Pardon my new terminology for the Alcohol By Volume acronym but I could have titled this blog post ‘Ulster Volunteer Force’ and who knows what can of worms would have been opened then!
This post is about volunteering. More specifically, volunteering at local beer festivals.
Last autumn I had the pleasure of volunteering at three popular but different beer festivals across Northern Ireland and it’s something I would highly recommend.
Starting with, no pun intended, ABV Fest in September, set in the majestic and ecclesiastical setting of Carlisle Memorial Church in Belfast. 2018 was the fourth ABV outing and is rated by many as one of the best beer festivals across the whole of Ireland. I’d volunteered for a few hours across the two days and loved both the varied range of beer and the relaxed vibe inside the church. If beer’s not really your thing, fear not for there’s a superb cocktail range as well as a cider and gin offering. Cheese, ramen noodles, burgers and more are waiting for you when you inevitably get the munchies.
It’s an education serving at ABV as there are so many top quality beers on tap – plenty of local Irish and Northern Irish breweries were represented in among the likes of Cloudwater, To Øl, Northern Monk and Lervig. The other volunteers pouring beer or working behind the scenes are all helpful and friendly and there’s always a smile on offer.
Next festival on my horizon was the Portrush Beer and Food festival in October – a showcase of some top Irish breweries poured by the brewers themselves. Set in the town hall, it’s a small affair but size isn’t everything you know. It’s about quality. At least that’s what my therapist tells me.
Again, another great food line up complimented breweries Yellowbelly, Kinnegar, Farmageddon, Beer Hut, Bullhouse, MashDown, Hillstown and of course the town’s own Lacada. I’d volunteered to assist Lacada but was willing to step in and pour beers for any brewery if long queues started to form. Each brewery has its own stall and again it was all about those attending. An inquisitive and chatty crowd really make for a superb day that flies by in no time at all and when you get a break, a tasty grilled cheese toastie hits the very spot!
My final volunteering stint of the year was at the Ulster Hall in Belfast for CAMRA NI’s annual festival. I always love being in the hall as it always takes me back to attending some momentous Prodigy gigs in the mid 1990s. Halcyon days indeed.
Back to the present and CAMRA’s gig has traditionally been a cask event but in recent years more keykeg beers have thankfully found their way through the Ulster Hall back doors. The handpump layout was different (and better, in my opinion) which allowed for plenty more seating. Loads of NI beers on offer again with UK and Irish breweries such as Ilkley, Weird Beard, Tiny Rebel, White Hag and O Brother. Once more, Joe Public is the star with friendships made and conversations aplenty.
Volunteering at a local beer festival does many things – it improves your knowledge of different breweries and beers, it makes you appreciate how much work is involved to organise such an event, it opens your eyes as to how keen people are to learn about beer but most of all it reinforces my #1 belief about the local beer scene.
Beer people are good people.