National Winter Ales Festival 2011

By Steve Heighton
Posted: 23/02/2011

When Dowbridge Brewery's Pretoria Porter came third overall in the Champion Winter Beer of the Year, having already taken the Porter section, there was already a sense of excitement for our visit to the Festival.  We had travelled up by train and arrived in plenty of time to visit three splendid pubs.  First up the Smithfield where we had beers straight from the jug.Down and across the road to the Angel with yet again a a superb range and then for our first visit of the day to the Marble Arch.There are some pubs where you see the description 'must visit', well this is one of them.  I won't spoil it only to say it's a classic with cracking dark beers.

Then the long walk to the festival at the new venue.  It doesn't look much from outside but soon turns into a tardis of several bars.  The long bar was heavily populated with many unusual beers as it was the National Winter festival!  There were several other smaller bars which were equally interesting, including a foreign beer bar which to be honest I didn't even look at enabled the customers to spread out and although full was never uncomfortable.  The seating in the auditorium gave the venue plenty of places to base camp and this meant it was a comfy step up from last time.  The stage was obviously well placed and gave a good focal point for the band.  However the main point was how good was the beers.  Being a scribbler on many a beer mat I can only tell you that next day when I checked (or more importantly could read) no beer got less than an 8 which is high praise from me!

The best part of the day was third of a pint glasses.  This enabled a steady flow of many different dark beers, all of some quality.  Bev Gobbett, the bar manager arranged for us to have the Pretoria and it was superb.  With so many people to look at from all over, it had a great atmosphere.  Kim from Walsall who was straddled in front of us kept us entertained before Dr Busker played a couple of warm up songs for the gig later on.  Four hours on from entering and the fest was still rammed and the beers were still very good.  The highlight for St Albans Kevin seemed to be the allure of draught Robinsons Old Tom and who could blame him.  For me too many to pick one out but despite poorly received rumours of a move next year to Derby and an equally reassurring promise that the National Winter may become North West Festival we are already planning our return next year.  I must and am happy to say so the staff running the festival were top notch, the venue was very good and the beers superb.  Well worth the visit.