I’ll confess – I haven’t been around all of the 30 years of Chester Charity Beer Festival. Mostly because I’ve only recently crept into that magical figure myself and, well, I didn’t always like beer.
But what I do know is that during the last five years I’ve been in attendance it’s grown into a bigger, more inclusive event which is constantly re-inventing itself. I’ll elaborate.
The first time I attended the beer festival was in 2014 and all I remember from the night are the forward-tilting toilets, loud music and copious amounts of brown beer. The latter might have something to do with the fact that my memory is somewhat sketchy, but what I chose to take away was this: the festival just wasn’t that memorable.
Don’t get me wrong, I 100% had a great time. How could you not when you’re out with your friends, surrounded by beer and some banging tunes? But it didn’t leave a lasting mark in my memories and it didn’t stand out from all the other beer festivals in Chester.
Not in the same way it does now.
I believe that was the year they decided that the “if it ain’t broken don’t fix it” mentality was outdated and they should try out some new things. I remember making a comment about the beer being all very brown, delicious, but brown, and they replied back promising they’d see to it that next year it wasn’t. It was a “challenge accepted” kind of moment.
And every year since then, they’ve upped their game. They’ve upped their cask beer game with new and exciting beers, introduced a lager counter, brought in kegged beer (much to the horror of some lifelong attendees, I can only imagine), they’ve expanded their wine selection and in the latest instalment of the festival – a gin tent.
Because the Chester Charity Beer Festival is no longer just a beer festival, it’s a festival full stop. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with being “just a beer festival”; many people will attend these and love and enjoy them for what they are. But this 30-year-old is working its behind off to raise money for charity. And the more inclusive they are, the more they raise.
So if you like festivals and you like a tipple but beer ain’t your thing, you don’t need to miss out on this extravaganza – you can still have a drink and a good time while your friends are queuing for a half pint of something delicious.
But enough of history. I know I say it every year, but this year was definitely the best the festival has ever been.
It sounds like such a minor thing, but opening the back of marquee really made a tangible difference in the flow of the event. Up to now, the marquee has been a closed space with three exists, one of them leading to the pre-mentioned forward-tilting toilets. The back, which was opened this year, was always reserved for Hickory’s Smokehouse and their festival foods. This year, the organisers had arranged a small food court to the back, with the added bonus of a gin tent and an outside path to the toilets.
Which weren’t tilting this year. Yes, I noticed.
The food court was probably one of the busiest areas all through the festival. With loads of different kinds of cuisines to choose from and the convenient area to have a breather before rushing in to grab another beer or to dance away to the top tunes being played by a fantastic array of bands. It was my favourite hangout of the festival.
And the open back allowed for more space to move around and because of that, there were fewer queues to anywhere, and fewer queues always means more beer. So it was an absolute bonus.
How about the beer selection itself then? This year I found a lot of grapefruit beers on the list, which is fantastic for me as it’s my thing right now, but there were other, equally exciting and innovating beers available too on the cask selection. And as ever, the kegged beer bar threw it out of the park.
I didn’t try the gin or the wine but I did dabble in cider, as one of my friends was all over that area. I’m not a massive fan but it made me really happy to see how excited they were that there was something just for them there. Well, I didn’t tell them the cider was for everyone but you get the gist. At the Chester Charity Beer festival, a person who doesn’t like beer can still come over, have an amazing time and enjoy their favourite drink. Because it’s more than just a beer festival. It’s an experience.