standard blondes and pales there are a good few stouts and porters, plus some refreshing fruit ciders when you just need a break from the hops.
The location: Bransgore, Hampshire. A quiet village on the edge of the New Forest and while nice enough it is over shadowed by nearby Beaulieu and Lyndhurst. That’s good, it keeps the crowds away. The beer festival takes place in the garden of The Three Tuns, a pretty thatched pub with its garden surrounded by fields. There is something special about a late September beer festival, sat outside as the night draws in and ponies are silhouetted in the paddock next to you while revelry continues in the chilly autumnal air.
The food: this is specific to the beer festival, not the pub which has a strong pub menu. The offering at the beer festival is lacklustre BUT… it is sufficient. Bargain burger or hotdog… standard. I did give the steak wrap a go and left part of it but hey, we’re not here for steak wraps right?
The entertainment: surprisingly good local musicians (most places you go they’re a bit shit, lets be honest) from a talented kid rocking out all kinds of tunes to an Elvis impersonator I was pretty impressed with.
The crowd: beer bellies, groups of friends and lots of families. It’s basically the crew you would get in a rural local pub on a Friday evening except times by 10.
I’m so bloody lucky to have had the September I did. On the spare weekend I went glamping in Surrey for goodness sake! If you’re a mega beer fan then I would wager there are few better places than the south of England to spend your September. The weather is good (usually) and the beer is flowing. Most people will pick one of the above and I hope in a few words I’ve drawn out the differences. But it’s hard for me to pick one because I loved all 3 for what they were. A town, a warehouse, a pub beer garden. Kent, London, Hampshire. Real ale vs craft beer. Local and international. None of its wrong. It’s aaaaall gooood.