Wigan BF 2004
Last Updated :13/03/04
This article was written for "Swiggin in Wigan".
Back to the Pier - by Gazza.
Last week I did something that I havenít done for yearsÖ. 13 years to be exact. I went to the Wigan beer festival. Before anyone berates me for being lazy, I plead "not guilty" on several counts Ė
1 Iím not from Wigan,
2 Iím a beer "ticker" and Wigan is not exactly known for itís tickerís list, and
3) I live in Worcester.
Back in the early 90s I was seriously getting into Real ale and had just joined Camra. I was staying in the North West one weekend (Iím originally from Northwich) when I saw an advert for the Wigan beer festival and decided to break my festival virginity there and then. Being so long ago, and having drunk over 14,000 beers since, my memories of the visit are a bit hazy but I remember seeing a huge metal thing on a pile of bricks and, later that night, inexplicably trying to eat curry with my nose. Strange what happens before and after beer festivals!
Nowadays, Iím very selective in my beer festival visits, preferring instead to visit Europe in search of the superb beers that are brewed there. Iíve found the more beers I drink, the more my tastebuds prefer drinking European beers like Belgian Lambics or Austrian Hell, but when Iím drinking British beers I try and drink those from breweries that I like in preference to "ticks". Who says tickers have no tastebuds? My UK festival attendances are usually limited to good "tickerís" festivals and the odd one when Iím in town when one is on, so I nearly missed Wigan again this year but for a chance comment by Mad McJonesey!
In early march I found myself working for 2 weeks at the Co-operative Bank in Skelmersdale. Many readers may know that Skem isnít exactly brimming over with decent pubs, or any pubs to be frank, so I was getting distinctly thirsty. It was then that an old mate of mine happened to mention that Wigan beer festival was on that week and I decided to return to the pier. I knew that there werenít many "tickerís" beers there after having seen the list on the Wigan Camra website but I knew a few other scoopers were going and anyway, it was infinitely preferable to spending a night drinking in Skelmersdale Ė although I canít think of much that wouldnít be.
I got work to book me into the Quality hotel in Wigan and at 17:30 on Thursday night I was again staring at the large metal thing on a pile of bricks outside the venue, still there after 13 years. I still donít know what it is, can anyone enlighten me? More urgent matters soon took priority and I was quickly inside clutching a glass and checking the beer list, where I confirmed there were 5 beers Iíd not tried before. There were several beer tickers present - Barry, Brownie and Sharon and Roly - and after drinking my "ticks" I indulged in a few examples from the excellent and cheap selection of Belgian beers and a very sociable beer tickerís gathering ensued. I got to speak to several tickers whom Iíd not managed to meet before and had a very enjoyable evening, only regrettably cut short by my having to be back at the hotel for 21:30 to get my evening meal!
On the way back I popped Into Wetherspoons where I had Orkney Raven which tasted a bit tired, and the Anvil where some excellent Phoenix Jovian was sampled, Phoenix being one of my favourite breweries so my choice was made as soon as I entered! I would have also visited the Orwell, but ran out of time. Itís a sad fact that the last time I was in the Orwell I drank Yakima Grande Pale Ale from the much lamented Dobbinsís brewery in Manchester which closed in 1995! If I had to pick one beer out of the 14,000 Iíve tried for my hypothetical "desert island" it would have to be Dobbinís Chinese Pale ale, allegedly brewed with hops brought back from China in Brendan Dobbinís suitcase after a trip there. A nice story, but a truly magnificent beer.
Having not visited the festival for 13 years, I was surprised to find that not much had changed. The venue looked the same as I remembered it, and the metal thing on bricks was still there. However, some things had changed for the better Ė the excellent new European bottled beer bar, and not waking up with a nose full of curry. If Iím in the area next year, Iíll be back!