Did you know that the Office for National Statistics now includes bottled “speciality beer” in the virtual “basket of goods” it uses to calculate consumer inflation?
This shows how popular craft beer and real ale has become in the UK. A lot of people now want to drink something more interesting than bland, mass-produced lager when they go down the pub or drink in the garden at home.
The same goes for music venues and festivals – places that were so often the purveyors of the finest examples of cheap and tasteless lager in the past. For instance, draught real ale has been available in the legendary Wedgewood Rooms music venue in Portsmouth for a good few years (although to be fair I haven’t been for a while so that may have changed). There was also a craft beer and real ale bar at this year’s Common People festival in Southampton.
Portsmouth’s Victorious Festival is another local music festival that recognises the finicky tastebuds of the average beer drinker. The event held on Southsea Common returned for its fourth year last weekend. Among big name music acts and attractions including a boutique market, food stalls and a kids arena is a real ale bar – styled as a craft beer and real ale festival – run by the people behind the newly created Portsmouth Beer Festival.
You might also like: A mini pub crawl of Portsmouth and Southsea’s craft beer and real ale venues
We first visited Victorious last year and had a great time. So we returned once again this year on day one of the event with high expectations, especially as bands like The Subways and Primal Scream were on the bill this time around.
We started off our day with a visit to the Cracklerock Brewery in the village of Botley to pick up some fresh “Gold Rush” ale to take away for the short train ride – somehow, consuming fresh ale poured from a plastic flagon feels slightly classier than drinking lager from a can. At 4.5%, a couple of pints of this to accompany our sad excuse for a picnic got us in the party mood. That’s until Hench managed to drop – and subsequently crack – the flagon on the floor of Fratton Train Station. We managed to save most of the precious liquid inside, fortunately.
We arrived at the festival site after a protracted taxi ride via Gunwharf Quays due to a miscommunication when we hailed our cab – “Victorious” does sound a lot like (HMS) “Victory” after all. We then finished off the remains of our picnic and made our way through the security checks into the festival itself.
The real ale festival was on at the far end of the site. Suitably lubricated by our mini drinking session on the way in, we took our time getting there. Disappointingly, the main bars only sold Carling, so we weren’t tempted to stop at any of those for a swift one, despite the lack of any queues.
We were hoping for short queues when we finally reached the real ale village. However, the beer gods weren’t smiling on us today – it was rammed! At first, I thought this was because people were either there for the next band (the real ale tent also housed one of the festival’s stages) or because there was some rain in the air. As we made our way deeper into the crowd, we realised that most people were either queuing for their drinks or coming away from the bar cradling them. This was a clear indication if we needed one that good beer is definitely in high demand at Victorious.
As we got closer to the front of the queue, we could read the blackboards above the bar to see what beers were available. I reckon there were about 50-60 with beers from all around the country. All were from the casks lined up at the back of the tent. I didn’t see any bottles on offer, which is fine by me.
Prices were at the high-end of the spectrum, starting at around £5 a pint. This was more expensive than last year and, as expected at a music festival, way more expensive than you’d get at your average real ale festival. Cheekily, two half pints of beer bought separately were more expensive than one pint. For instance, a pint of Ringwood Boondoggle was £5 while two half pints came to £5.20. I don’t know if this was to assist the bar staff by putting people off ordering a lot of different beers at a time, but it seemed a bit odd.
At last year’s event, there was a token system in operation for the real ale tent. This time, it was cash at the bar. For some reason or other, I remember the token system not working that well last time. However, when I saw the people manning the tills mostly twiddling their thumbs as the bar staff rushed around in search of the right casks for their various orders, I thought that maybe a token system would have been more efficient. The queues were certainly shorter last year. But then, it’s difficult to compare like for like when there were so many differences between this and last year’s incarnation of the festival. For a start, it wasn’t raining last year.
In the end, we didn’t have to wait too long for our first ale. Normally with so many beers to try, I’d have gone for a half pint. But with halves costing (albeit a few pence) more and the prospect of a long wait in the queue next time, we opted for a pint each of Banks’ “Mansfield Cask Ale” (3.9%) simply because it was what Hench’s dad used to drink back in the Midlands in his younger days. We then joined the rest of our crew who had taken shelter from the rain under a tree. The Mansfield wasn’t a bad brew and seemed in pretty good condition. Therefore, it wasn’t long until we’d supped up and were in need of another ale to quench our still-growing thirst.
Our next trip to the bar wasn’t as pain-free. Firstly, people were now taking shelter from the rain in the narrow entrance to the tent, which had slowly built from the odd drop to a bit of a downpour. Secondly, the queue at the bar was now even deeper. Then, when I finally reached the front, my fabled inability to get a busy bartender’s attention came to the fore – with people pushing to the front and getting served straight away, it took me back to my struggles getting served at the packed bars of my favourite student haunts back in the day.
This did however give me a chance to witness the goings on behind the bar. Now, I could be wrong, but it looked to me like staff were replacing empty casks on the racks there and then. I’m no expert on cellar management, but when we’ve bought casks of ale for parties, we’ve had to let the beer settle for at least a day or two before it was drinkable. However, I guess there was a chance that the beer being racked now would be just about ready in time for day two of the festival tomorrow. So it may have been tomorrow’s ale that they were racking.
When we finally did get served we decided to “double up” so we could avoid an extra trip to the bar once we’d finished our first drink. We went for an “Atlantic” (4.2%) – an IPA from the Molson Coors-owned Sharp’s brewery – and a “Sprinter” (3.8%) – a summer ale from Hampshire’s own Upham Brewery.
The Sprinter was fine – great tasting and in good condition. The Atlantic however was extremely cloudy, and on closer inspection, full of “floaties” which never seemed to settle. Usually, I’d have taken it back to swap it for a replacement. But, with the prospect of another long wait at the bar, this was out of the question.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about the Real Ale Village at Victorious. It’s great that festival goers have the chance to get their lips around so many different craft beers and real ales. It’s just a pity that it was such a mission to get to the tent and then get served. It’s also unfortunate that the quality of the beer we tasted was mixed and not of the standard you’d expect at a traditional beer festival. That said, maybe we’d been unlucky with our pint of Atlantic. I do appreciate that it’s challenging to recreate a proper beer festival at a music festival though.
For next year, I’d prefer it if the organisers offered less of a choice of beers and ales (say, 10-15) but made them available at more bars throughout the site, not just in one tent. The bars could also offer beer in disposable four-pint containers as they did at the Common People festival so people can buy in bulk.
I mention “next year” because we’ll definitely be back for Victorious in 2016. It’s a well-organised festival that attracts a great crowd and great musical acts. See you next August, Victorious!
Info: Victorious returns to Southsea Common on Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 August 2016. Early-bird tickets are already available from See Tickets. The Portsmouth Beer Festival’s “Christmas Sessions” is on Friday 18 December and Saturday 19 December at Portsmouth Guildhall.