THURROCK Beer Festival opened its doors on Tuesday, boasting some of the best local brews from Essex and the rest of the country.
Offering ale, cider, mead, wine and soft drinks, the Civic Hall on Blackshots Lane was readied with the floors covered with stacks of kegs, awaiting an expected 3,500 drinkers.
Organiser of the festival, Lisa Ridley, was pleased with the festival’s reaction in its early period.
She said: “I think when we opened the doors at 12 and there was a queue outside, it gave it away that people have been waiting for it to happen for weeks.”
The hall opened in 1964, and the festival moved to its current location in 1990 where it has remained the same week of the year since.
Lisa continued: “We do have our regulars that know this is the day every year and probably cross it off their calendars. If we moved it, they would probably still be knocking on the door the same week every year.”
The festival prides itself on providing the highest quality ales from the best brewers in the country.
The local breweries are based in Billericay, South Woodham Ferrers where their main provider, Crouch Vale is based, Brentwood, Colchester and Grays where the event is held. The festival also brings in products from brewers as far up as Yorkshire and as far down as Cornwall and Somerset.
As well as a host of drinks, the festival is providing music throughout Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
On a Saturday, Lisa said: “We try to make it more of a community atmosphere.”
The community within the hall is not just made up of consumers however, many brewers from around the area were present to support to event and taste the newest ales available from the companies on show.
Since it first begun over 20 years ago, the festival has changed what it offers in order to move with the trends of public taste.
Manager of Civic Hall, Mark Jennings, said: “As the years have gone on, we had a small selection of cider 10 or 15 years ago, now it’s a huge selection. Fruit cider has been incredibly popular in recent years.”
Lisa feels there has also been a dramatic change in the demographic attending the festival.
She said: “As opposed to being I would say around 20 years ago 90 per cent men, it’s now become a complete mixture, with around 40 per cent women on an evening, due to cider’s popularity and our now offering and wine.”
Lisa continued: “People want to try something different, especially when the public know that a lot of these mass produced lagers and bitters have got lots chemicals in them. The point CAMRA’s trying to make is it is all made with all natural ingredients, in a natural process.”
Although the festival is now catering to the needs and tastes of a wider market, Thurrock local and long time volunteer, John Chapman, said: “You can only serve good beer.”
The festival is taking place from Tuesday, 7 to Friday, 10 June from 6-11pm, and Saturday, 11 all day 12 noon until 7pm.
The busiest night of the festival is Friday.
Lisa said: “If you are not here by nine o’clock you will be queueing and it will be one in one out.”
BY Sam Drury