There were 2 important reasons to visit NWAF. Firstly to continue my ongoing academic anthropological study of the creatures known as the lesser spotted beer geek, an unusual nocturnal creature prone to unconventional hair on head and face and rarely seen without a pewter tankard filled with a mysterious frothy and unpleasant smelling concoction. Secondly to observe the Campaign for Real Ale in action in order to inspire the campaigning activities of the Campaign for Cooking Lager. Plans are ongoing for the national cooking lager festival, an altogether different affair. As cooking lager enthusiasts we prefer to sit on our own couch with a can of cheap lout watching a bit of telly and occasionally scratching our balls. A social gathering isn’t really our cup of tea. A cooking lager festival would be more of a volunteer run supermarket selling cheap Foster’s to battle against minimum pricing regulation. I say supermarket, when in fact I mean the back of my mate Jase’s Ford Transit, and when I say Foster’s I mean any cheap lager, meths masquerading as vodka and any knock off gear Jase is shifting at that time. Volunteers are advised to wear running shoes and when spotting a member of local constabulary are asked to shout “scatter” before running in the opposite direction.
But anyway the first national cooking lager festival out of the back of Jase’s Ford Transit is still in the early planning stages, the matter at hand is one of taking a look at the CAMRA NWAF malarkey.
Crikey it was a bit out of Manchester and hardly in a salubrious part of it. If there is such a thing as a salubrious part of Manchester. Maybe this is the nice part of Manchester but even so, someone from Basra wouldn’t be keen of living in the area. On the way to it I saw the unusual sight of a man running along the pavement with a frying pan containing fried eggs in one hand and an open can of Stella in the other whilst dressed as Noel Edmonds circa an early episode of Telly Addicts. What that was about I don’t know, but kind of would like to. The venue itself was actually quite impressive with the bars along the outer perimeter with seating in the centre. I was running late and firstly scanned the venue for a mate of mine I was due to meet up with for a pint and natter. I couldn’t find him so I bought a glass for £2 (£2 for glass? Jesus I should have brought my own Carling glass with me) and headed towards the bar looking for something called “Porter” that the Beer Nut had recommended to me on twitter. I found one uncertain whether it was the “right” one, but it was nice enough if you like things like Guinness. Finding a seat and pissing around with my phone to call my mate I discovered just how out in the sticks the venue was when I couldn’t get a bloody signal on the piece of crap. So like a Billy no mates I pottered about the venue swigging my grog and deciding what to neck next. I necked an Augustiner Edelstoff lager for my next grog before running into the man and legend that is Tandleman. One thing you can say about Tand is he most defiantly knows his pong. His recommendation to try an 8.6% Damson Stout was well worth the swigging. After the first gulp I momentarily understood why geeks get so excited about pongy ale. Only momentarily, mind. Whilst arguably being unfaithful to my first great love that is Foster’s Lager, my infidelity was not falling out of love with cooking lager. This was but a brief meaningless fling.
The Campaign for Cooking Lager is just that, a campaign for cooking lager. It isn’t a Campaign against anything that is not cooking lager. However there was one part of this festival one simply has to mention. What with Mike Benner, CAMRA head honcho banging on about responsible drinking and all. Whilst I noticed no drunken anti social behaviour, there were people present in a state of inebriation having clearly consumed more than the responsible alcohol limit of 3-4 unit daily. There were beers from about 3.5% abv to anything up to 8,9,10 abv + and no alcohol unit information was present. Foster’s Lager shows the number of units clearly on both the can or pint glass. I am not going to tell Don Shenker, but somebody might. But to suggest this festival represented a bastion of responsible drinking would be a bare faced lie.
A final Weissbier before heading home to the squeeze, another chat with the legendary Tandleman and my final impression was of a fine event staffed entirely by volunteers. All of whom giving of their time freely for a Campaign they believed in. It would be a harsh man that looked upon such a thing in a churlish manner; especially considering what a nice time I’d had of it. I also learned a new found respect not for the principle of minimum pricing which I remain vehemently against but some of those that propose it. I had made the mistake of assuming the CAMRA lot that advocate it do so because they believe its effects are on others and not themselves when in fact they themselves would take a hit.
The volunteers that man the event are entirely unpaid and do so for the good of their Campaign. It is to open the eyes of people like me to the wonderment of pongy ale. They are however able to drink freely of the pong on offer, via free beer tokens. A fact I discovered talking to a gentleman that handed one over. These are gifts from the Campaign to their volunteer staff. They are not remuneration as that would break both minimum wage laws (the value and number of tokens equating to less than the minimum wage for time worked) and would represent a taxable benefit to the recipient they would have to declare. Nope, they are a gift. A free beer. A soon to be illegal free beer because free is below a price of duty + vat, or indeed 40 or 50p a unit. So respect to them for sticking to their principles in the face of losing a nice gesture that ensures the volunteers can enjoy the festival themselves and not be out of pocket, something you would not begrudge anybody. But fair play to them for sacrificing this in future on principle.
I got my £2 quid back on my glass and departed. Inebriated but not visibly drunk I had consumed far more than my daily unit allowance. As I got back to the centre of Manchester my phone started to work and I received not only an apology from my unreliable friend (his squeeze took exception to what for him could have been his fourth night on the piss in a row) but a series of messages from the lovely squeeze informing me explicitly that I was late, and implicitly that my chances of a romantic interlude were none existent.
As for my study of the lesser-spotted beer geek, I reached a number of conclusions. One they all seem quite nice people and fit more or less into the demographic of “guardian reading public sector employees” Should you want to befriend one say something like “That Tony Blair is a right shit”, or if you wish to do the opposite say “Maggie Thatcher saved this country from the trots, commies, unions, socialists and pinkos” These are not conclusive results, I would classify them as intermediate, but the study continues.