One thing the West Yorkshire town of Huddersfield is not short of is Beer Festivals. So it is that the one organised by CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) that would normally be the "main event" in most towns is received with a typical Yorkshire stoic raise of an eyebrow.
The Huddersfield Oktoberfest (as the CAMRA event is called) is held at the Sikh Sports Centre just on the edge of town. The venue is fairly devoid of atmosphere (it is a sports hall with bright lights, scuffed walls and terrible acoustics) but it is a popular event and we usually drop by for a couple of hours even if we don’t linger all night.
Entrance to this year’s event was £3, a refundable glass is £2 and tickets are sold in strips of £5. You pay on the door. This year we dropped by on the final day and were rather disappointed that so many of the beers had been drunk dry but still be charged an entrance fee. Of course, you might expect some beers to be running off on the final day of a festival but it seemed that the only things they had left were weaker session ales (when the point is to buy your beer by the third or half pint so you can sample a mix including some of the stronger ones). The event lasts over three evenings.
In the sports hall were arrays of large tables to sit at giving the evening something of a communal air with people sharing tips about good tips and beers. Ale was not the only drink as the beer festival has a whole section devoted to cider. Lager and wine drinkers however would have to leave unsated; CAMRA would not allow the devils urine in its event.
There is a large menu of beers on a list on each table; it tells you about the various brews on offer, although of course it is pretty meaningless if a good 70% of the offerings are not available. I guess in total there were originally well over 100 different ales to choose from.
At the long row of pumps at the end of the sports hall you can choose whether to sample a third, half or whole pint. You then display your tokens and the staff cross off the price from it using a marker pen. I’m sure someone with ingenuity could exploit the system, but real ale drinkers do tend to be an honest crew. The staff pulling the pints are a mixed bunch some more efficient than others, but we didn’t have long to wait on each occasion we visited the bar.
The hall was full of mixed aged people although it has to be said that the majority were older, plump and male. As the CAMRA festival is held at the Sikh hall the available food is in the form of curry; a large mixed starter platter for £5, a chicken curry for £5 and a lamb curry for £6. The food without exception is freshly made and delicious. My only complaint is that the Temple doesn’t really have the means to keep the food piping hot. It is OK, but it could be warmer.
To sum up, the October Fest isn’t my favourite Huddersfield Beer Festival. The Star on the edge of town holds good ones three times a year, and the little summer beer festival at Hall Bower (just beneath Castle Hill) is my favourite for atmosphere. However, the October Fest is a friendly event and assuming you arrive early enough in the week there is a good amount of beers to sample and enjoy.