There was a time, in Edinburgh, when fans of beer festivals would have only a handful of options to look forward to each year – peaking around the Scottish Real Ale Festival, held annually during the startlingly brief Scottish summer. Today though, new beery celebrations crop up seemingly every week. Is this down to the upsurge in interest around British beer? Or maybe these small, niche festivals have always taken place, only now everyone is connected online and word spreads all the quicker. Either way, the more events the better; and this past weekend another was added to the calendar in the shape of the Summerhall Beer Festival (aka ‘Summerbeerhall’).
Since developing from the old shell of the Royal Dick Veterinary College, the Summerhall arts venue has hosted a fairly huge variety of events (made all the clearer to anyone using the toilets, as old posters and flyers plaster the walls). Added to this mix, last year the facility gained an on-site microbrewery in the shape of Barney’s Beer, re-located to Edinburgh from the Behind the Wall brewpub in Falkirk. With the great-looking bar inside the ex-small animal hospital building – not to mention the outside courtyard – Summerhall has pretty-much been crying out for a beer festival, so it’s great to see one finally take place.
Astonishingly, the sun blazed down for the event (which was spread between three sessions, one on Friday night, and two on Saturday). The word had certainly been put out – each timeslot was sold out before it began – with the email-toting attendees having a choice of 22 beers, nine on keg and thirteen dispensed via gravity from behind the temporary bar in the ‘dissection room’. Highlights included Tryst’s Citra Hop Trial, and two of the homers – Barney’s hopped-up Volcano NZ and his new porter, Black Gold of the Sun (although, despite the name, it was pretty warm for the darker stuff).
Even though the event was sold out, I was surprised (pleasantly) at how relaxed and crowd-free the festival was. People bustled about in the courtyard, nipping up the stairs for refills, without ever seeming overly busy. The whole thing seemed to be very carefully regulated, unfortunately a lot of the beers were off during the afternoon – I couldn’t work out if that was due to them being depleted from the Friday night, or (I suspect) being taken off to ensure there would be something left for the Saturday night session. At one point, I was down to my fourth choice (from the twelve or so that were advertised).
The staff worked hard to make things work, though, and were all hugely friendly. Curiously, the glasses were lined with half-pint and two-thirds measures, but only the larger serve was allowed. ‘I can pour you a half, if you’d like – but I’ll have to charge you for two-thirds,’, I overheard at the bar. Mind you, a debut beer festival without teething problems is a rare thing indeed; London’s Brewing, it was not, by any means. As the bar wound down at the allotted time, the drinkers weren’t hurried out at all – largely because everyone was already outside, and could carry on drinking via the Summerhall bar at the other side of the courtyard.
It’s great for Edinburgh to get another beer festival – I have no doubt that Summerbeerhall will return next year. Chatting to Barney himself, in between one of his brewery tours being offered, he was delighted with how things had gone, and the buzz the event had created for his beers. For a (largely) outdoor beer festival to debut on the hottest weekend of the year – indeed the only hot weekend of the year, potentially – is fantastic news. Next year, keep up with Summerhall on Twitter, as irrespective of the weather, expect the tickets to go even faster…
Adam from Walking and Crawling was also at the festival – check out his thoughts here.