For four days every September more than 10,000 people gather on a big field in York and drink more than 40,000 pints of beer and cider.
It’s not some bizarre cult devoted to worshipping Silenus and Dionysus, the Greek gods of beer, but York Beer Festival.
Already established as one of the top events of its kind, this year’s fest looks to be the best yet, with a very special guest and a brand new fringe.
What’s on for 2017
It’s not hard to see why York Beer Festival is so successful. Inside the cavernous marquee it’s a cathedral of jollity where you can simultaneously feel secure from the elements whilst enjoying the frisson of the outdoor experience.
Knavesmire, opposite York Racecourse grandstand
Wed Sept 20-Sat Sept 23
£1.50-£5.50 a day
As with every successful recipe, the key is in quality ingredients be that drink, food, entertainment or education.
Most important is a vast selection of around 500 real ales from all over the UK including over 200 from the capital of brewing – Yorkshire.
There’s also a dazzling array of British ciders from not just the traditional terroirs of Somerset and Herefordshire but from far and wide as the Rhonda Valley to the Lothian Region.
The popular food village boasts with more than nine different cuisines, there’s a music stage which helps the event go with a swing.
And this year there is also the addition of a fringe. This will host a variety of different events ranging from tutored tastings to industry forums to cooking with beer.
Legendary beer expert
The very special guest at this year’s event is Roger Protz, who is a legend in beer circles. He is one of the world’s leading beer writers, historians, lecturers and tasters.
The author of more than 20 books on beer, his works include 300 Beers to Try Before You Die, one of the biggest-selling books on the subject.
Roger will be opening the festival, leading tutored beer tastings and signing copies of his new book on IPA on the first two days of the festival.
History of the festival
Beer festivals eh? Everyone’s doing them. You can’t go anywhere without some organisation or pub putting on a selection of 15 ales without breaking sweat – somewhat of a novelty just a few years ago.
And the new breed of craft keg beer festivals are starting to turn heads. If you’ve been to Indy Man Con or Leeds International Beer Festival you’ll know what I mean, festivals with more than their fair share of the hirsute hipster brigade.
With their emphasis on smaller measures and tasting rosters of stronger beers, they’re carving out their own niche in the world of beer tasting. So to make your mark, you have to stand out.
You’ve got to be the first edition in the stack of reprints. The original artist, not the cover band.
York Beer Festival is over 40 years old and origins date back to 1974 and the 3rd ever CAMRA AGM & Conference held in York at the De Grey Rooms.
The branch put on an “Exhibition of Ales” for members at the princely sum of 10p per pint and drawing on that experience decided to put on a public beer festival for the good people of York.
So to all extensive purposes the first ever York CAMRA Beer Festival took place at the Assembly Rooms on 2nd and 3rd July 1976.
They sold 594 gallons (4752 pints) of 10 of the North’s finest beers and what was to become an annual institution was born.
As with any event the venue is critical to its success and over the years the beer festival suffered from having a somewhat nomadic existence – moving from venue to venue until the momentous decision was taken in 2009 to upscale. A decision incidentally that was passed by just a single vote at a stormy meeting.
That judicious decision to become an outdoor festival at York Knavesmire proved the making of the festival which has continued to grow and attract a new legion of devotees.
Very few activities in life unite people of such a diverse cross section of society than beer festivals.
It’s one of those diverting pastimes talking to people over the bar at the festival during quieter periods. I’ve conversed with QCs, refuse collectors, students and professors.
City types in pinstripes, country types in tweeds and every sort of fancy dress you can imagine. It’s an egalitarian smorgasbord.
Make no mistake, this is no small undertaking. The logistics of putting this event on would give a professional organisation sleepless nights and yet York Beer Festival is planned and executed by a 100% volunteer force.
Let’s not call them amateurs though, for its obvious connotations. These are people with vast experience and expertise who fit their festival responsibilities in their busy professional lives for the sheer enjoyment of giving enjoyment.
So, go on. Treat yourself. Get on down there. Buy yourself a ticket to jump the queue with a FastTrack entry or just head up on the day. There’s even a dedicated festival bus service that goes hourly to and from the York Station.
As Severus would have said “Nunc est Bibendum”!