Eating my way around Nottingham Beer Festival

There's often a problem with food at beer festivals. It's often shit. Over-priced, under-flavoured, freshly-microwaved slop in those dull municipal kitchens. Burgers from outdoor vans that seem to be selling leftovers from last month's Sunday market. Where's the festival organisers' love for great food, sourced locally, made and presented with the same passion demonstrated by the great beers on offer?

I'll tell you where it is, in spades. Nottingham.

Even for a CAMRA festival offering over 900 cask beers, food has never been an afterthought whilst they've been in residence at the Castle. With so many beers, it can be difficult for a toper to keep eating- after all, there's so many beers, so little time. So many beers... so I needed a plan. And one plan led to another.

I'd eat my way around the festival, find a decent beer match for each meal and keep going until even my solid constitution began to complain. So, where to start? Breakfast.

#1: Jukebox Café sausagemeat and tomato cob, Redemption Trinity

I've never been to this caff, with its award-winning builder's breakfasts, a free-play jukebox and a parrot called Forest. On the strength of their stall here and this cob - sausagemeat split from the skin and cooked on a hotplate before you, plenty of peppery spice - I'll be making a bee-line there soon. Worked well with the feisty, zingy 'mild' by Redemption - sweet malts well tempered by shouty hops.

A swift half of Amber Jasmine IPA proved to be a suitable amuse-bouche. And then it was lunchtime.

#2: RoundHeart roast pork cob with spiced apple slices, Thornbridge Lord Marples

Sister pubs Hand In Heart and Roundhouse joined forces to put on pork and beef both roasted in their house ale, RoundHeart, brewed for them by Dancing Duck. Plenty of juicy meat, wonderful spiced apple, rubbish photo by me. And, yes, maybe I should have had the RoundHeart beer as well, but Lord Marples is an excellent bitter for roast pork, all soft and nutty, liquid bread to envelope chocking great lumps of meat.

Five Towns Guero, 2.9% and stacks of New Zealandish zing, was a classy palate cleanser. Now, what better next than a piece of cheese? Or three...

#3: Cheese Shop mixed platter, Buxton Wild Boar.

I wasn't too sure about the cheeses until I realised it was a deep platter. And that the soft one was so soft you could spread it on the crackers. And that the harder one had a lovely nutty depth. And that the blue one had an outstanding fresh barnyard feel to it. And that Wild Boar was man enough to take on these bold flavours, restrain them but never overpower them.

More IPA required - Five Towns Peculiar Blue added an almost pickled mango flavour into the mix. And having tried two IPAs, I needed another. With something spicy.

#4: Mirch Masala samosa and bhaji tray, Hopshackle Resination

The more vegetarian Indian food I eat, the more I love it. And this was sublime. A bhaji that was all light and airy yet packed full of soft, billowing spiciness. Samosas that had a shattering crust and proper, chunky, damn-good-looking veg. With what is maybe the finest cask IPA in England that you never really hear about, unless it's me banging on about it yet again. Resination is riven with US hops, brewed straight outta Market Deeping and didn't spar with the samosa/bhaji tag team - they just had a big spicy hug and got along tremendously.

More IPA? Why not? Full Mash Bhisti was a bitterer thing than the others only with a calming pear effect. And then it was time for a change in direction. I was feeling full but... no guts, no glory.

#5: Faggots, peas and gravy by the 24th Nottingham Scouts, Hopshackle Aniseed Porter

Now, that's what I call beer and food. Properly-seasoned faggots, the right amount of fat to keep it moist, plenty of mushy peas, robust gravy to round it all up. A dark porter, the aniseed not overpowering, working with the herbs in the faggots to give the whole dish a new depth of flavour.

Burp. Time for a waffer theen meent. Or the nearest equivalent.

#6: Merry Berry chocolates with Blue Monkey Guerilla

No photo. Let's just say these three things: Merry Berry aren't afraid to play with flavours that you can taste (chilli, lime and ginger was good, cracked black pepper even better); Blue Monkey Guerilla ought to be mandatory in every pub over autumn and winter (please, put some in kegkegs, it'd be a killer keg beer); I'd finally eaten my fill. And I forgot to buy some chocolates to bring home for Mrs Scoop. Mistakes like that are not tolerated in this organisation...

All in all, a superb festival enhanced greatly by the fact that the organisers take the opportunity to source food as diverse and tasty as the beer.

And one last toast - a whisky-infused bitter named in honour of the man who for many was Mr Nottingham CAMRA. For Spyke Golding, the former branch chair and newsletter editor who passed away last year, this drink's for you. Cheers!


  1. Very often the organisers have no control over the food as the catering rights remain with the hall management, so in such cases it's unfair to blame them for being unimaginative.

  2. I salute your indefatigable Falstaffian nature — I couldn’t have worked my way through that lot.

  3. It's amusing to think you posted a piece a month or two ago about trying to lose weight! This puts the pretentious twaddle of beer and food pairing to shame.

  4. Mudge - if that's the case, maybe the organisers shouldn't settle for third-rate venues? Enough CAMRA branches are changing to make the experience better for all - too many are stuck in the strip-lit municipal rut.

    ATJ - "There lives not three good men unhang'd in England, and one of them is fat, and grows old".

    'Frolic - yep, it knackered the last three weeks of dieting. But losing weight is what long winter walks were invented for.

  5. "maybe the organisers shouldn't settle for third-rate venues?"

    Easier said than done, I'm afraid. The food at Stockport beer festival is undeniably shite, but there simply isn't an alternative venue in the town with the necessary capacity.