Food & Drink Monday, May 23rd Words by: Lauren Rogers, pictures by: Lauren Rogers

The team behind Beer on the Wye

Food & Drink Monday, May 23rd

The team behind Beer on the Wye

Six years ago Beer on the Wye was drunk dry. Despite an emergency delivery of 18 barrels on the Saturday afternoon, Hereford's annual beer festival was cut short and we (the press) loved it.

The story of a beer festival with no beer went global. Festival founder Mark Haslam was collating newspaper cuttings in Russian and Korean. He made the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

Having doubled in size since 2009 (not to mention stock), the event now attracts more than 6,000 people to the banks of the Wye. It's run by 130 volunteers and last year sold more than 20,000 pints of beer, cider and perry.

With Beer on the Wye back at Hereford Rowing Club in six weeks’ time (July 8 - 10), we spoke to a handful of beer-swilling committee members to find out why they spend one weekend every summer in a tent watching other people get drunk.

Paul Brinkworth, who's bringing the average CAMRA member age down a few decades

Deputy bar manager and Beer In Hand regular Paul Brinkworth has been volunteering for 3 years. In his mid-30s, he’s the first to admit he’s bringing the average CAMRA age down a few decades and, in recent months, has seen a boom in "good beer pubs" opening in Hereford city.

“I don’t want to say you get sucked into volunteering because that sounds like you’ve done it reluctantly. Let’s say I was absorbed into it.

“In the first year I pretty much rolled up on the Monday, didn’t know many people down there. I met Andrew, who is now the chair. He was like, ‘nice to meet you, now get in the van and help unload all this stuff’.

“I was putting beers up, tapping stuff, building the kiosk. And I’m a civil servant, I work in an office in south Gloucestershire so it’s far removed from my day job.

“It’s a massive cliché but everyone is really nice. They’ve all got that passion for it. We do it because we enjoy doing it.

“Most people are there to sit by the river, have a few beers and a good time. I’m not going to pretend you don’t have to tell a few people they’ve had one too many but, generally, people are well behaved.

“I remember one year we’d been telling everyone to drink up and go home. There was a guy by the river was like ‘I’m eating my chips’. I said, ‘Ok, eat your chips and I’ll come back in 5 minutes’. Five minutes later, he’s still there, clearly not planning to go home anytime soon. I went over and ate his chips. Looking back I have no idea why I did that. I mean, that could have ended badly."

Festival founder Mark Haslam

Festival founder Mark Haslam is the 'elder statesman' of the event, the member without portfolio. He struck upon the idea of a riverside beer festival after reviving the Eden Valley Beer Festival up in Cumbria.

“This place had the most beautiful views over the Lake District. The smoke from the barbecue was wafting over the site, and there was this atmosphere. Coming back on the train it was blindingly obvious it would work in Herefordshire too.

“It’s all about the atmosphere. You can have all the other components but without that, it’s not gonna work.

“Being outside is important; is there anything better than sitting outside with a pint being attacked by greenfly? Music too. Take it or leave it, this beer festival come with live music and I’m telling you now, it gets loud. If you don’t want music, go and find in a bus shelter to sit in.

“I’ve been doing this 12 years now and, to be honest, it’s about people enjoying themselves. Thousands of people come along, get bladdered and still manage to behave themselves. What more could you want?”

BOTW Daphne Keith HfdshireLive

Cash handler Daphne is (clue's in the name) in charge of handling cash over the weekend. Her husband, Keith, runs the front desk where you pick up your tokens, pint glass and programme.

Daphne: “At first I thought, ‘This isn’t going to be my kind of scene’. But we fell right into it.

"I have a background in banking. There’s a treasurer who really runs the finances, I just look after the cash on the weekend.”

Keith: “She’s being modest, of course. They need someone they can rely on and that’s Daph.”

Daphne: “I like cider but you could say I’ve acquired a taste for beer. I think it’ seeing everyone have such a good time that I enjoy. Beer on the Wye attracts such a diverse group of people, all having a good time. Everyone is pleasant and helpful, and really that’s why we volunteer.”

Keith: “A good beer festival doesn't have to be a huge thing and it doesn't need a huge range of beer. It needs good beer and a good mix of people." 

BOTW DaveYates HfdshireLiveedited opt

Cider bar manager Dave Yates works for the award-winning Herefordshire brand Oliver’s Cider and Perry. He knows a thing or two about pressing apples.

“If you asked me if I was sick of cider at Christmas, when we’ve had three or four months of making cider non-stop, I might answer differently but at this time of year I love it.

“It’s such a big thing in Herefordshire, right? You can’t go outside without seeing the orchards. You can’t live here without appreciating the impact cider-making has on the county.

“As for the festival - there’s nothing like this anywhere else in Herefordshire, not on this scale.

"We have about 130 to 140 ciders and 110 of them come from Herefordshire. That's a big motivator for us; supporting as many Hereforshire cider makers as we can. You're a brave person if you want to try and get through them all over one weekend."

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Beer on the Wye XII: Hereford's Beer and Cider Festival takes place July 8 to 10, adjacent to Hereford Rowing Club. There'll be more than 130 beers and more than 130 ciders, live music and food all weekend. 

Of the 130+ ciders and perries, 110 will come from Herefordshire – making it the biggest offering of Herefordshire cider available under one (canvas) roof. In 2015, the festival sold just shy of 7,000 pints of the fruity stuff.

When it comes to beer, there’ll be 6,000 casks coming from the shire and the surrounding region, guest beers from further afield and a foreign beer bar for anyone who fancies discussing the EU ref over a pint of imported ale.

Admission: £4 from 2pm-11pm on Friday, £6 from noon-11pm, and £1 from noon-5pm on Sunday (family day). 

Getting there: BOTW's is held at Hereford Rowing Club, Greyfriars Avenue, Hereford. HR4 0BE. Here's a map.

There are direct trains to Hereford from Manchester, Crewe, Shrewsbury, Ludlow and South Wales operated by Arriva Trains Wales. London Midland operate direct trains from Birmingham New Street, Worcester and Malvern, and First Great Western operate services from London Paddington, Reading and Oxford. The festival site is a 20-25 minute stroll from Hereford Railway station. There is a taxi rank at the station.

Camping: BOTW's festival village camp-site is run by Hereford Rowing Club. It'll cost you £10 per night for a small/medium tent pitch, £15 per night for a large tent or caravan/camper van.

Charity: The 2016 chosen charity is Hope Support Services based in Ross-on-Wye, who support children dealing with a family member diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness.

Herefordshire Live is a proud sponsor of the Beer on the Wye XII.

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