For the past four years — as many as I’ve lived in Wales — the Great Welsh Beer & Cider Festival has lured me to its bar. This past weekend was no different.
My colleague Jayne tempted me over to Motorpoint Arena (formerly the CIA) with press access. A number of half pints later, I can easily say this year’s festival was the best I’ve attended. (No, that is not just the booze talking.)
Since 2007 when the festival was last held in Cardiff City Hall, I accidentally watched it grow up. Tagging along with friends either keen on the taste or the effect — or both — I’ve started a collection of the event’s pint glasses.
After the autumn of 2007, the growing festival run by CAMRA needed a new venue. So it moved to the CIA. In 2011, #GWBCF as its tagged on Twitter, has become as big as its ever been. As organiser Arfur Daley put it, the festival has the “biggest pub in Wales”.
Arfur, also the blogger behind Brew Wales, led Jayne and I through the packed out venue. Mostly men queued up around the huge horseshoe-shaped bar. There were some women, though Jayne and I were in the minority.
The first little shot came from the staff room in an unmarked jug of perry. (These sorts of jugs and milk cartons are stashed everywhere. Payment, I suppose, for the 150 volunteers who run the event.)
Once we got behind the bar, I filled my glass with some Gwynt y Ddraig cider. The punters queueing looked across the barrier with hints of envy as Arfur and photographer Jonas Smith helped us decide what to drink next.
I do not have a clue about beer or cider. I’m not picky, either. Slowly but surely, (my liver is from America, mind) I managed a half a Hobsons mild. Then some Otley 05. A smoked wheat beer from Germany that I likened to a bacon butty. After that, I lost track.
“People like things of local providence,” said Gareth Bowman, the bar manager for the event.
The punters must have liked their Welsh beer and cider on Saturday. More than 6,000 punters drank the bar dry. According to the festival, that’s a first. I’m just pleased I played my part.