And so to the festival. All I can say is Wow!! It is BIG. This is just at opening time, before the crowd packed in..Over 200 ales to try, all with tasting notes 80 ciders and perries - absolutely none from the big makersAlso unexpectedly, over 80 English cheeses.
Sadly, despite my best efforts, I failed to sample them all. In fact I mainly stuck to beers at less than 4% alcohol in order to survive the evening. There were beers tasting of grapefruit, ciders tasting of rum and loads of more amazing stuff. Call me boring, but I did not sample to 10% alcohol Old Engine Oil, or the beer flavoured with chillies or the stout containing port. They were there, but most beers were somewhat more conventional. Virtually none from National brewers, who needs 'em? Hooray for the microbrewing industry. If you think you don't like real ale, go to one of these festivals and I guarantee you'll be converted.
I had never been to a beer festival before and we were surprised first to see how superbly organised it was, then to see what a social occasion it was. There were literally thousands of people there, all in small groups, all doing as much chatting as drinking, and all taking their ales or ciders by the half pint. It was like an enormous and very friendly party.
The most surprising thing was that no-one seemed to get drunk! I suppose drinking only half pints and talking and eating a lot (there were some brilliant food stalls too) and doing so over several hours spread the alcohol intake. People were more interested in tasting what they were drinking than just getting smashed as so many kids seem to do these days. I didn't see a single cross word or hear a single instance of rowdyism, even at chucking out time.
Now I have the makings of the perfect boat trip. Down the Nene, across the Middle Levels, down the Ouse and the Cam, taking in Wicken Fen as you pass, and finish at the Cambridge Beer Festival. It would be hard to imagine a better one.