|I think we've enough beer for the first hour|
He told us that his work colleagues had put him under pressure to buy them and he was now doing the same to us. “What’s an ‘Exhibition of Fine Ales?” I asked cautiously. The premise was explained as comprising lots of beer served in a big hall. Good enough for me.
The venue was the Everyman Theatre in
Liverpool. At the time it was no different to many auditoriums up and down the country. Slightly down-at-heel, investment was much needed to enable it to survive. It was lucky in that the investment would arrive a few years later and it now enjoys a well-earned reputation (and sells good beer in the downstairs bar).
As a beer festival venue it wouldn’t pass muster in a Health & Safety inspection nowadays. The casks were down the left and right hand side of the stalls, where the seats remained intact. There was no circulation area, so when a scrum formed at the bars we had to pick our way across the rows, glasses in hand to find a seat as if we were about to watch a production. Many spillages took place as punters continually had to stand up to allow others to pass.
My knowledge at the time consisted of two facts. Beer in pub ‘A’ might taste different to that in pub ‘B’. Secondly, it was difficult to find Mild down south. I was hardly a budding Michael Jackson. This was different though, a Road to Damascus. The beers had taste. I hadn’t know that real ale existed or that there were so many breweries. Higson’s, Wilson’s and Burtonwood were my new heroes. I became a convert on the spot.
Those early beer festivals seemed very different from now. Each was an opportunity to try something new, to blag bar towels and ash trays from the brewery reps, to get very, very, drunk by 10:30 closing time. I still remember the pride at meeting Bill Tidy (another Birkonian) and persuading him to draw a Kegbuster cartoon on my CAMRA membership card. I still treasure it.