Having been to most incarnations of CAMRA's National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester over the last fifteen years, from the first one at Upper Campfield Market in Castlefield in 1999 to the ones at the East Germany circa 1960 New Century Hall, I was looking forward to the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival at Manchester Velodrome, the replacement post-Christmas drinking get together now the NWAF has moved to Derby.
The first thing to say is how impressive a venue the Velodrome is. I've seen it before on TV but that doesn't give you any idea of how high and steep the track really is. I reckon I'd struggle to get round one lap of it, never mind the dozens the professionals do. I know some disabled drinkers had problems accessing the bar area in the middle of the track but as far as I could see the volunteer stewards did everything they could to work round that, taking people down to it by lift and putting extra seating there, and one plus of the Velodrome is that trams stop pretty much outside the front door.
I went to the first session on Wednesday afternoon and the last one on Saturday. The stand out beers for me on the first day were the cask version of Fuller's 1845 Strong Ale and the dangerously drinkable 6.5% Elland 1872 Porter, interspersed with a few halves of Robinson's Old Tom. Unsurprisingly they had all run out by the last session, as did the rest of the beer by about three o'clock, something reflected in free admission for CAMRA members and a reduced entry price of £1 for non-members. Like most people we headed back into town on the tram and went to a pub in the Northern Quarter, the beer shortage at the Velodrome providing a windfall for a number of city centre hostelries.