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Beer in Saltaire...but Don't Tell Titus....

Last week along with some friends I visited the Bradford Beer Festival, held at the beautiful Victoria Hall in the village of Saltaire. 

Saltaire was created by Victorian industrialist Titus Salt to house the workers and their families whom he employed in the enormous Salts textile mill he built next to the River Aire, just north of Shipley. As well as the Victoria Hall, he built a school, but there was no pub in the village. Back in those days, Saltaire was a strictly teetotal place in line with its creator's Methodist beliefs, so there is a certain irony in the fact that Bradford CAMRA have been hosting the beer festival here for the last 20 years. If the old man knew he would no doubt be spinning in his grave!

The festival is always well-attended and this time was no exception, the train I caught from Bradford containing a good number of people whose destination was the festival. And as ever, it was an enjoyable event.There were 3 bars featuring over 130 beers, with another selling ciders and perries, and a small International bar curated by the Sparrow Bier Cafe.

Beers were from around the country, but there was a particular influx from small Scottish breweries which were no doubt be making their first appearance in these parts, one I particularly enjoyed was Carte Blanche from Kelburn Brewery of Glasgow, a dry, golden ale weighing in at 5%. And from closer to home, Keighley, no less, there was the opportunity to sample a rare new beer from uber-conservative Timothy Taylor, who unveiled Knowle Spring Blonde, a 4.2% light, floral and citrussy easy drinking ale, only years after this style became the norm for so many brewers. It was pleasant enough, but not earth-shattering.
But therein lies one of the enduring attractions of beer festivals; the opportunity to try a lot of rare and different beers under one roof.

Another attraction is the chance to catch up with people you haven't seen for ages as people travel from near and far. And the atmosphere is unfailingly friendly and good-natured.

But...a few concerns and questions lurk in the background. 

There is an innate conservatism particularly with the CAMRA-run festivals. Not surprising, you may say, as it's about promoting traditional beer. But the market itself is changing, beer styles are changing, and breweries are changing and CAMRA needs to reflect this. It is a successful organisation, with over 185,000 members, and to be fair has recently been trying to decide what it needs to become, so there is a recognition of the need to change. However, in terms of active members who go to meetings, organise beer festivals, and decide the pubs that go into the Good Beer Guide, it tends to be biased towards older, middle-aged and retired members who have the time to put in. This was reflected at Bradford, with a high proportion of the volunteers manning the bars and stalls reflecting an older demographic. This was also true of many of the attendees, although to be fair the fact that we went during the day this was more likely, no doubt the evening would have had a more mixed and younger crowd.

But with a Beer Festival providing the opportunity to show off the best of what is going on in the beer market, CAMRA should be looking to reflect this, and it was noticeable that there was no beer from any of the more innovative brewers like Track, Blackjack, Squawk, or Vocation, which was a shame. With breweries like Cloudwater, Beavertown, and Kernel - featuring some of the most creative brewers in the land - having recently decided their future lies away from cask in keg - shouldn't CAMRA be trying to be more inclusive by reflecting what is happening in the market? Maybe even have a craft beer bar? I don't drink cider but it has been a feature of beer festivals for years. Just a thought....

We moved on, having had an enjoyable hour or two at the festival, and went for a pint in the nearest pub to Saltaire village, Fanny's Ale House. This rambling place is an institution, featuring gas lights, a roaring fire, and some of the best beer around. As it was very busy, we drunk our beer outside, realising that despite the sunny weather it wasn't that warm!

We walked down towards Shipley, stopping off at a nice little place called simply The Bar. There were a couple of hand pumps and we had a pleasant hour or so there before moving on to The Fox, home of the Beespoke Brewery, in Shipley. The place was as rammed as it has been every time I have visited, beers being a mix of their own and a few guests. After a most enjoyable pint I bade farewell to the rest of the lads and headed the short distance to the railway station. Shipley station is where the lines from Skipton, Leeds, and Bradford meet, and I always find its layout confusing, particularly after a trip to the Fox. I caught the train and went back to Brighouse to catch the anniversary celebrations at the Market Tavern.

Last Sunday I went to the Red Rooster at Brookfoot, near Brighouse, where The Rainey Street Band were making their first appearance for some time. And what a great gig it was, with the band introducing some great new songs to their set. The beer too, was on fine form, and I am looking forward to seeing both the band and visiting the Rooster again soon.

Over this last week I have had a couple of really good beers that deserve a mention. I popped in the Star at Folly Hall in Huddersfield for the first time in a while and had an excellent pint of Marble Manchester Bitter, the first time I can ever recall seeing any of their beers there. I also had a pint of Brewsmith Bitter at the Buffet Bar in Stalybridge that was superb. Brewsmith are based in Ramsbottom and this was a delightful, straw-coloured session bitter with the right amount of hoppiness. I shall be keeping my eyes open for their beers from now on.

In the meantime, keep on rockin' in the free world....

Shiny, happy people at the Bradford Beer Festival
***Part of the title of this piece is borrowed from the first wine bar to open in Saltaire village, called Don't Tell Titus***

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