Bowled over by beer

Episode 15 – The Robin Hood Beer and Cider Festival

Some people still yearn for the days when the Nottingham Beer Festival was set inside the old Victoria Baths in Sneinton, where your half pint was accompanied by the smell of chlorine and sweaty Speedos . Thankfully, nostalgia is a thing of the past – and this year the event moved to Trent Bridge Cricket Ground. And what a stroke of genius.

Walking into the ground we were met by a well organised system of checking tickets, allocating tokens and glasses, before heading straight into the huge main marquee featuring hundreds of cask ales. Unlike the other firm favourite of the Castle, there were no steep hills to climb, nothing to trip over and no long waits before quenching your thirst with your first selection.

“Once we’ve done the figures and see if we’ve at least broke even I think there’s a fair chance we will be back here next year”

Thousands of people came over the four days, to the delight of Nottingham Camra Chairman Steve Westby. “It’s brilliant, considering that we organised this in just three months rather than the usual nine months. Trent Bridge have been massively co-operative and came up with many of the suggestions about using the space.”

That space was deceptively big, with one of the ground’s sweeping, curved stands providing a fantastic natural area for further beers and ciders away from the main tent and a large selection of diverse catering. Local businesses like Mem Saab provided tasty curries, while at the other end of the scale you could enjoy a simple cheese and onion cob.

Cancelled by Covid in 2020, the Festival would be nothing without the scores of volunteers who carefully transport the casks onto shelves which are three or four high. The more cultured drinkers flick slowly through the pages of the programme seeking out their favourites, but for most visitors it’s a case of randomly finding a space at the bar and peering towards something you like the look off, be it in colour, style or strength.

Steve Westby continues : “We try and get the beers up on the stillages two or three days before we want to start them. Then once you’ve tapped them they really need to be drunk within four days – and as this is a four day event that’s pretty ideal.”

This is the 45th Nottingham Beer Festival, and the 13th under the Robin Hood Brand, but Trent Bridge, of course, holds many more years of history. One of the personal highlights for me was being able to enter the hallowed Pavilion, grab another drink and step out onto the terrace. Across the famous field is he impressive media centre, which also houses the Six Restaurant, tonight being used for a wedding party. It’s a sign of the diversification this venue had made in recent years to make it about so much more than cricket.

Above the Pavilion bar is a large display of cricket bats used by famous players. One is missing – that of WG Grace. I hope they know where it is.

The Nottingham Beer Festival is a labour of love for the organisers, and something of a ritual for many of the visitors. 2021 might just go down as the year when some fell in love with it all over again.

And not a sign of budgie smugglers.

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