Reading is hosting its annual 4-day Beer & Cider Festival celebrating the convivial spirits. It’s put on by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, which fights for the preservation of traditional English culture and spirits and consumer rights, and has 89,000 members (89,001 now, including me).
I attended the festival on opening day and also went back this weekend and it’s an amazing event. First of all, I saw no one who was intoxicated and there was No Smoking allowed – so a very clean, civilized atmosphere. The festival is held in a large meadow at the edge of town and two football field-sized tents hold the drinks counters and souvenir vendors booths. Outside, there are food vendors and a large grassy area where groups put down blankets and camp chairs and picnic. This is also a family event, with all manner of strollers seen and a moon-bounce and face-painting provided.
Here are the stunnings stats: for your drinking pleasure, there were 450+ native beers on tap, 160+ ciders, 145+ foreign beers, and 40+ wines. Naturally, you need a comprehensive festival program to be able to tell one beverage from another; do not bother looking for your garden-variety Budweiser or Stella. Upon arrival, you pay your entrance fee and collect a glass. Then you tour the tents, paying more or less pub prices for any drinks you want. This was the 14th annual running of the event and it was very well organized. Volunteers manned the drinks counters and were on hand to help with everything.
A group of Morris Men, traditional English dancers, are shown above. They were scheduled to provide some entertainment in the afternoon and several bands were lined up for the evening. The festival hours are 11 am – 11 pm.
The portable toilets looked like the usual fare from the outside, just restrooms on trailers, but inside they were marvelous! Clean and spacious, with marble formica counters (even over the urinals, so you had somewhere to park your glass) and wood trim, and with nice music piped in. Truly, the nicest port-o-Johns I’ve ever seen.
Alcoholic apple and pear ciders are very popular with younger folks here these days. I was tempted to try a "perry" – a pear cider – but didn’t get around to it. In the same way there are brewers with their many lines of beers, there are also cider makers and their products. Women, which made up 25% of the crowd, favored the ciders and wines.
The names of the beverages were so much fun: Fission, Road Hog, Posh Pooch, What He’s Having, Ramblers Ruin, Rip Tide, Men of Norfolk, Hornets Nest, and Dazed & Confused are but a few examples. Check out the complete list. The attendees ranged from serious students of the brewers art to those who just wanted to have some fun. It was quite a neat event to attend and unlike anything I’ve seen in the US.