Cartmel is a pretty village close to Grange-over-Sands in Lancashire. There are several pubs here worthy of a visit, and one of these is the Royal Oak Inn, which sits cheek-by-jowl with the Kings Arms on the village square. The Royal Oak held the 2011 Cartmel Beer Festival on the weekend of 20th/21st August. I visited on the 20th, Saturday. I’d never been to Cartmel before, it’s a bit out of the way from my usual haunts, and I was immediately captivated by this attractive village with its mediaeval priory. It’s clearly a bit of a tourist trap, but I’m determined to return soon to sample more of its charms.
The Royal Oak is an old fashioned looking inn, with flag floors and an eclectic mix of furniture, including some comfy armchairs and a large open fireplace. During the afternoon, when I was there, it was family friendly. Home made food is served daily at lunchtime and in the evenings.
Barely a stone’s throw from the pub is Cartmel racetrack. On race days, the pub has four bars available. In addition to the regular bar, there are two in the beer garden and one outside in the square. Clearly, the landlord is not one to miss a trick!
Walk through the pub, past the bar, and you will find the large, attractive beer garden, which was the venue for the beer festival. The garden is bounded on the left by the River Eea, on which the village was built, and on the right by a dry stone wall over which can be seen the lovely local countryside. It’s a truly delightful spot, a hidden gem. To one side was a large barbecue where you could place your order and have your food freshly cooked, and to the back of the garden was the business – the festival bar. Under an awning was a bar with eight handpumps and a stack of maybe twenty casks. Available beers were chalked up on a blackboard to make choosing a bit easier. There was a good choice of locally brewed beers, so I decided to stay local for my ales. I started with Foxfield Breakfast Beer, a 4.2% bitter which gets its name from the oats that are added to the brew. Now I’ve met Stuart from Foxfield brewery on a couple of occasions, and he’s nothing if not an experimenter. I’d be happy drinking this hoppy, bitter beer any time, but to me it just wasn’t special. If you want special, you should try to get Stuart’s Foxfield Full English Breakfast, a 5.5% dark mild. Sweet, dark and malty with a hint of vanilla – simply beautiful.
My second beer was Fuzzy Duck Pheasant Plucker – my, how I laughed at the name! Fuzzy Duck is not the only brewery to use this tired old spoonerism, of course, at least one other, Church End, has fallen for it. Fuzzy Duck is known for its schoolboy beer names – consider their ‘Cunning Stunt’, if you will. Their Pheasant Plucker is a 4.3% bitter, which strangely smells of orange squash. Not fresh orange, definitely cordial. It’s an easy drinking beer, fruity and slightly hoppy with an enjoyable touch of caramel. Less of the adolescent names, please, lads. It’s not big and it’s not clever.
Moving on, I next had a Cross Bay Sunset. I know little about Cross Bay. It’s a brand new brewery from Morecambe, so this is all new. Sunset is a 4.2% bitter. I’m impressed with it. It has a breaking head, it’s smooth and sweetish. There is caramel in there with a bitter hoppy finish. This is a good, mature beer, with a nicely complex taste and I look forward to sampling more of this baby brewery’s output – keep it up!
Staying local, I next opted for two beers from Winster Valley, a microbrewery located in the Brown Horse Inn in Winster, just a few miles from the beer festival. The first one I tried, I didn’t even realise was from Winster Valley. The pump clip made it look like it was brewed in Cartmel itself. Always read the pump clip closely! Winster Valley Cartmel Hurdle is a 3.5% session bitter with a pale orange colour. There is a sulphurous smell, but the flavour is really sweet and toffeeish. There’s bags of flavour in here for a mere 3.5%. Excellent. The second of their beers was Winster Valley Old School. The barmaid described it as a dark ale, which cheered me, because there didn’t seem to be any dark ales included in the festival at all. When she presented me with it, though, it was just orange in colour. Not really a dark ale, then. However, it was smooth with a malty, gentle bitterness, and very enjoyable. I’d be happy to drink this all night.
I finished with a jar of Stringers West Coast Blond. This is a 4.4% pale ale, with a lovely pale yellow colour. Again, I got a slightly sulphurous smell, but this did not follow through into the taste. It starts sweet, with a developing hoppiness. Bitterness grows through to the finish, but doesn’t go too far. It’s good. Very good, actually.
All the beers I sampled were local. Foxfield brewery is situated at the Prince of Wales at Broughton in Furness, Fuzzy Duck is at Poulton-le-Fylde, Cross Bay at Morecambe, Winster Valley just a few miles away and Stringers at Ulverston. This was a great local event. As we drank, we were entertained by local duo Tapestry, whose polished performance was only spoiled when rain stopped play half way through their session. That was a shame, everyone was clearly enjoying the music.
The Cartmel beer festival was not a huge, massively organised affair like those stellar beer festivals that stud the beer calendar. It was a much smaller, more intimate thing, like hundreds of little beer festivals that fill up the gaps between the huge festivals. There were something between 20 and 30 beers available during the weekend. I really enjoy those big festivals with over 100 beers on tap, but these smaller events just fill me with joy. I was happy and comfortable sitting out in that beer garden. The staff were friendly and had time for a little banter. Sure, it rained, but so what? If you’ve never been to a little local beer festival, you have missed out on a wonderful opportunity to enjoy yourself in a way that far outstrips your expectations. Do yourself a favour – check you local area for pubs holding a little beer festival. You won’t regret it.
Well done, Cartmel. Well done the Royal Oak. Top marks!
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