It seems that there is no time of year when a beer festival is not being held. Looking through the listings in What’s Brewing details enough beer festivals to fill every weekend of the year. Even early December, dismal and dank, has enough festivals to keep the dedicated drinker happy. The Cockermouth Beer Festival was held from Thursday 1st December to Saturday 3rd December 2011. Cockermouth is a pretty market town in the county of Cumberland, and the administrative area of Cumbria. It’s a major population centre in the midst of the sparsely inhabited area between the Lake District and the Scottish border.
The festival was held in the Kirkgate Centre on Kirkgate, and attractive street of early 18th century cottages, one of which Lady A and myself rented with a couple of friends for the festival. Being only a hundred yards from the festival has obvious advantages. Our friends had been to the Cockermouth Festival before, and pre-warned us that seating was limited and we would need to get there soon after the doors opened if we were to have any chance of sitting down. We duly arrived at the door of the Kirkgate Centre at 7 o’clock, and managed to secure a table.
The downstairs bar
The Kirkgate Centre has two main halls, one upstairs and one downstairs. For this first session, we sat in the downstairs hall, away from the deafeningly loud live music that blights so many beer festivals these days. The beers were arranged alphabetically, and downstairs had A-G (the bar upstairs was longer, being arranged along the hall instead of across it.) Breweries represented were Abbeydale, Barngates, Blackbeck, Coniston, Cotleigh, Cumbrian Legendary Ales, Dent, Derwent, Ennerdale, Foxfield and Geltsdale. The hall filled up very quickly, and I soon saw the wisdom of getting in early. It became quite a scrum to reach the bar.
We went upstairs for the Saturday afternoon session, getting in just on 12 o’clock. The bar upstairs continued from G to Y, dispensing beers from Great Gable, Hardknott, Hawkshead, Hesket Newmarket, Jennings, Keswick, Kirkby Lonsdale, Madcap, Marston, Newman, Salopian, Strands, Stringer, Tirril, Titanic, Ulverston, Watermill and Yates Breweries. It was damned cold in the upstairs bar that afternoon, but it kept the beer in good condition. I can say that none of the beers I had at either session was out of condition.
The upstairs bar
Top beers for me from this festival were: Foxfield Encounter, a 4% bitter (I assume), with a thoroughly modern taste – smooth, slightly creamy and with a nice hint of biscuit. Another Foxfield brew – Stout, at 4.4% offered treacle, dark coffee and small traces of smoke. Hardknott Code Black, a 5.6% dark ale was an intensely hoppy mouthful with strong citrus notes and a devilishly bitter finish. Yates Best Cellar, a red-coloured beer, stronger than it tastes at 5.5% had a good, smooth mouthfeel with distinct toffee and fruit flavours.
Honourable mentions can be given to Blackbeck Carnival Kiss, Blackbeck Dolly’s Trick Shot and Stringer’s Stout No. 2.
The festival was well arranged and organised. All beers were dispensed through handpumps, and as I mentioned before, were in good condition. The staff were all helpful and ethusiastic.
If I may level one criticism at the festival, it would be that the beer list was a tad too ‘safe’. Most beers were in the 3.5 – 4.7% bracket, with only four breaking the 5% barrier. These were Hardknott Code Black (perhaps the most pleasingly different of all the beers I sampled), Jennings Snecklifter (a Jennings stalwart, always a favourite), Madcap Smoked Madness (at 6.9% by far the strongest beer on offer) and Yates’s Best Cellar (again, already mentioned as amongst my festival winners). There were lots of beers that tasted very samey. The majority of beers on offer were middle-of-the-road bitters and goldens. For example, when I came to read my tasting notes for the two Blackbeck beers, I found them to be almost identical. I enjoyed them both, but would have been happier if there had been something to distinguish them. Quite a few of my notes contain the words ‘dull’ or ‘uninteresting’. I want more from a beer festival, I want to taste new and exciting beers.
Although I understand that the festival was not a CAMRA one, but was organised by the local Round Table, and therefore raising money for charity was the main objective, I think there was room for a few more adventurous choices.
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