This is my friend, the lovely Jason @dappercellerman who happens to be the bar manager at Holmes Mill. He and his loyal crew have been tapping and venting and prepping and testing and pouring and cleaning all week to prepare. It was him who kindly popped my name on the guestlist so I could have a sneaky peek at what was to come.
Aside from me there was a selection of local pub and brewery owners, loyal CAMRA members and other special guests upstairs in the very nicely decorated beer festival area.
I spoke to Bowland Brewery brewer Simon Gill (the guy on the right in the picture above) about the mill and hosting the festival. He poured me my first beer while I got my notebook out.
Beer 1: Deeply Vale Deviant DIPA - 6.5%
I started my evening with a DIPA because why not? I was massively impressed with this. Really pleasantly bitter with a sweet note that doesn't overpower - I often say (nobody agrees) that DIPA juicers tend to taste a bit overly rotten-fruity to me. I think I'm a bit sensitive to it. Anyway, Deeply Vale swerved that and also managed to hide the strength too. After a third of a pint I was very enthusiastic about whatever it was I was talking about.
Simon told me that he brews on Bowland's smaller kit. The brewery moved to the vast expanse of Holmes Mill around 18 months ago and once they re-perfected the recipes in their core range to suit the massive new fermenters, they let loose on some more experimental projects on a tinier scale. It's Simon's hope that more creative beers take off in the area, encouraging more of the local drinkers to try something new.
"I'm looking forward to using the freedom we have now on the smaller kit and seeing what we can do with it," were his words, I'm pretty sure. I wrote them down when he dashed off - he'd insisted on running to the brewery to grab me a taster of new brew Hypnotic Hopnotic (4.5%), the light and refreshing creation of Craig, the brewery's production manager.
"We're looking to can special editions to show off the creativity of the brewers here starting this year. And Lagers! I'm hoping we can start to brew a world-class lager too." Something for Alec Latham there, perhaps.
It's nice to hear a local brewery that's so ubiquitous, at least within the Ribble Valley area, is allowing its talented brewers the space to experiment. I look forward to tasting some of their wilder things later this year.
Beer 2: Roosters 24/7 - 4.7%
Famously hoppy and delightful, I didn't actually ask for this one but you can't really argue if a brewer brings you a beer to your table with a wink. I've had it in cans before but this cask version actually did taste lovely and fresh, pulling out even more juicy dryness (is that something that can happen?) with a nice smooth finish. Big fan.
At this point a CAMRA couple shuffled along the table to join me, under the subtext of borrowing my pencil. I'm not normally a pencil-user, but my phone was running out of battery and I needed it for the camera function because I'd left my Olympus' memory card at home. Quality reporting as ever. So, scribbling ostentatiously with a pencil in a notebook like some sort of antiquated scribe, I drew attention to myself. The couple wanted to know what I was doing and which beers I liked. They were a quietly interesting pair, well-dressed and faintly awkward in a room of mingling industry-types and acoustic guitar music. Likeable. I, of course, returned the question.
Wife: It's a lovely space here. I enjoy my blonde beers and it's good that there are so many of those. Yes, I stick to my blondes, nice and light.
Husband: I love an IPA. Not too strong though, I don't like the very strong ones.
They both used my pencil to write their choices of winning beers on competition entry slips, keeping their answers very secret, and then left for home.
Beer 3: Heavy Industry Electric Mountain - 3.8%
How could I not gravitate towards a beer named after a hydroelectric power station and visitors centre? As a sessionable bitter, it was actually quite outstanding. Cask bitters usually leave me a little cold, but there was enough zip and zing in this to keep me interested.
At this point I was interrupted by men, who wanted to talk to me about brewing beer. I enjoyed their company for another twenty minutes, in which time I learned a lot about them but I'm not sure I introduced myself in the end. It doesn't matter, they were both quite polite. Either way, I blame the pencil once again for attracting undue attention.
When I could get a minute, I slipped to the bar.
Beer 4: Se7en Brothers Stout Porter - 5.2%
I'm just going to transcribe my notes faithfully for this part, as I'm sure I knew what I was on about at the time.
Beautiful. Smooth and toasty, chocolate in waves with a bit of coffee. Not enough to think "ooh, this is very coffee-y" but enough to warm you through. I know I like it.
So it's fair to say it was a hit.
Then, because I was getting tired and a bit hungry and I felt like being a menace, I ordered my next beer and got Jason over to break into the conversation a bit.
Beer 5: Wishbone/Elusive Brewing Parallax IPA - 7.5%
"Go wild, then go home!" I said, and a guy at the bar gave me an approving pint-lift. I'd been recommended this as soon as I walked in, and I wasn't disappointed. Complex and sweet with a bitter finish, I've written "strong and you know it". Let that be a warning to you. I called a man out on his beer kit exaggerations (I think the word I used was "BUSTED!"), shook hands because they had been nice people, and strolled home, stopping for a battered sausage and curry sauce supper. All in all an excellent evening.
The Clitheroe Beer Festival is an annual mainstay in our small town and this years' takes place on the 12th and 13th May at Holmes Mill, Clitheroe.