THRONGS of people were already gathering around the beer barrels, sampling the 125 ales as well as wines and perries, when I arrived about an hour after the doors to the Doncaster Beer Festival opened on Thursday evening.
Just as there was an impressive range of beer, there was also a great mix of people gathered around tables at the Doncaster College hub. Admittedly, some were grey-haired men with beer bellies but there were also many women and men who did not fit the Real Ale stereotype.
At the end of the three day festival, Doncaster Campaign For Real Ale chairman Bob Kiddle said: “We had about 2,000 through the door. What we did notice this year was an increase in the amount of young people, which is always great to see.”
On a national scale, Real Ale is undergoing something of a resurgence. It is no longer just the reserve of bearded men in darkened pubs, which look on the brink of closure. Successful traditional pubs and swanky gastro bars alike are flying the flag for the taste of ‘proper’ - and locally-brewed - beer.
I’m in my twenties and I love a good pint of bitter. I think the tastes are more varied and the flavour more refreshing than a pint of fizzy, cold lager.
I was thrilled when Doncaster CAMRA asked me to join a panel of Real Ale taste testers.
With a beer in one hand and a pen in the other, we were all asked to mark a series of mystery beers out of ten for clarity, taste and aroma. It was a jovial table of six (many of them Doncaster landlords) and we sniffed and stared at and slugged back the samples brought round in plastic jugs.
I was feeling a little out of my depth. I usually just ask the barman for a blonde bitter and hope for the best. I got the impression that others around the table were rather more discerning.
I was slightly embarrassed when I piped up that one of the ales tasted of Twiglets - and then glanced at two fellow beer tasters’ scoresheet to see they’d given it nines and tens across the board.
As the beer and conversation flowed, chairman Bob put his head over our table and reassured me that the tasting wasn’t really about beer expertise. He explained what he wanted everyone to appreciate was the amazing variety of ales on offer - all with their own unique taste and flavour.
And he was right. I might not quite be the Julie Goolden of beer yet but I did appreciate that there was much more to beer than just smooth-tasting blonde ales. Congratulations on a great festival Doncaster CAMRA - and I’ll make sure to get some practice in so I’m better prepared for next year.
The winning Golden Ale and best beer overall was White Rose Ballymoss, stout winner Steel City Shakti Clag, top strong beer was Fullers ESB, with the top bitter prizes for Rough Draft Junction 51 and best bitter, Titanic Brewery’s Harry Senior.
* Jen Foster