Rare Breeds BF : by Gazza
Last Updated :12/02/07
Rare Breeds 1996 - by the man who ordered the beers!
arious things make me laugh. When people tell me I don't know what it's like to organise a beer festival, I laugh loudly. I've helped organise various fests, including the proverbial piss-up in a brewery at Ledbury, the Ashford fest, the Barge at Sittingbourne and of course Rare Breeds 96.
It all started when I moved to Kent to work in 1994. I was getting seriously into scooping at this time, and visited the Evening Star most weekends for over a year as well as the Prince Albert and other South East events. I went along to local CAMRA meetings as they were an irreverent bunch on the whole, more out for a good beer than politics and they seemed to like the pubs I liked. I worked at Rare Breeds 95, even though the beer list was poor by scooper's standards, purely for the day out and enjoyed it a lot - it was a very likeable event "as a package" as marketing people would say.
The following year, I was more involved with the festival on the blatant premise of influencing the beer order. The bloke who did the beers kept it to himself, but one night at a meeting I asked to see the list. He reluctantly produced it, and to be honest it was a list done by someone who's never tried most of the beers they're ordering - like sticking a pin in the Flying Firkin catalogue and hoping something decent will turn up. I began asking him why he was ordering dross like Brewery on Sea. "Can you do better?" he demanded. Perfect, just what I was after. "I can, but I want total control over it" I declared. "Fine, here's the budget and attendance projections, fit in with that and it's yours" I was told. That was too easy, I smiled to myself on the way home that night.
The next day I looked at the figures. I could order 35 beers and 3 ciders maximum which would give me a bit of scope for scooping beers. The cider was easy; Kevin Minchew was a friend of the new Swale brewery, so we had 3 of those. Flying Firkin were mightily put out when I told them we wouldn't be wanting any beer this year, thank you very much. I decided instead to use a very dodgy bloke who was, funnily enough, a mate of John Swale and dealt with various agencies and breweries himself. I decided to get about 10 specials from local brewers, with the rest being rare beers from the lists supplied by the dodgy geezer whose agency was called "Cider with Rosie". Everyone called him "Birdshit" on account of him allegedly being an ex Paratrooper and, as he said, only paras and birdshit fall from the sky. I suggested rain and snow as additions, but these only spoiled the joke so we stuck with Birdshit.
Swale agreed to do me several specials as did my mate Simon at Goachers, as long as Phil Goacher didn't know about them! I eventually persuaded the very new and very rare Rother Valley brewery to dry hop a cask for me, and I was promised some Viking beers as John Swale knew the brewer there. I decided to go and see the brewer at Minnis, a rare brewpub in the middle of nowhere between Ashford and Canterbury, with the hope of persuading him to do me a special too; this would be the "whopper" of the fest!
I arrived and sampled a pint of his bitter, and very nice it was too. I cautiously asked him about beers for RB96. "Yeah, no worries. Only problem is, I'm emigrating to America in 2 weeks so I've stopped brewing already. You can have anything from the store though" he explained. I was gutted at this; my prize winner snatched away! "Tell you what" he said, as if he had seen the dejected look on my face, "I'll mix some bitter and half of my last cask of Easter ale as long as you take an ordinary bitter - how's that?" I replied that it was very good and thanks a lot, and off I went very happy - and immediately forgot about it.
My list was coming together very well, with all my beers chosen and confirmed. As usual, a few were out of stock or unavailable, so I had to quickly resort to my reserve list, but everything went remarkably smoothly. I had a lot of respect for the CAMRA branch as they trusted me to do a beer list for their prime event of the year and they didn't really know me - whether this was well placed trust or naivety I don't know.
Once I was sure the beerlist would be good enough, I began to put word out among the scoopers that this would be a "scoopers fest". It was the same weekend as Glastonwick, so I didn't actually expect many scoopers to turn up, but said that it would be worth it if they did. I don't think I appreciated at the time just how far out of the way we were down in Kent, and looking back now it just shows what a desperate and committed bunch actually turned up! Having camping certainly made it worth the while of many scoopers who turned up.
At last, everything was coming together in the physical sense. The tent was erected at the site, and we spent a long hot day putting up the scaffolding for the stillage - it saved money doing it ourselves, and there wasn't that much anyway. We had thoughtfully been provided with a cask of Goachers Light dry hopped with Bramling Cross by Simon for staff beer which took a bit of a hammering that day. Due to the site being on a farm, and therefore at risk from thieves, we decided to park a caravan behind the scenes and have someone sleep there the nights before we opened, which was duly installed.
I suppose I should state now that I was not the original choice for cellarman. "Little Dan", the branch's' regular was in charge and I was bar manager. This was fine by me; I had done a year of real cellarwork at a Boddingtons pub back home and knew what hard work it was. Bar manager would suit me!
On the Thursday, all the "workers" turned up at the farm to stillage the beer, which was basically 5 of us. It was then that I produced the beer list, which had somehow overshot our budget by a few firkins at which the treasurer, "Pies" (so called as he'd eaten them all), was not impressed. "No worries, Pies" I declared, "I've drummed up some scoopers to come and drink it all!". The main delivery arrived, then Swale, then Goachers and we began humping the firkins onto the stillage in their allotted places. We were about half way through stillaging, when a small white van pulled up outside. We all looked at each other, wondering who this was as all the beer had arrived, but when the brewer from Minnis got out I felt a sinking feeling. He cheerfully produced not one, but 2 firkins from the van, and I remembered the deal I had brokered with him. Accusing faces turned to me. "We'll sell it all" I enthused, sounding less sure than 5 minutes ago. Luckily Pies had the branch chequebook, so we paid him and I wished him well in the States and thanks for the massive special.
Stillaging continued and we finished by late afternoon, although my over-ordering had resulted in a lack of stillage space so a bit of shuffling was required. The staff cask of Goachers took more of a hammering so I put 4 pints into a carry out for the scoopers the next day. Dan slept over in the caravan, and the next evening we arrived on site again to tap the beers. This took a few hours, then we endured the arduous task of checking all the beers - we even tried some of them twice! The Minnis "Beer not worthy" as I had named it was superb so we all had a pint of that to finish.
It was then events took a strange turn. Dan had contrived to lock himself out of the caravan, so climbed on the roof to open the skylight. Unfortunately, due to the roof being slippy from some drizzle, he slipped off and landed on one of the metal tentpegs, so he was quickly ferried to hospital and I became default cellarman! I dossed in the caravan that night, and enjoyed myself immensely in the quality control that I deemed very necessary.
Saturday dawned rather too early, but I managed to get all the beers sorted before anyone else arrived. I wasn't sure how many scoopers would turn up, so was amazed when carloads (and campervans) of them started to appear. As is usual with country fests we were at the mercy of the weather, and it did us proud as usual, and as planned the scoopers proceeded to drink all the specials, the normals drank the ordinary beers, and everyone was happy - even Pies the treasurer when we had about 8 gallons left at the close!
Everyone who was there will remember the Škoda in the tent, but who remembers the locals arguing in ditches and the dock leaves in the gents? The dock leaves were hung there as the year before some guy fell bollock-first into the nettles. If this sounds strange for a toilet, it was basically a ditch with a few fence panels round it and we didn't think we needed to cut the nettles; I'm sure he wishes we had. The locals arguing in the ditches is just a Kentish custom, it seems. Also, I don't recommend installing a barbecue in a tent unless you want to simulate "pea soup" fog; dangerous, especially with Škodas left lying around all over the place...
|Gazza doing some quality control...||Russ drinks the dregs of Beer not Worthy!||Mass seminar of visiting scoopers!||There's one, there's another one... beer spotting in action!||The workers...|
The Final RBBF96 list is reproduced here. Don't forget, this was in 1996...
FS = festival special.
The Rare Breeds 1996 Beer List !
|Goachers||Bumburst's Revenge||3.4||FS, Dry hopped mild|
|Minnis||Legion (new recipe)||3.5|
|Coniston||Bluebird||3.6||Had recently started|
|Goachers||Best Dark Mild||3.7||BM Mild/Dark, DH|
|Goachers||Fine Light Ale||3.7|
|Goachers||Goldings Galore||3.7||FS, Light DH EKG's|
|Beartown||Ambeardextrous||3.8||Was new then!|
|Bank Top||Fred's Cap||4.0||Mr Dibnah rules!|
|Phoenix||Black Shadow Mild||4.0|
|Rother Valley||Level Better||4.0||DH Level Best|
|Swale||Beaver Bankruptcy Bitter||4.0||FS, Can't remember!|
|Goachers||Ginger Dark||4.1||FS, I used to like ginger|
|Burton Bridge||Bridge Bitter||4.2|
|Wild||Wild Daniel||4.2||FS, Unique, honest!|
|Swale||Flockhart's 80 bob||4.4||FS|
|Viking||Pillage & Plunder||4.4||FS|
|Bishops||Woodchurch Wonder||4.5||FS, BM|
|Cottage||Old Freckled Ken||4.5||Top name!|
|Crouch Vale||Kursaal Flyer||4.5||Was new then|
|Harviestoun||Schiehallion||4.5||No excuses needed|
|Hopback||Summer Lightning||5.0||I had to ....|
|Goachers||Cascade||5.1||FS, Gold star DH|
|Rainbow||Firecracker Porter||5.1||As rare as now!|
|Kelham Island||Pale Rider||5.2|
|Minnis||Beer Not Worthy||5.3||FS, BM Minnis/Easter|
|Phoenix||Wobbly Bob||6.0||No excuses!|
|Goachers||Old Spiced||7.1||FS, Old with cinnamon|
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