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    Thursday, 24 April 2008

    The Merchants Inn Rugby Beer Festival


    In contrast to Coventry which I wrote about last week, Rugby has more going for it. Famous for its school and the birthplace of some sport whose name escapes me, it is worthy of a visit for historical reasons. However I tend to go to places just for the beer, and in The Merchants Inn they have one hell of a pub.

    For those who know The Malt Shovel in Northampton and are impressed by the breweriana on display, The Merchants actually puts it to shame. It's a veritable feast of old advertizing boards, posters, pump clips, mirrors and collectable old beer bottles (all of which I think are full). It's pretty much a museum of old beer memorabilia.

    On an average day the pub sells nine real ales on handpump together with a pretty decent range of Belgian bottles. However I was here for the Joy Of Six Beer Festival week long festival featuring 66 beers, all of which have a 6 somewhere in the ABV; a bizarre theme if ever there was one.

    Stillage space in the back bar is limited so of course not all 66 beers are available at once. There was actually a choice of 28 which should, though, be enough for anyone. I worked my way through eleven of them; and found them a mixed bunch in terms of quality. I was pleased to see Wickwar Station Porter, but was very disappointed in it, finding it to have an odd sweetness and no roasty flavours which Wickwar promise.I also tried Cauldron Snout, now brewed by Darwin, and a good beer, but not as nice as I remember it from its High Force days.

    The best beers I tried were No Bully Dozer from Oakham, brewed with reference to the campaign to save The Brewery Tap, typically hoppy well brewed beer, and Lancaster Black, a nice tasty roasty stout.

    Prices were reasonable for this part of the World at around £2.50 a pint, and the festival fish and chips looked bloody handsome. There will be another beer festival in the Autumn, and other pubs in Rugby have ones lined up for the Summer. Rugby CAMRA are having their festival in three weeks time, so right now it's a pretty good town for beer, and with it being less than a fiver on the train for me, life is sweet.

    3 comments:

    young camra collectiv said...

    Maeib,

    The Collectiv' are looking to arrange our next major beer fest for the end of May and have spotted three worthy contenders:

    1. Cambridge (19th - 24th May)
    2. Newark (23rd - 25th May)
    3. Delapre Abbey (28th - 31st May)

    Sadly holiday constraints only allow for attendance at one of the three. All three are outdoor festivals. We actually attended Delapre on the Saturday last year and thoroughly enjoyed it but have also heard good things about the others.

    Drawing on your wealth of festival experience, do you have a recommendation (setting aside your local loyalties to Delapre, of course!) Have you been to Cambridge or Newark before? Might Cambridge be a bit commercial for a seasoned festival go-er? Newark, I'm told, is one for the scoopers but know little else about it. Your thoughts would be welcomed!

    maeib said...

    YCC - I have been to Cambridge the last few years. My report of last year's fest is here.

    I haven't been to Newark for a long time, and of course Delapre is my home town fest.

    So to answer your question, I think it depends on which day you are going. Cambridge has the biggest selection of beers and deffo the best foreign list. If you were going at the start of the fest this is probably your best bet, BUT it chucks out in the afternoon.

    Newark, I believe is still pretty good for rare beers so if that's your thing then that should be good throughout.

    Delapre is a great location if the weather is good, as you experienced last year. The peripheral entertainment on the Saturday is good fun also. Friday day is quieter but you will almost certainly have the full range of beer to choose.

    So to paraphrase, I think I would only do Cambridge earlier in the week, and either Newark or Northampton on Fri or Sat. I'll be working the day sessions at Northampton, so that may sway your decision one way or the other!!

    Where do you live by the way, are they as easy as each other to get to?

    haddonsman said...

    I'll be at Newark on the Friday - busy but not cramped, reasonable range of beer, decent food from the market nearby, pop into Waitrose next to the rail station for some bottles for the trip home. Job done!

    It opens at 10.30 this year (has been 12 noon in the past) with no kick out so plenty of drinking time. And with Steve Westby as cellarman, you can be sure of new breweries and rare beers.

    Mark, if you've not been up here for ages I can heartily recommend it. Unless you're saving all your holiday entitlement for October and the finest festival in the country at Nottingham Castle ;-)