Festival Fringe

by Steve Renshaw

It’s May and, for local CAMRA members, that means only one thing – the Lincoln Beer Festival. We’ve been planning the annual celebration of traditional British drinks for six months, and in just a couple of weeks’ time we’ll transform the Drill Hall into the biggest pub in the county.

The aim of the Festival is to increase the appreciation of real ale, cider and perry. We’re particularly keen to encourage people who don’t usually drink beer to explore the different styles and flavours of real ales.

Planning and running the Festival involves a huge amount of work by lots of volunteers. But there is a selfish motive behind it. If people enjoy themselves at the Festival, they’re likely to go into pubs looking for good real ale. Which means that the pubs that CAMRA members frequent have a better chance of surviving in these difficult times.

The Festival attracts thousands of local drinkers, plus many CAMRA members from across the UK. Lots of visitors stay in Lincoln for the weekend and also visit the CAMRA festival in Newark. In the last couple of years, a few of our city-centre pubs have taken the opportunity to put on events around the time of the Festival in order to tap into the raised awareness.

This year we’re encouraging our local pubs to get involved in what we’re calling the Festival Fringe by putting on events during May to attract more customers and encourage them to drink real ale, cider and perry. In the city, the usual suspects – the Strugglers, the Jolly Brewer and the Wig and Mitre – were quick to sign up, but I’m off to Scampton to find out what’s planned at the Dambusters Inn.

Now here’s an interesting pub. The building is over 200 years old and you can imagine wartime bomber crews driving down from the base to relax between sorties. Prepare for a surprise – it turns out that it’s only been a pub since 1999.

The conversion is impressive, with the interior having all the trappings of a traditional village pub, including bar billiards and Northamptonshire table skittles. And there’s a fascinating collection of memorabilia and information about the famous bombing raid.

Landlord, Greg Algar, has been in charge since 2009. During that time, he has increased the number of handpumps from two to five, dispensing a changing selection of ales from breweries in the local area and further afield. Greg explains, “When I took over, real ale was only 40% of the beer sales but now it’s over 70%. My customers like to try beers from different breweries across the country.”

Over the weekend of 18th-20th May, Greg is holding a Dambusters Raid anniversary beer festival. With the help of George Batterbee of Poachers Brewery, he’s putting in extra handpumps so that twelve ales can be served from the bar. So whatever the weather, you’re guaranteed a good time.

And what about the beer? Once a month, Greg gets a cask of the multi-award-winning Thornbridge Jaipur. Thornbridge beers were first brewed in early 2005 in the grounds of Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire. A new, state-of-the-art brewery and bottling line was built at Bakewell in 2009. At 5.9% ABV, Jaipur is a bit stronger than I usually drink but, as we don’t see it round here very often, I had to try it. It’s a flavoursome India Pale Ale packed with citrus hoppiness nicely balanced by malty sweetness. I’ll be checking with Greg to find out when he has it on again.

For information about the Lincoln Beer Festival and the Festival Fringe, check our website www.lincolncamra.org.uk