Guest post: Bournemouth Beer Festival – a beginner’s guide

Another guest post for you but back to A FemAle view this time with my good friend and long time beer-drinking buddy (but self-confessed beer ‘novice’) Rachel Woolgar giving us her take on what it’s like to attend a beer festival if you are still at the beer-curious rather than beer-literate stage.

Let me make a confession. I, at 36 years of age, am a cheap lager drinker. There, I said it. However, under the tutelage of Sophie whom I have known for almost 20 years (Yes, thanks I know we don‘t look old enough!) I have graduated – albeit not completely – from lager and gravitated towards real ale. It was because of this I noticed the 4th Big Bournemouth Beer Festival was taking place over Easter and as I was due to visit the area with a friend I decided to get tickets and lose my beer festival virginity.

The event itself took part in Purbeck Hall part of the Bournemouth International Centre (or BIC as it’s more commonly referred to) which is round the back and quite a walk from the main, glitzy entrance. The Festival was running a Good Friday session and two sessions on the Saturday. We had tickets for the Good Friday evening event and a good thing too as it had completely sold out. We exchanged our ticket for the special commemorative glasses and tasting guide and were given a chance to buy beer tokens ahead of the queues inside.

The venue itself was a lot smaller and more compact than I had envisaged. I had somehow imagined a number of stalls represented by numerous breweries offering their ales, advice, info, banter and maybe a few snacks to help wash the drinks down. I was not expecting a hall full of long trestle style tables and chairs with just one main bar area in the centre. The bar was staffed either side and held all the casks on stillages down the middle. The clientele was fairly young and I’d say the gender split was equal – which was encouraging to see. On arrival, I felt a bit out of my depth at first so had to take a wild stab in the dark on the first drink I wanted to try.

First choice: Rachel loved Beartown's Peach Melbear
First choice: Rachel loved Beartown’s Peach Melbear


I opted for a pint of Beartown Peach Melbear (4.4%) and my friend chose Palmers Dorset Gold (4.5%). I was very glad I’d chosen Peach Melbear as it is exactly what I look for in a beer. I’m a big fan of Badger’s Golden Glory and found this very similar. It was a glorious amber colour and had a light peach and elderflower aroma. The taste was very peachy with hints of apricot coming through. I absolutely loved it and found it very refreshing. I wanted to carry on drinking it all night!

The Dorset Gold was slightly disappointing. The tasting notes promised banana and mango but we didn’t feel that we got mango at all. It did have a banana cake taste though, with a hint of Maltesers. We found it quite sour, slightly astringent and not refreshing. The caveat here I suppose is we do normally drink lager, so are used to drinks being carbonated, cold, refreshing and not too hoppy. So I suppose we were trying to go for drinks that emulated that.

After our inaugural drink we relaxed a bit more into the surroundings and felt more confident in what to do. We studied the tasting guide, while we were still able to, to pick out what else we wanted to try. Next up for me was a pint of Barngates Cat Nap (3.6%) and for my friend Coach House Brewing’s Ginger Nut Premium (5%). I felt confident I would enjoy Cat Nap as it promised a ‘fruity, zesty character’ but I could not taste that at all. It had no definitive smell or taste that I could pick out. I think I was spoiled by the wonderful Peach Melbear though and everything subsequent had a tough act to follow.

The Gingernut Premium was interesting. The smell was extremely gingery as was the initial swig however my friend said, “I feel quite robbed when I drink it because the aroma and initial taste are very gingery but then it dissipates very quickly. There is no longevity in the ginger flavour. It robs you at the end!” 

Rachel found out that tasting notes can be rather subjective
Rachel found out that tasting notes can be rather subjective


Of the Cat Nap he remarked, “It’s a beer that has had a lobotomy. All its character has been removed!”

As it was Good Friday I plumped for a half of Brentwood Hot Cross Buns (3.9%) next. The smell was spot on the smell of buns – rich cinnamon and cloves infused with citrus peel and yeast. Unfortunately the smell was vastly superior to the taste. Rather than the fruity, spicy flavour I was hoping for I got a strange, rather bubblegum like taste. It was slightly mahogany in hue but, I noted also cloudy. Hmm.

My friend chose Salopian Lemon Dream (4.5%). This had a fresh, zesty lemon mousse aroma and a tart grapefruit taste with a bitter aftertaste. We both preferred this to Hot Cross Buns!

We had a slight interval whilst we walked round the venue for a bit. There was also a cider, perry and wine bar but the queue for this was epic at all times. The only hot food on offer was pies (in fact the whole hall had a strong meat pie aroma for the whole duration!) and hot dogs. We opted for some spicy crisps and nuts instead.


Getting into her stride - Rachel at Bournemouth with beer in hand
Getting into her stride – Rachel at Bournemouth with beer in hand

Next up were halves of BHB Red Dwarf (4.5%) and Blue Monkey Sanctuary (4.1%). Mine was supposed to be the Sanctuary but we swapped drinks deciding we preferred each other’s! Red Dwarf suggested fruit and toffee flavours but instead was quite bland and non descript – although I did identify a slight toasted cumin flavour. All I got from the Sanctuary was a very slight mustard and cress flavour. Both of these choices were disappointing.

For the last drink of the evening I was determined to try something different so I chose Dark Star Espresso (4.2%) while my friend took a half of my beloved ‘Melbear.


The Espresso resembled Guinness in colour and we thought it smelt very similar to black bean sauce, but definitely had a coffee taste at first, but then followed by something treacly, almost tar like and wait a minute, I can taste blue cheese! A very eclectic drink indeed.

Although I was slightly worse for wear the next day I have to say I hope this beer festival was the first of many as I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. On the whole the staff were welcoming, friendly, efficient and seemed able to answer any questions we put their way. So now I know the form I’d feel much more confident in attending beer festivals in the future.


Follow Rachel on Twitter or have a look at her own blog which she plans to relaunch over the summer (if not before!).



  1. Well done Rachel and welcome to Beer Festival Gang! 😉 I always go for halves from the start (or thirds if you’re lucky enough to be at one that serves them) you can taste a few more that way. If you pick one you don’t like it’s not that much to drink so you can pick another.There are always more beers i want to try than can actually drink when I go!!! Cheers!

  2. Thanks! thirds were not an option at this event. May go to the Reading Beer Festival next month now that I know the drill 🙂

Comments are closed.