Well that was a blast! Whenever we stray far from the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley to bring you a story, it has to be for a good reason. We found one! Stick with us though because there is lots of local interest to be had in this the third great event organised by those lovely people and beer & cider aficionados.
We first met the guys and girls from CAMRA Gloucester at Hillside Brewery (see ANZAC beer feature below) and have already covered the story of this fabulous charity fund raising commemorative ale. We thought that we would just bring you an update on the story as well as wax lyrical about this fabulous county beer event. First of all I need to assure you that there was lots of commemorating done over the weekend, so much so that the ANZAC beer was a sell-out. No flippancy intended for such a sombre historical event but we are sure that our Aussie pals would be celebrating too. Even the British Legion stand (the chosen charity for the festival) was selling presentation packs of ANZAC beer and we hope they made LOTS of money for a good cause!
Neil Richardson (CAMRA Gloucester’s head of light entertainment) told me at Hillside, “wait until you see the venue – it’ll blow you away”. OK, so Neil has now been outed as a master of understatement because the Blackfriars Priory on Ladybellegate Street a.k.a. Gloucester’s Via Sacra, did more than that. Not heard of it? No, neither had the guy who lived in flat 100 yards away, or the countless other Gloucester residents who said the same thing. If I’d have had a half a pint of Wye Valley, Kingstone, or Bespoke for everyone I heard comment in a similar vein, well I wouldn’t have been here now.
My first thoughts about this imposing ancient monument, which don’t forget now housed a beer festival for the weekend, finally – a Cathedral to Beer! This cavernous space with a high vaulted ceiling felt just that.
This finest surviving example of a Dominican Friary in the UK isn’t a finely crafted polished visitor experience you might expect from the Chatsworth Devonshire’s, this a building in the raw. A building where beer festivals should be held. Chapeau to English Heritage and Gloucester City Council at this point for allowing the venue to be used for a such a great event. We are all used to that conserve/preserve viewpoint which doesn’t envisage anything other than a slowly deteriorating pile for a visiting few maintained at public or charitable expense.
Not here though. The building itself, stripped bare of plaster belies that viewpoint. Stand in the hall, as I did on VIP night, and “read” the building with Nick Bull of Severn Cider (an event sponsor and providers of the most serious bar I have ever seen), and the building shouts makeover upon makeover! It strips bare the concept that buildings should be “preserved” instead shouting loudly that they should, as Blackfriars has, evolve. Every use and every brutal change for every different use since 1239 is there for the layperson to see. Vaults, now going nowhere, false windows, filled in windows, tiny windows that once lit something no long there and projecting masonry used for – well who knows? The truth, for a building to survive and prosper for future generations, it has to be useful!
Beer and Cider lovers are life lovers. From time to time they may over train, but lovers of craft ales and ciders are a lovely bunch of people. Everyone I spoke to not only appreciated the building for its beauty and history but also the custodians for allowing it to be used and promoted to a wider audience. In the lower section beneath the huge glazed wall (replacing masonry lost to history) the monumental bar (Severn Cider bar hire) stood ready to prop us all up in style while we chose from the inexhaustible supply of great beer and cider. The modest festival entrance price includes a beer card worth £10 (I know, bargain) which you can cash in at the bar in pints, halves or thirds to sample and appreciate as many beers as possible. Wye Valley Brewery (HPA and Pedal Pusher), Hillside (Anzac, Compatriot, Legend of the Hillside and Legless Cow) and Severn Cider (a full suite of their fabulous Perry and Cider on tap) were heavily involved in supporting the festival but also there and very popular were;
Bespoke from Mitcheldean with their King Shilling mild ale with English hops.
Castles from Caldicot with a refreshing pale ale hopped with Saaz as well as White Knight American style pale ale.
Kingstone, Tintern with their 1503 Tudor and Abbey ales.
The raised second level of the main hall (North Range) housed the stage and ample room for sitting or standing and the limited number of available tickets meant that it was a very comfortable atmosphere even when full. There was a very respectable chicken curry and other hot food on sale in the Language Centre restaurant as well as, my preferred option – Gloucestershire cheeses. I opted for White Heaven (to go with my Hillside heaven) a soft creamy Camembert style from the people over at Woefuldane. There were also several smaller rooms (East Range) for drinkers to sit and chat but The Scriptorium across the quadrant was just the most delightful piece of medieval architecture I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying a pint in!
The 4th CAMRA Gloucester Beer & Cider Festival? One for the diary!
Full gallery of images at David Broadbent Photography