Looking at my blog count for January, it stands at a miserable eight. My worst ever I'm ashamed to say, but then again, I like to think I have an excuse. That bloody beer festival.
To let you into a sort of secret, when we heard that the Co-op wasn't letting out New Century House again, the future of the Winter Ales Festival in a Manchester venue was in severe doubt. The city was scoured for alternatives, with eye wateringly expensive and unsuitable alternatives being weeded out. It was getting difficult. We discovered the Sheridan Suite, firmly plonked in a pretty run down area and a mile and a bit out of town, though otherwise with a lot going for it. (Our booking took them by surprise as it is mostly used for Asian weddings.) It didn't get universal approval and caused some to spit their dummies out, but we went for it and guess what? It worked and people loved it! No-one was killed or stabbed on the way there. There was no trouble or mass invasion of scallies, just wonderfully relaxed people having a great time.
Some details. Last year's record numbers was more or less equalled in a venue that has no passing trade - you have to decide to go. The attendance was well in excess of 8000. We sold much more beer - an effective sellout - and banked more money. My abiding memory of a hugely successful Friday night was looking along Oldham Road and watching a stream of taxis queuing to deposit thirsty drinkers, while passing buses dropped off 10 or 12 each trip.
We had more seating though never enough, but happy groups sat on the floor, making their own personal space. Boak and Bailey were just such a pair. The number of young people, particularly women, who attended was gratifying and proved that "proper" beer can attract that sizeable market without gimmicks, if you create the right setting and enough choice. We had record numbers of volunteer staff from all over the country. I'm indebted to them. The venue management found it amazing that so many worked so hard for no financial reward. Me too. We signed up nearly 200 more CAMRA members, the beer was in record good nick, the food was appreciated, with the real genuine made on the premises curries going down well and though we did have the odd hiccup with the ladies toilets - surely they could cross their legs for 20 minutes while the header tanks refilled? - all was well. We even sold most of the souvenir glasses.
Will we be back? Well, we have a snagging list as long as your arm - standard for a new location - we have to look at price and any alternatives, but next year's NWAF has already been allocated to Manchester. If you weren't there, you missed a treat. Don't miss out again.
The photo shows Thwaites dray horses and handler on the Trade Session.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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