UK Summer Beer Events
Anthony Gladman shares his top beer festivals this summer.
Guest | 20 May 2019
Friends! The summer is almost here and it's time we turned our thoughts to celebrating our mutual love of the good stuff. Beer festival season will soon be upon us. There are beer festivals year-round of course, but summer is their natural home, when the atmosphere is headier and the beers flow with more abandon.
We're lucky here in the UK to have some particularly good beer festivals up and down the country. There's a great range of them — large or small, lively or relaxed, town or country — and all of them serving up great beers. You're sure to find an event to suit your tastes and a memorable beer or two to sink along the way.
In fact, that are so many beer festivals that it can help to have some direction — a little guidance to find the really good ones among the merely boozy. The best beer festivals are vibrant celebrations of the brewer's art, showcasing new and innovative beers alongside the enduring classics, and welcoming beer lovers of all types from all walks of life. And the worst? We don't want to talk about the worst.
This list, adapted from a roundup on my personal blog (Part One; Part Two) will make sure you avoid ending up in a dingy marquee full of old mens' farts drinking boring brown bitter. So grab your
calendar, be it paper or digital, and start blocking off some dates.
The Biscuit Factory, Leith, 24–25 May
This one's not far off but at the time of writing some tickets were still available. This is one of a family of festivals run by We Are Beer, the people behind the London Craft Beer Festival. These guys know how to put on a party so you'll be in good hands. Expect to pay more up front, as tickets are all-in and include your beer. Talking of which, there will be beers from 6° North, 71 Brewing and Black Isle (all of whom have featured in your BeerBods boxes before now), and plenty more including many of the usual big-name brewers.
Custom House Square, Belfast, 31 May–1 June
Back for its fourth year, this event promises to serve up over 100 craft and festival-only brews, delicious ciders and yummy food, plus cocktails in the gin garden if you fancy a change. I love the idea of sneaking a quick G&T at a beer festival. Nice and refreshing. There's a buzzing beer scene building up in Belfast. This could be just the excuse you need to check it out.
Cairndow, Argyll, 31 May–3 June
Scotland’s Beer Event of the Year is now 10 years old, and a firm favourite among industry types and beer lovers alike. Fyne Ales describe their family-friendly event as a weekend of escapism all about good people enjoying good times with good beer, food and entertainment. You can camp at this festival and really throw yourself into the experience. As well as 200 beers from 50 of the best breweries in Europe there will be plenty of cider, cocktails, wine and spirits. Lovely.
The Amphitheatre, Bristol Harbourside, 7–8 June
This is another We Are Beer event. All of the festivals from this company offer VIP ticket options: for an extra £25 you get access to the sessions 15 minutes ahead of the crowd plus a special VIP queue for quick access after that. VIPs also get a goodie bag containing a t-shirt and one of the collaboration beers brewed specially for the festival. (These are usually pretty good.) You also get access to special beers in the We Are Beer room, or at the We Are Beer bar, and reserved seating to drink it in. Finally, you also get 20% off tickets to another session. Phew. Brews on offer at this event will include Bristol Beer Factory, Left Handed Giant, Moor, Wiper and True, Wild Beer, Yonder Brewing & Blending and plenty more including some big names from the Europe and the USA.
Old Patesians Club, Cheltenham, 8 June
Cheltenham seems to do well when it comes to the finer things in life: literature, music, food and drink — and beer's no exception. Now in its 13th year this festival will feature over 40 superb craft keg beers from some of the leading lights of the UK craft beer scene (DEYA, Arbor Ales, Magic Rock, Cloudwater, Beavertown, Verdant etc.) as well as keg beers from Germany, Belgium, Norway and the USA. There will also be a number of local cask ales and a great range of cider and perry and a Prosecco bar.
Nottingham Craft Beer Week
Various venues, Nottingham, 8–15 June
There are lots of events packed into this week-long celebration of beer and brewing. 2019 will be the week's fifth year, and will see a record 38 venues take part. Look out for Original Gravity Live and a tasting with Emma Inch, current Beer Writer of the Year and host of the excellent Ferment Radio podcast.
Sneinton Market, Nottingham, 14-15 June
Can't make it to a whole week of events? I don't blame you. Luckily the beer week contains a festival that's big enough to deserve its own entry on this list. There will be beers from Black Iris, Donzoko, Little Earth Project, locals Neon Raptor and Navigation Brewery plus many more.
The Clarendon Centre, Brighton, 20–22 June
Head down to the coast to score beers from the likes of Verdant, Track, Cloudwater, Wylam, Gipsy Hill, Abyss, Brouwerij de Molen, Firestone Walker and plenty more. My only criticism is this one is a bit pricey compared to others on the list — but if you live down that way perhaps that can be offset by not having to travel so far.
Invisible Wind Factory, Liverpool, 27–30 June
Is it me or is Liverpool one of those cities that seems strangely under-represented in craft beer? Maybe they're just keeping all the good stuff for themselves. There's certainly enough there to merit one of the major festivals in the UK calendar. 5,000 people are expected to attend in this its 7th year, with over 300 craft beers from the UK, Europe and beyond to keep them happy. Just think, you could be there and happy too!
Digbeth, Birmingham, 5–6 July
Midlands crew, represent! This is another all-in We Are Beer event. It's the first year for this one but they've put on so many now it's sure to be a hit. The line-up includes Braybrooke (excellent lagers, you really should try them), Five Points, Mahrs Bräu, Thornbridge, Turning Point, Twisted Barrel and loads of others with more to be announced. Good times!
London Fields Arches, London, 19–21 July
File this one under small but beautifully formed. This is the third incarnation of the charitable beer festival, which will feature beer from over 30 breweries including Beavertown, Cloudwater and Denmark’s Dry and Bitter and Mikkeller. Last year the event raised over £10,000 for London-based anti-violence charity Art Against Knives. Proceeds from this event will be donated to local homeless charity Hackney Winter Night Shelter.
Various venues, Birmingham, 19–28 July
Back for its third year, this event is a week-long celebration of Brum’s epic beer scene. Included in the week is the Birmingham Beer Debate on Monday 22 July, where you can "hear about beer — learn about beer — ask about beer". The panel includes beer writer Pete Brown, broadcaster Marverine Cole, former Fuller's head brewer John Keeling and Burnt Mill brewer Sophie de Ronde.
Olympia, London, 6–10 August
This CAMRA showcase has been the UK's biggest beer festival for ever. Or what feels like forever anyway. It's not as hip as others, and attracts a very different crowd to the rest on this list, but with more than 900 real ales, craft beers, ciders and perries to sample it's still the big daddy of them all. Don't expect to be chatting to any brewers though, this one's all run by CAMRA volunteers.
Tobacco Dock, London, 9–11 August
This one is my personal highlight. It's another We Are Beer festival, so you pay up more for the ticket up front but then you're all set. Fair warning though: there's a very hefty booking fee which does represent a bit of a downside. Tobacco Dock is a great venue full of side-rooms, linked courtyards and vaulted corridors in which you can find a huge selection of the best beers available. The water stations are plentiful too which is just what you need to get the most out of a big festival like this.
Bakewell Showground, Derbyshire, 16–18 August
Fancy a bit of scenery with your beer? This festival promises "spectacular views over the surrounding countryside of the Peak District National Park". You can camp or glamp, according to how chi-chi you feel like being that weekend, and enjoy some beers in the open air. Imagine watching the stars come out as night falls with a jar of Burning Sky. Perfick, as Pop Larkin would say.
Various venues, Brighton, 23 August–1 September
Get yourself down to the People's Republic of Brighton to enjoy the best of the amazing Sussex beer scene plus brews from further afield. "We’ve got sunshine, sea, crazy golf, chips on the pier, sticks of rock, a gaudy royal palace, a tenacious football team, a vibrant music scene, a diverse bunch of folk, some very fine brews and lots of wonderful beer venues." Can't argue with that.
Leeds Town Hall, Leeds, 5–8 September
This is another of the more established festivals; 2019 will be its eighth year. In previous years the festival has drawn big names and brewers from across the globe. Last year drinkers were treated to The Maine Beer Box, a specially converted shipping container fitted with 70 beer taps pouring some of New England's finest. I wonder what they have in store for this year...
Abbeydale Brewery, Sheffield, 7–8 September
This is a smaller one but it if you like your beers sour and complex then it's definitely one to check out. It’s hosted by Abbeydale Brewery in Sheffield, who believe it to be the only dedicated sour and mixed fermentation multi-day beer fest in the North. Sounds amazing if you ask me.
* Looking further ahead, don't feel the fun needs to stop when summer does. There are plenty of festivals in the chillier months as well, for example Manchester's IndyManBeerCon takes place in early October and up in Newcastle there's Craft Beer Calling in November.