Last Updated : 19/02/08
ere we list our top beer festivals in the UK for scooping beers; note these are purely personal and subjective lists, yours may be totally different. The list includes both CAMRA festivals and pub beer festivals and the ratings have been decided on after many years of research, so if you don't agree then let us know!
Ratings are scored out of five scoopglasses... () Five is an essential visit, four is very good and so on - I'm sure you can work out the scoring system by now...
Nottingham CAMRA () Steve Westby makes this fest the best in the country. Over 100 winners for most scoopers, even the top men, along with a surreal covered swimming pool makes this fest a firm favourite. Go Friday afternoon for the best range; an institution the way Wakefield used to be in 1994-6! The year's essential visit and long may it remain so. Very scooper friendly.
Held : Usually mid-October.
Manchester Winter Ales CAMRA () After a couple of years in Burton, where it was basically a joke, the winter ales festival has now taken up what we hope is permanent residence in the Co-op building opposite Manchester Victoria railway station. The first year was predictably a bit shambolic but they've got their act together and it's now a pretty decent festival. Add to this the Marble, Beer House, Smithfield, Crescent and a few others having some extra beers available then it's a weekend not to be missed; I don't remember a weekend when I've seen almost everyone who is anyone in the scooping world since Phil's Christmas party in Newton Abbott all those years ago! I reckon there were over 300 beers available for scooping over the three days...
An essential visit, but remember that the score is for the whole Manchester scene than just the festival which on it's own is lacking a tad in the beer list scooping quotient.
Held : January - Wed-Sat around the third weekend.
Reading CAMRA () A great festival which is held under canvas on Napier Road not far from the station. Currently enjoying a very good patch, Reading has loads of new breweries and beers for scoopers to enjoy (over 300 beers) and is well attended as a result. The European beer bar is the best in the UK and serves up well over 100 examples, both draught and bottled, with quite a few world classics on the list. Essential for either the British beers, the European, or both!
Held : on the last weekend in April.
Tamworth CAMRA () Superb friendly little fest which is best known for it's Church End pins - in 2003 they had over 20 beers from the brewery! Well attended by scoopers all sessions all there for Fudge's top beer list. A selection of European beers complete the picture but they are chosen by a muppet so if you get some decent ones it's a matter of luck as to what he picks. One not to miss though - a small and cosy venue.
See 2003's phots here ... or 2005's here...
Held : Start/middle of September.
Wellington, Birmingham () The "Welly" has quickly made a huge name for itself in beer scooping and beer drinking circles; just the thing the centre of Brum needed, they sold over 2,000 beers in their first year of trading and sales just keep increasing all the time! They now hold regular festivals which have 30-40 beers on a stillage in addition to the beers on the bar - excellent, although make sure you take plenty of money - it's not cheap.
Leicester CAMRA () Held in an Asian temple, this festival gets better year on year (or so I'm told as we're almost always abroad when it's on and have only managed one visit thus far!) and serves a huge range of rare beers under the expert hand of "Sid" Sales. The curries are pretty decent too and you can even have a kofta egg if you wish - almost a nargis!!!
Held : Mid-March.
Newark CAMRA () Another Westby fest, Newark is held under canvas next to the castle. An excellent beer list attracts many scoopers. Friday is the best day as beers start to drop quickly on Saturday.
Held : May/June.
Cask & Cutler, Sheffield () This was a scooping institution, held on the anniversary of the pub's rebirth on the 3rd weekend in November, but has now been cancelled by the new owners - presumably as they don't know how to source that many huge scoops. It may reappear but I'd not hold your breath...
Was held : Third weekend of November.
Worcester CAMRA () A relatively new fest, only in operation since 1997, and another under canvas - this one on Worcester's racecourse. A large range of beers, not specifically aimed at tickers but with more than enough to keep us happy, Worcester is becoming a favourite among the scoopers who like easy going festivals. Beer quality was pretty poor in our opinion in 2003, but in 2005 they seem to have sorted these problems out and it was, all round, pretty good - although 2007 was cancelled as the Severn flooded the site beforehand.
Held : Mid August.
Out of the Vaults, Leicester () This pub has several festivals a year which feature rare and unusual beers; the list appears on Scoopgen before the event and, with the other beery attractions in the town, it's a pretty safe bet for a load of scoops and some ska on the stereo.
Held : Various events throughout the year.
Crown Oakengates () John's festivals claim to have the most handpulls at any pub festival with 31 in use at the last fest. Maybe it is; I've never seen another with this many. The beer list is usually excellent, with many new beers and a few one-offs. The shambolic cellar run token system must be experienced by all tickers at least once!
Held : Various events throughout the year one in May.
Pudsey CAMRA () Leeds BF has been going for a few years now, and has been held at Pudsey for most of this time. Easy to get to, and with a good range of new beers, it is attended by mainly northern scoopers.
Held : Can't remember!
Bhurtpore Arms () Held in midsummer, the Bhurtpore has a large stillage in the side/back room dispensing about 50 beers or which a fair few are rare/new. Not the easiest place to get to (although extra trains stop at the tiny station) but worth it if you're anywhere near. Also serves a large range of Belgian beers.
Held : Spring.
Peterborough CAMRA () This is a bit of a controversial one. The largest beer fest apart from the GBBF, Peterborough should be superb. Well, the location is good (another tented one) and the beer list is pretty handy as well, but the opening hours are, IMO, pathetic. 12:00 to 14:30 on weekdays... don't make me laugh. This ridiculously short space of time isn't enough to get sorted out, never mind get the beers in, so a lot of scoopers boycott it. They apparently open all day Wednesday now, but surely it should be every day?
Held : Late summer.
Note the absence of the GBBF, CAMRA's "Great British Beer Festival" from this list. We make no apologies for this, as we (and most other scoopers) feel that the beer range is tired and unimaginative, the quality a bit iffy and prices offensive. If you want to drink in a giant greenhouse then my advice is to visit Homebase and buy one; at least then you can chose some decent beers to go in it and not have to listen to bad music!
Some scoopers prefer CAMRA fests, some pub fests, but a festival is only as good as the company. Some fests with loads of winners are ruined by being in bad venues, or not enough tickers go which reduces the sociability aspect of the event. There's not much worse than being sat at a table by yourself, trying to bottle up, and being asked every 10 seconds what you're doing by bemused normals. If you can fill a table with like-minded people, it's a lot better for the sociability side of things.