Beginner’s Guide to Lincoln Beer Festival

by Steve Renshaw

With Lincoln Beer Festival only a week away, Steve Renshaw answers questions from first-timers.

Isn’t a beer festival just old men sitting round drinking warm beer?
Certainly not – we get a really good mix of customers. Of course, this includes beer aficionados, but we also get workers popping in for a few pints at the end of their shift, clubbers starting off their night with us, visitors to the city, and plenty of students. And our bar manager won’t forgive me if I don’t tackle the warm-beer issue. Real ale is best served between 11oC and 13oC, so you can fully appreciate the flavours. We have the equipment to ensure that we keep it at just the right temperature.

But I don’t like beer.
There are hundreds of brewers across the UK producing thousands of distinctive ales, so perhaps it’s just that you haven’t found the right one yet. We’ve got over a hundred, so this is your chance to try some different ones. And the beauty of the festival is that you can buy a third of a pint, which allows you to appreciate the different styles and flavours without getting the worse for wear. We’ve also got some really unusual foreign beers to try. And if you really can’t find a beer that’s to your taste, we’ve some fantastic, farm-produced cider and perry.

So what is real ale?
In the early 1970s, CAMRA coined the term “real ale” to make it easy for people to differentiate between the bland keg beers being pushed by the big brewers and the traditional beers whose very existence was under threat. Real ale is a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask through a process called secondary fermentation. It is this process which makes real ale unique amongst beers and develops the wonderful tastes and aromas which keg beers can never provide.

And when is the best time to go to the festival?
It really depends on what you want. If you want a reasonably quiet time to do some tasting and chat to the bar staff, then the lunchtimes are probably best. On the other hand, if you’re coming to have a good time with a group of friends, the Thursday and Friday evening sessions are really lively. But be aware that there’s a limit on the number of people the Drill Hall can accommodate, so you may have to queue to get in at really busy times. Saturday is usually a laid-back day with lots of good music to accompany the drinking.

But I’ve been told that it’s not worth going on Saturday because you always run out of beer.
Because real ale has to stand for some days before it can be served, and any that’s left when we close on Saturday has to be poured away, ordering the correct amount of beer for a festival is very tricky. Inevitably, the choice of ales will reduce progressively on Saturday but, for the last few years, we’ve still had a reasonable amount through to the close.

Why do I have to pay for a glass?
It’s standard practice at CAMRA beer festivals to hire a glass when you come in and hang on to it throughout your visit. When you leave, you can hand your glass in and get your money back. However, if you’d like to take your souvenir glass away with you, we’ll give you a carrier to wrap it in.

And when you’ve finished at Lincoln, where do you take the beer festival next?
Many people don’t realise that we’re not a commercial organisation. The festival is organised and run by local CAMRA members, who give up their time to make the event a success. We’ve been planning this year’s festival since last October so, once we’ve cleared the Drill Hall and returned all the equipment we’ve borrowed, we’ll be taking a well-earned rest. However, CAMRA branches across the country hold their own festivals, so if you can’t wait a whole year for the next Lincoln festival, check out www.camra.org.uk for dates and locations.