I've been coming here for a number of years. More than I care to remember. I can recall coming here in the early days after work one Friday and there being about 20 people drinking. If you pop in on a Friday at 5pm now everyone is already squashed elbow to elbow. Try and get in after 7pm and you will have to queue for over an hour. It's popular, but what does it do to promote beer?
The logo for the festival this year is Mr. Pickwick (Charles Dickens 1812-2012). This obviously has nothing to do with Leicester and beer festivals, but tweeness dictates there has to be a "theme". There's a festival special called Oliver Pist. Oh dear.
The venue is pure school canteen dreariness.
Sitting at formica tables in an echoey room under neon strip lights.
Some don't seem to mind though, I know people that come here every year for the novelty of drinking different beers but would never drink ale in a pub. What's that all about?
Look hard enough and you can find some great beers amongst the mediocre slop. It's also worth saying that all the beers I drank on the opening night were in great condition, a lot better than beer served in some of Leicester's CAMRA endorsed pubs.
The Brodie's RyePA Red was a gorgeous dry-hopped surprise, replacing the listed Hackney Red. The Flipside Russian Rouble was an impressive Imperial Stout. The Arbor Ales 500 Minute IPA at a hefty 10.7% abv was the beer that I suffered for the following morning.
So, a great night out drinking some great beers with friends, but does a beer festival like this serve any other purpose?
We won't see most of these beers in Leicester again, as the pubs already have their suppliers and their regular ales. Plus I expect many of the beers won't be brewed again.
Will we ever have a change of venue in Leicester? Probably not.
Great beer suffers from a bad image in these surroundings. I know people that won't drink at the festival because they don't like the venue. It's understandable. That parochial club needs to remove the blinkers and follow Nottingham's example.
Great beer deserves better than this.