So, it's back to Hove Town Hall once again for the 24th Sussex CAMRA Beer & Cider Festival. Yet again, I've (barely) managed to keep my head above water with the pre-Festival website updates due to travel and work commitments, however I have 1.5 days holiday from work now in order to try and keep our live beer list up-to-date across all five sessions.
Helen (my wife, and the Beer Fest's new Twitter person) and I live up in Surrey these days, so we try and find a cheap hotel deal for the three nights, as it's a lot more relaxing knowing we don't need to rush for a train (or even face a bumpy 45-minute taxi ride whilst, ahem, tired and emotional at the end of a long shift!). Our usual stand-by, the Holiday Inn, was too expensive (and I'm running out of loyalty points and don't want to squander them), however the Travelodge on West St came up trumps with a £50 a night deal. We even have a sea view (well, a very oblique one, if you tilt your head in a particular way, and across the battleground that the bottom end of West Street will inevitably become late each night!).
When I arrived at the Festival this afternoon, the top-secret, invitation-only, more-desirable-than-an-Oscars-afterparty Trade Session was in full swing. This runs from 3pm-5pm before the doors first open to the general public and it gives CAMRA the chance to showcase some of the beers to landlords and other people within the trade (and sometimes, some of the landlords favourite regulars, perhaps...!) - the idea being to help promote the wide variety of ale styles and tastes and hopefully encourage pubs to cast the net wider in their search for guest beers. Even the volunteers are invitation-only for this one!
Sussex is just beginning to catch on to the micropub revolution that launched in Kent a few years ago, and I bumped into Nigel, the landlord of the the first (and currently only) micropub in Sussex - the excellent Anchored in Worthing - on the stairs on my way in. I hadn't expected to see him at the Trade Session, as micropubs tend to keep quite restricted hours, however he'd managed to find a stand-in to allow him a chance to sample some of the ales on offer. I've made a point of popping in to Anchored every time I've been down in Worthing, and Nigel has done an excellent job of rotating three casks of Sussex ale over the past few months (with one notable exception - his 'alien ales' week). The bug is catching, with new micropubs planned for Shoreham and another in Worthing, with the Argus running a story just this week on a potential micropub for Hove. For anyone who hasn't tried a micropub yet, I can't recommend it enough - no music, no alcopops, just quality ale, cider (and sometimes wine) and friendly conversation.
I'll be back again tomorrow with another update, but before I go, I want to recommend the Caveman Citra (on Bar B, but likely to be one of the earliest to sell out) and the Dunham Massey Chocolate Cherry Mild (another Bar B ale), which smells like Ski yoghurt (are they even still in the shops?) but tastes of bitter chocolate and cherry without being overly sweet.