Hitchin Festival Report

One word summary: Success! Friday evening was crammed, over the course of the day we counted 1406 people entering the town hall. Saturday was steady but slower, 872 customers enjoyed the ales – bringing us to a total that trumps last year’s record by 104 people. Will the Hitchin festival ever shake its “runs out of beer” reputation? Despite this reputation we started Saturday with 46 different beers and at closing time we still had 15 different beers available and about 10 ciders & perrys. Festival visitors managed to put away 5700 pints of ale and 1150 pints of cider and perry, leaving us with around of 10% of stocks remaining. We let as little as possible go to waste – volunteers get to take some home (I expect a few steak and ale stews were made in the week after the festival), some ale went to a local restaurant (for cooking), and spare cider is sold on to local pubs. We also had an exciting range of foreign beer on sale and sold 765 bottles and 150 litres draught.

Longest Hitchin festival queue ever?
Longest Hitchin festival queue ever?

It was excellent seeing so many CAMRA and Round Table members donating their time this year to make the festival a success. We had a record 61 volunteers who donated around 900 hours worth of their time. For once, even during Friday’s busiest period, it was possible to have a bit of a break from serving during a shift and drinkers didn’t have to wait too long to be served. It was certainly far more relaxed behind the bar than in the last couple of years – more enjoyable for everyone! We thank our volunteers wholeheartedly and hope to see everyone again at the post-festival party where we will supply plenty of food and beer for all.

What about the beer? We had 75 different ales on over the course of the festival from a wide array of breweries ranging from Isle of Purbeck on the Dorset coast all the way up to Cairngorm in the Scottish Highlands. As a special theme this year we had a several casks from London Brewers Alliance breweries. London was once a great brewing city but in recent times there were a mere handful of breweries left (Fuller’s, Meantime, any more?) – come the current microbrewery revolution and we’ve seen several new breweries popping up within the M25. Redemption we now know well – their “Trinity” (3%) won Beer of the Festival at Hitchin 2011 – now we’ve also met beers from By The Horns, East London Brewing Company, Florence, London Fields and Sambrooks.

The Beer of the Festival (BotF) voting gives an interesting illustration of how varied people’s tastes are. On day 1 we had 71 beers on the go and 64 of these received at least one BotF vote. However, at the end of the festival there was one winner and I’m pleased to write that Windsor & Eton Brewery takes the prize with “Treetops (4%) a beer created for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and described by the brewery as: “a rich, intense Africa Export Stout brewed from a blend of British and African ingredients, including coffee and vanilla.” The race for this year’s BotF was a close one. Summer Wine Brewery‘s “Diablo IPA” (6%) came in at second place by only a single vote – it won BotF at our Letchworth beer festival last year. Coming in at a respectable third in the BotF race was Milton Brewery‘s “Marcus Aurelius” (7.5%), this “Imperial Roman Stout” is a wintertime favourite of mine.

This year’s Cider of the Festival (CotF) was “Black Dragon” from Gwynt Y Ddraig – that makes it Hitchin CotF two years running now. Runners-up were our local Apple Cottage’s “FTJ” and Millwhites “Rioja Cask”.

We had a broad range of food this year thanks to our Olives and Stuff and Wobbly Bottom Cheese stands plus Radcliffe Arms & Cardona & Son in the kitchen. The kitchen was serving up locally produced rare-breed pork sausages, roasts, and both muntjack & vegetarian wraps throughout both days of the festival.

Festival Kitchen
James from the Radcliffe Arms, and Andre & Ben from Cardona & Son in the Kitchin

As a new feature this year we ran a live webcam. This has allowed us to create time-lapse videos covering the set-up and both days of the festival. These were rather fun and have attracted a lot of positive feedback.

Thanks to everyone who attended the beer festival to make it a successful event! Once again this was our “last one” at the town hall, perhaps we’ll see you there again in 2013? Usually our next beer festival is Letchworth in September, we’re working on arranging a new venue at the moment as Plinston is unavailable – keep an eye on the website for news on this front.

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