The tents are going up on Jesus Green ….. it’s time for the 46th annual Cambridge Beer Festival which runs from 20 – 25 May. Festival Organiser Anthony Cox downed tools to chat to me about the UK’s oldest beer festival, brought to the city by CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale).
A core team of 30 people start to plan the Festival in December. “We’ve got all the beer ordered by the end of March,” Anthony tells me, “and then set up and take down each last a week either side of the Festival as we build the site from scratch”. The beer arrives several days before the Festival opens so that it can rest and settle while the site is readied to welcome around 40,000 thirsty visitors over six days.
You’ll find over 200 beers from across the UK with brewery bars, staffed by the brewers, offering keg and cask beers. The Key Keg Bar gives a chance to compare and contrast key keg and cask beers, the same beer stored two different ways, while the International Bar showcases beers from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and America.
But it’s not just about the beer! The Cider Bar will feature more than 80 ciders and perries, all English and many from East Anglian producers, while the Wine and Mead Bar offers English wines in a variety of styles alongside mead, a drink made by fermenting honey and adding botanicals, from UK producers.
And you won’t go hungry either. The CAMRA Cheese Counter has a selection of bread and cheese, scotch eggs, pork pies and pickles. Food trucks parked up in the garden area will offer fish and chips, pizza, curry, falafel and vegetarian food, burgers, hog roast, doughnuts, cake and coffee.
New for this year is the CAMRA run Learning and Discovery Centre, offering tutored beer tastings and an informal area where you can drop in, chat to the experts and pick their brains about all things beer. The Family Tent welcomes children accompanied by a responsible adult and on the Saturday will feature a brass band, jugglers, face painting and other activities for kids.
Lunchtime sessions at the Festival are free entry and there’s a modest entry fee for evening sessions. You pay a small deposit for your glass (glasses this year have been branded to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landings) which you can either take away with you as a memento or hand back as you leave. Or better still, if you return your glass to the Arthur Rank Hospice stand, they will get your deposit back ….. a brilliant way of raising funds to support the Hospice’s invaluable work in the city.
Over 400 volunteers are involved in the Festival and more are always welcome. Volunteer roles range from helping to set up and take down the infrastructure, arranging tables and seating, manning the glass and food counters, staffing bars, stewarding and, of course, looking after all that beer! Even just an hour or two of your time makes a real difference at this busy event. You don’t need to be a CAMRA member to volunteer, you’ll be given full training and your reward comes in the form of food and drink.
Take a look at the website for opening times, details of the Festival beer list and more.