Wine tastings vs beer festivals
As a self-confessed country bumpkin I live out in the sticks and unfortunately I do not spend that much time at wine tastings these days. My local wine merchant always offers good events but they are few and far between in contrast to the abundance of beer festivals that are held locally. I also work in Burton on Trent which is the hub of the Midlands brewing tradition. Oh, and there is a brewery across the street from my office. So I’ve spent many an evening after work (and the occasional lunch break) sipping real ale in a giant tent, wielding a hot dog in my other hand, wishing it was wine I was tasting, and thinking ‘what a surprise, it is drizzly’.
Secretly I really enjoy beer festivals. When I was at university I was the first ever female president of the Real Ale society – an honour indeed. Shortly after that I ceased consuming real ale as, unless I ran a marathon every day, the calories in it were eventually going to lead to my demise. So I just stopped. Take that, obesity. But here’s why beer festivals are more fun:
- They are really cheap and the people who serve up the beer are nearly always spannered and pour you a pint when you only asked for a half.
- Everyone in the room is fatter than you. It gives you an enormous sense of wellbeing.
- Quality entertainment. No one can empty a room like a drunk man with an accordian playing ‘The Lights of Aberdeen’.
- The sheer discomfort of visiting the cider and chutney tent. Amongst the silence and tumbleweed, a lady called Glenda will persuade you to buy some overpriced chutney made out of courgettes. You will buy it because you feel really uncomfortable, on account of the silence and tumbleweed. You will have no recollection of it the next day, and even though the jar is unopened, you will be able to taste it for weeks and not be entirely sure why.
- The abundance of sausage-based snacks. One of the things I hate about wine tastings is that they are so serious – it would be really inconvenient to just pop out of the hotel and come back in with a kebab. But people get hungry! I went to a beer festival in Glenrothes one time and we asked the organiser whether there was any food – he informed us that the local curry house delivered, and so our food came to us right there at the festival, and we didn’t even have to leave the marquee. Sausage and beer festivals might be unique to Burton on Trent, but they are pretty special.
- Appropriate attire. At a lot of wine tastings there is a lot of pressure to ‘look the part’ – you’ll see a lot of men dressed like Michael Broadbent and ladies wearing heels that are just not suited to a day of standing up and drinking. But at beer festivals you can just let it all hang out – beards, sandals, XXL t-shirts are encouraged, and any smart attire is actually frowned upon.
- Protocol. We are not supposed to drink at wine tastings. There are spittoons everywhere, and to be honest your palate will desert you if you are in any state of inebriation – and most of us are there to work, even though it sounds like the most ridiculous work ever, it’s just not worth it. But at beer festivals, it is considered somewhat rude if you do not get sufficiently drunk to partake in the point outlined below…
- Very amusing conversations with terrifying people. Beer enthusiasts start off talking about beer, but once you have gained their trust, their true character will emerge. And now harmless bearded Barry who wandered over to you an hour before and asked if you’d tried the Benevolent Badger IPA now owns your soul, knows where you live, and before you know it you’ve agreed to re-enact World of Warcraft and be his business partner selling black market sponges out of a shed. And you won’t remember any of this until you wake up in a cold sweat absolutely convinced that he is stealing your thoughts.
You know what, I love wine tastings and have no regrets about turning to the dark side after my Real Ale presidency was up, but a little bit of me still loves the banter and general madness and Britishness of beer tastings. Let’s face it – tasting stuff is fun. So I think I will continue to be a bumpkin, and attend beer tastings, although I’ll probably try and avoid Barry since I am fairly certain I owe him some money…