Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Fun in the Sun at Hawkshead


You will have to look very hard to find something as elementally satisfying than having a pint of well made and gorgeously tasty beer whilst sitting bathed in glorious sunshine. It is a perfect combination. Summer and al fresco beer drinking are such perfect partners that
 you'd think that they were made specially for each other.

Add to that partnership the glorious location of the Lake District, over 70 lovely beers, great people and  four days of fun celebrating the oh so very best of the current British beer scene and you have the gloriously heady beer cocktail that was the 2011 Hawkshead Summer Beer Festival.


It is an impressive sight when you turn the corner and glimpse the brewery for the first time. Set in the Cumbrian village of Staveley, the Hawkshead Brewery Beer Hall is a modern affair full of gleaming glass and shiny stainless steel, straight from the box, brewing equipment. To call it just a brewery is an understatement. It is much more than that. The Beer Hall is home to not just the brewery but also the brewery tap, sampling rooms, visitor centre, specialist international beer shop, conference and visitor rooms as well as The Beer Kitchen that provides some very tasty 'beer tapas' to sate your appetite and and soak up the beer. The Main Bar is dominated by the focal point of the two storey tall stainless steel fermenting tanks that allow you to see the beers being made while you enjoy a pint.  There are also
 over forty handpumps. It's an impressive place.

It is a leisure, or should that be pleasure, centre for beer drinkers that was to be our second home for a couple of days while we indulged in some of the best beer Britain has to offer.

got any black sheep, mate?

We arrived on the Friday evening and, after pitching our tent, we tooking the half hour walk from the campsite to the festival through fields of curious sheep and big arsed cows. We had certainly worked up a thirst by our arrival but what to have first?

The beer list was an Alladin's Cave of ales. Represented at the festival were breweries such as Thornbridge, Marble, Trinity, Fyne Ales, Oakham, Redemption, Dark Star, Magic Rock and Hawkshead.

Choices, choices. Decisions, decisions.

My mind was made up for me a few days before the festival when I first set eyes on the beer list. The
 first beer I was homing in on was from new brewing company, Magic Rock and their 9.2% Human Cannonball IPA. A lot of positive things have been written about the company since it's inception a few months back and I intend to cover their beers more fully in a future blog. Needless to say, my timing on this occasion was less than brilliant. I had arrived just as the pumpclip was being turned round. Clearly signifying that the beer had just finished. It seems that many other festival goers had had the same idea as myself. It was the very first beer to be drunk dry.

Not to worry, there was still 70 beers left to try.

I might as well stay with Magic Rock, so I went for a pint of their Curious Pale Ale. It's a 3.8% beer that is laden with loads of U.S. hops that punches above it's ABV weight. It has strong malt spine that is beautifully counterposed by an immensely intense hop aroma and an intensely immense citrus flavour. As a first beer, it was a much needed thirst quencher. It was very, very nice.

The first beer swiftly despatched, I was clearly in the mood for more lovely light, hoppy and refres
hing beer. And so the night continued in the way that it had started. Friday evening became a night of the lights with various pale, golden hoppy beers being drunk as we took in the entertainment from a highly enjoyable Anglo Irish Folk band that got toes tapping and bodies dancing. Notable beers of our Friday drinking included - Dark Star's American Pale Ale, Pictish Brewer's Gold, Fyne Ales' Jarl and Hurricane Jack and Oakham Citra.

Special mention must go to Tottenham's Redemption Brewery for their Trinity and Magic Rock for High Wire. Trinity has got three varieties of hops, three varieties of malt and comes in at 3% ABV. It's a threemendous beer that has you shaking your head in wonder at how they can manage to create so much flavour and body in a beer of such low strength. I also wonder why they call it a mild when it's clearly a pale ale.

beer tapas at hawkshead beer kitchen
The High Wire was our last beer of Friday evening and it didn't disappoint. I presume it's called High Wire because the beer walks a delicate balancing act between the hop citrus shards, the malt base and crisp, bitter finish. It works very well and was a nice end to a lovely evening.

And so to bed.......

Saturday morning arrived and we were in the mood for more of the same. More beer, more sunshine
 and plenty of time to enjoy both. A lot of beer must have been drunk on the Friday as by the time we got to The Beer Hall on the Saturday lunchtime, many of the beers had been scored out. The first brewery to be wiped out was, unsurprisingly enough, Magic Rock. All four of their beers had been drunk dry with the last drop being poured an hour after Saturday's opening. That's very good going for a brewing company that's not even out of nappies yet.

going, going, gone......magic rock wipeout

Despite some beers being finished, there was still an ample range left to satisfy even the most picky of drinkers. Thornbridge Wild Swan started my Saturday before I moved on to a pint that near blew my socks off by it's beery beauty. Sambrooks' Wandle is an exceptional beer. It was the colour of sunshine and tasted like nectar. It was clean, crisp yet sticky sweet with a fruit salad nose and a heavenly hop bitterness that lingered longer than a saddle sniffer at a cyclist's convention. It was that good.

Also excellent were two of Hawkshead's own beers, Cumbrian 5 Hop (aka Citrilla) and a new brew being showcased at the festival for the first time, the NZPA. The beer contains 100% New Zealand hops and has been made by their resident Kiwi brewer Matt Clarke to celebrate and commemorate Hawkshead's 1000th brew. It's a 6% pale and hoppy ale that is bursting full of peach, kiwi fruit and mango flavours.
The sun shone down in the courtyard as I held my pint of NZPA and I reflected on the weekend. It had been one of the best beery experiences that I had had for a long time. Great beers, great people, great weather and a great brewery that knows how to throw a party are the perfect ingredients for fun in the sun.

Thank you, Hawkshead.


  1. Thank you for this. It is a great review of what was a fantastic festival. We were there on the Friday night and had a super time.

    The choice of beers and the overall atmosphere was quite special.

  2. Hi,

    a well written and very accurate review of a really good beer fest.

    I thought the wandle was stunning. However, you hit the nail on the head with your comment about it

    "lingered longer than a saddle sniffer at a cyclist's convention".

    That, Mr Monkey, is a very original and hilarious turn of phrase. well done on a great blog.


  3. Thanks, anon and john for your comments. It was a cracking festival made great by the excellent weather and even better beers.