I’d been to Leeds only a few weeks before to help Roberto Ross celebrate his birthday and enjoyed our visit to the refectory bar. The building is lovely with the brewery on the ground floor, the refectory bar in the middle and an events space on the top floor.
The festival promised to offer a selection of hop forward beers over 3 days (13th-15th March). Since I’m a complete hop fan I knew it would be for me then I saw a call to arms from Dea Latis to get more ladies to volunteer – I’d enjoyed volunteering at the Birmingham Beer Bash last year and (as you know from this blog) I love talking about beer so I signed up for 2 sessions – Thursday and Friday evenings.
I arrived on the Thursday to a very calm upper floor. There was the usual level of organised chaos from the organisers (shout out to Rob who organised us all and was great). As is usual you start out getting your volunteer t-shirt (a fetching yellow one with a giant hop on it) and a safety briefing. The usual rules of not knocking back pints and pints on shift – you’re there to work after all, but of ensuring you taste the beers you’re serving so you know what you’re talking about were explained along with the food voucher system and important health and safety info.
Each brewer had brought 2 beers with them and these would remain the same for the whole festival to prevent any fear of missing out by only going to one session. However the range was amazing.
My first shift was with Toby and Chris from Brew By Numbers – they’d brought 01/01 their very first beer, a Citra Saison, and 05/21 an Azacca and NZ Cascade IPA. They told me they’d planned to bring a different beer but an issue with a batch of yeast meant it wasn’t up to scratch. We were in great company as our neighbours included Beavertown, Other Half (I got to meet their brewmaster Sam Richardson at my ‘drinking’ session on Saturday), Wylam, Siren and Kernel.
Toby and Chris explained the beers to me and we had a taste – the saison was light and fruity and ended up being a popular palate cleanser during the hop overload whilst the IPA was a real juice bomb. They had a beer engine which I’d used before so pouring was no issue. As is the thing with all festivals the highlight is meeting people – punters, volunteers (it was great to meet Mac from @sotoncraftbeer, on with Kernel, who’d come all the way from Southampton to volunteer!) and brewers. As the evening wore on the fantastic soundtrack provided by the guys from Wylam got us all dancing behind our respective bars. I’m not sure if that attracted customers or put them off but we had fun. Of course there is hard work too – once the customers for the night had gone it was all hands on deck to clear up rubbish, collect empty glasses and get the area cleaned down for the next session.
Day 2 dawned and I spent the day enjoying Leeds with my husband but as 5pm rolled around I was back to Northern Monk for shift 2. One of the main draws is that for this festival Northern Monk had spared no expense in air freighting over a range of Alchemist beers from Vermont. These near mythical brewers make the top rated beer on Rate Beer – Heady Topper. Along with this the can bar also had Focal Banger, Luscious and Farmer’s Daughter. When I arrived I was assigned to this can bar and spent a very pleasant hour listening to classical music resonating around the brewery (as that is where the bar was situated) and getting to learn about the beers and the ‘rules’ for serving them. Only one of each per customer, mark their wristbands with the appropriately coloured Sharpie, 3 tokens a can and they must be opened at the table – no exceptions! Having spent all that money getting the beers over they rightly did not want people taking them away and storing them goodness knows how or for how long ruining the fresh taste and generating bad feedback. I started my day working with Tara Taylor from Northern Monk (she has my dream job – Brand Ambassador), she was a very lovely lady all the way from California! She told me they’d had 2 hours of solid queues on the previous sessions so I knew what to expect. She wasn’t wrong – once the doors opened a large proportion of people made their way straight to the can bar. Of course we had people asking for take aways (they got more as the evening went on – all sorts of bribes were offered and rejected!) but in general people were just happy to get their hands on these rare beers.
I was joined early on by Adam (from @beermoresocial) so there was a fair bit of blogging conversation going on. Then the hightlight for me was we were joined by Chelsea Nolan one of the brewsters from The Alchemist! She’d only just flown in that morning and come direct to the festival. She was super friendly and more than happy to talk about her beers and the brewery. I learnt during the day that they have 6 people brewing – 3 men and 3 women (that’s a pretty good split!). She also told me that the reason Heady Topper and Focal Banger tell you to drink direct from the can is really 2 fold – the main reason is that volatiles from the super high levels of hops begin to be lost as soon as you pour out the beer so the can keeps them in and that also in the US plastic glasses are used at a lot of venues so by drinking it from the can you’re saving the environment too!
I have to say I don’t think I’ve ever opened so many cans, I soon had a blister! I also had ‘can envy’ as I got to smell all the wonderful aromas from the beers but not drink them! But we had great fun and Chelsea was great company joking with the customers all evening (obviously beer counteracts jet lag!).
As the evening wore on Tara came to ask for a volunteer to go up and work on the Refectory bar – I couldn’t miss this opportunity (I’d briefly worked on there the day before but it was fleeting). So I ended my volunteering working at the main Northern Monk bar. It was busy and there were quite a few people looking a bit the worse for wear but still lots of people interested in the line up of beers on. It was a great end to a really fun couple of days of volunteering.
If you don’t mind hard work and maybe blisters from opening cans I can wholeheartedly recommend volunteering at a beer festival – you meet great people from all over the world, brewers, volunteers and visitors. You get to talk about beer with like minded people and I got to go to the festival on the Saturday too, so I got over my can envy! Roll on my next volunteering adventure and Hop City 2018!