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British Beer and Cider Festivals

A beer festival is an organised event where a large number of beer-lovers get together to get drunk sample a number of beers for tasting and purchase. Beer festivals take place all year around the world, but arguably Germany and Britain are the pack leaders for sheer scale and variety.

We’ve served up the biggest and best of these riotous occasions for your delectation:

British Beer Festivals

The Great British Beer Festival has to take the crown as the king of the UK beer festivals. Started in 1977 and held every year in August, this 5-day London establishment is organised by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) and includes a wide range of cask ales from the British Isles and abroad. It is also the home of the coveted Champion Beer of Britain awards. Expect to see over 600 beers and over 60,000 thirsty punters. During the festival over two pints of beer are sold every second. It is also worth noting the whole festival is completely staffed by around 1000 unpaid volunteers.

The sister festival of the Great British Beer Festival is Manchester’s National Winter Ales Festival – held in January to allow the winter ales to have their day in the spotlight. Other notable mentions are the Luton Beer Festival (held in February and hosts over 100 beers), the Peterborough CAMRA Beer Festival (held in August, showcasing over 350 real ales), and the Farnham Beer Exhibition in Surrey (usually held in early May it is the longest running British beer festival to be held annually in one location).

British beer festivals tend to include casks of ale from many different brewers placed on stillage, behind rows of trestle tables. The festival staff serve the beer directly from the cask, and payment is made in cash or by token. When tokens are used these are sold in bulk sheets at the entrance. Beer is usually cooled using wet sacking or blankets, although refrigerated cooling saddles are becoming more common. Glasses are distributed at the entrance to the venue (usually for a small deposit), and the glasses usually bear a design specific to the festival so can be considered a collectible. A beer list is usually available, often indicating where in the venue the different casks will be situated.

Which ever British beer festival you decide to visit next, you will probably require local accommodation. For hotels and guest houses around England, I can personally recommend the Hotels in England website. I have always found it simple to book rooms with them especially when in a hurry.

German Beer Festivals

Germany is host to the world’s largest and most famous beer festival – Oktoberfest. A 16-day festival held in Munich starting in late September, it is the world’s largest fair with over 6,000,000 people attending. Across Germany other cities also hold their own Oktoberfest festivals to coincide with the main event. Oktoberfest dates back to 1810 to celebrate the wedding of the German king. It is common to see patrons of Oktoberfest wear cowboy shaped hats containing a tuft of goat hair. Goat hair used to be an expensive item to get hold of Germany, so there more goat hair on display, the wealthier the wearer.

Oktoberfest has fourteen main tents, which each hold between 1000 and 8,500 people each. In 2009 a litre of beer cost around € 8.30 (about £7.50).

Germany is also host to the Gäubodenvolksfest in Straubing during the middle of August, an 11 day festival distinct from Oktoberfest but similar in style.

International Beer Festivals

It is possible to celebrate Oktoberfest in many other countries – Oktoberfest festivals are held in Brazil, Argentina, North America, Canada and Hong Kong, to name a few.

Our last honourable mention is Philadelphia – which celebrates being America’s Best Beer Drinking City by holding a 10-day series of beer events on the first weekend of March. In 2009 this festival featured 674 separate events, and the first keg was opened using the it’s ceremonial “Hammer of Glory”.


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