After last year’s successful post-covid return, we were looking forward to welcoming everyone to another great festival this year. Little did we know the weather would have other ideas. Here’s how it eventually worked out.
Set up went particularly well this year, thanks to a good number of enthusiastic and willing volunteers. Starting on Sunday morning, we rattled through setting up the racks and cooling system and by the end of Monday all the beers were in place and chilling ready for opening. Tuesday saw us finishing all the bars and signage, and by Wednesday at 5, with all the food stalls in place, we were open.
The Beer of The Festival, contested by all our local breweries, was again sponsored by our friends at Beer Central and judging began straight away. By 6.30 we were ready to announce the winners. Heist Brew Co. took Gold with their “The Bad Part Of Gnome Town”, a hazy session IPA, and one of their first attempts at a cask beer! Silver was a porter named Brook from Tapped Brew, (also the best pun of the evening) and Bronze was Little Critters’ Pecan and Maple Stout, Great Danish. Purity Brewing hosted a drop-in Q&A session and things were well underway, with everyone enjoying themselves and it seemed like we might top last year.
A slight change in the opening hours for this year meant we opened at 11.30 and we had a steady stream of visitors from the off. As usual Thursday afternoon saw a lot of beer tickers arrive to sample the best of what we had on the bars, and a number of works events also boosted numbers early evening. Mike from the Old Shoe ran a talk on cider and an excellent set from folk-rock band Kingfisher Blue rounded off the evening nicely. However, by this point we had already had the flood alert warning and were expecting the worst on Friday.
Rain! And more rain! When we arrived at 9 o clock the river was already quite high, and the management at Kelham Island Museum were planning hourly assessments to track the water levels. Unfortunately, late morning saw a directive from the Museum that we had to close. Everything that might get water damaged was either taken upstairs, or simply placed on top of the bars. The Museum even had to drive their two Sheffield-built early 20th century Simplex motor cars up to the upper Hall and park them in front of our stage. A disappointed festival committee trooped off home (after a quick pint in a local establishment of course) to follow the weather forecast and hope for the best for the following morning.
Fortunately water levels peaked early evening on Friday without there being any flooding at the Museum and after discussion with the Museum staff on Friday night we got the green light to open, albeit at a slightly later time to allow to put everything back in its correct place.
The weather then decided to improve steadily and, in the end, it was a great day. The River Don engine drew it’s usual admiring crowd; the Loxley Silver Band entertained everyone upstairs; the boys from Kelham Rapper did their sword dances anywhere there was space (however tight that might be!); St Mars of the Desert hosted a well-attended talk on their beers; and live music from Galloping Dick rocked the Upper Hall to finish. The volunteers did their best to reduce the beer surplus at the afterparty, aided by pizzas from Sunshine Pizza Co, and the festival drew to a close.
As always at the festival there is an amount of beer left which sadly has to be poured down the drain. As a result of Friday’s closure there was a lot more to dispose of this year, with an obvious effect on the festival’s finances. We’d like to say a thank you to Bradfield brewery, who kindly took back the unopened casks of their beer, and the Rutland Arms and Kelham Island Tavern, who bought the unopened kegs and cider boxes. And thanks to the volunteers who came and dismantled it all on Sunday. They did an incredible job and by 3 o clock we had everything cleared and back in storage.
Overall the festival was a great success on the days we were open, and had we been open on Friday we would no doubt have exceeded last year’s visitor numbers. We raised £1750 for the festival charity, Yorkshire Air Ambulance, thanks to generous donations of unused portions of beer cards, cash, and sales of a special beer from Abbeydale and MKM Building Supplies. Feedback was excellent, and we had several encouraging comments from new visitors, and also new volunteers, who are already looking forward to next year. Here’s to 2024 (and hopefully better weather!).