Having given up food for lent (not true, but with my new sylph-like profile, you’d think it to be the case), I’ve had to seriously increase my liquid nutrient intake… or beer as it is also known (believe me, it is getting harder and harder to find new ways of justifying the dietary virtues of ale – take it as read, it’s better for you than all processed meat, Findus lasagnes and S Todd pies), so beer festivals are like all you can eat buffets to me… only it’s all you can drink. Sort of. Actually, the analogy completely falls down. Let’s just get on with it, shall we?
The Round Table Beer Festival is now in its 23rd year, hosted by The Crown Hotel, a curious and convoluted collection of conference rooms, dance halls, exhibition halls and carpeted corridors along which spectral twins walk hand in hand pursued by tsunamis of blood… no, sorry, scratch that last thing. What I meant to say was they have various bands and acts playing throughout (I especially liked the non-ironic performance of ‘Common People’ and the young lad playing covers of alternative rock classics – can’t precisely remember what he played, but I’m sure he bunged some slayer in there to mix it up). There is a strong presence from the middle weight breweries Daleside and Theakstons but also brews from the likes of Thornbridge, Roosters, Black Sheep, Kirkstall and Saltaire – not a bad range, to be honest. They also have a selection of ciders and perries to keep those tipplers with a sweeter tooth satisfied. And lager for the philistines – only kidding, lager has its place; elsewhere.
Right, I’d better crack on before I descend into beer snobbery. First off, I liked the array of beers on offer, a good mix of pale and dark, served in the complimentary half pint, allowing you to savour the flavours without having to commit to a beer which might be charming to start with, but becoming more unpleasant as you progress – sort of like being cornered by a psychopath at a party, without the inevitable stalking/murder situation. This is a great way to do the IPAs such as Thornbridge’s Kipling (hoppy and sharp with citrus undertones) and Leeds Brewery New Moon (a dark IPA with that peaty expresso taste that simultaneously wakes you up and clubs you into submission) and the Saltaire Rasberry Blonde (malty and raspberry, very nice thank you very much), though none of the beers are particularly strong (that said, yes, I did get wobbly – false sense of security and all that). The venue itself is a bit of a maze though, and with beers running out fairly quickly on the evening, it becomes a bit of a hunt to find a beer that is still on… frustrating if you are getting the wobbly side of not sober. Perhaps it would be better to have all the beers in one place rather than intersperse bars with food stands (you could have a food hall, like M & S… this is Harrogate, after all…). You also get the feeling that there are too many cooks, as it were – there are almost as many folk behind the bars as there are in front of them. But could you really blame them for wanting to get involved.
I suppose my criticisms are a bit churlish because despite and sometimes because of these flaws it is a lot of fun – beer, pies, music – you can’t go wrong really. Sure, it is a bit haphazard and accident prone (the gents toilets flood at about half nine and almost all the beer is gone by 10.45) but it has that well meaning volunteer feel… it is for charity after all. So keep on rolling, round table – don’t tweak it too hard, just… massage it a bit.