“A dark horse is a little-known person or thing that emerges to prominence, especially in a competition of some sort, or a contestant that seems unlikely to succeed”. As Wikipedia succinctly summarises, a dark horse is something that beats the odds, something that goes above and beyond all expectation. It’s practically poetic that the Moseley Craft Beer Festival took place at The Dark Horse. This unassuming beer festival delivered, and it delivered big.
Before diving into the main draw of a beer festival, the beer, let’s take a moment to consider the circumstances. This festival (which took place over the August bank holiday weekend) is still in its infancy, with 2018 being the second annual hosting. Unless you are local to the area, or happen to be quite clued up with your district geography, you may not even know of Moseley. The train station has tragically been closed since 1941, meaning any foray from the city centre requires a bus or Uber. There’s then the fact that this is contained within one pub, so you might be thinking of a small, locally-focused festival, with a few extra taps on. Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting a beer list sporting over 50 beers, including brews from the likes of Cloudwater, Half Acre, Mikkeller and Gueuzerie Tilquin. How were all these breweries with such respect and renown all descending onto a singular venue in a suburb of Birmingham? I’m just going to put it down to beer sorcery.
As I look back over the beer list for Moseley Craft Beer Festival 2018, the term “kid in a candy store” comes to mind. I knew I was going to be in for a good time as the organisers drip fed delicious snippets of breweries during the build up to the big weekend (disclaimer: no beer was drip fed into my mouth), but when the full list dropped, it blew my freaking mind. I am still flabbergasted how they managed to bring together such a down-right amazing line-up. Let’s break down what was special:
Local at the front and centre
As you walked into the pub’s grounds, the local bar could be spotted directly in front of you. With the sun beating down all day, beers from the likes of Burning Soul, Dig Brew Co and Birmingham Brewing Company were getting lapped up. Hazy IPA, one of Burning Soul’s recent brews, was going down a treat in the scorching weather. There was a notable absentee from the local scene, and that was Glasshouse Beer Co. Due to a last minute complication (possibly due to setting up their new brewing facility), Josh’s magnificent beers did not make it to the festival. There’s always next year bud.
The UK, old and new
There was something immensely satisfying about the selection of UK breweries bringing their goods to Moseley. There were the universally loved, such as Cloudwater, Siren and Magic Rock (who snuck some Verdant in with “What are the odds”, their incredible collaborative DDH IPA) as well as breweries that deserve more recognition than they currently get, like Odyssey Brew Co. Their DIPA “All Eyes On Me” has a particularly deserving namesake – this stuff was liquid dynamite. It was also great to see newbies Loka Polly pouring. Finally, the ever-enjoyable Elusive were there with their retro-gaming themed beers, although missed opportunity on my behalf to have one whilst failing miserably at Donkey Kong.
“We’re not worthy!” people cried out…ok, maybe they didn’t, but they should have done. Moseley Craft Beer Festival had no right to bring together such an incredible transcontinent and transpacific line-up. You had Half Acre bringing in crisp, citrusy and perfectly balanced pales like “Daisy Cutter” and my personal pick of theirs, “Vallejo”. There was Mikkeller bringing a whole heap of Danish goodness, from a raspberry oak barrel aged sour, to a chardonnay barrel aged belgian blonde. Lervig were there stocking one of my all time favourite stouts, “Sippin’ Into Darkness” (barrel aged edition), which if you haven’t tried before is 12% of velvety-smooth chocolate heaven. Then you had Gueuzerie Tilquin with their beautiful “Quetsche Tilquin” (draft version), adding plums to the mix, giving a wonderful flavour and signature colour to this highly sought Belgium style. The beer of the festival for me came all the way from San Diego; this was Mikkeller SD’s “Beer Geek Brunch of Nuts”. We’re talking a big-on boozy imperial stout packed to the brim with macadamia nuts and toasted coconut. It rounded off the festival quite nicely.
Despite the festival being localised to just one pub, the organisers had still managed to squeeze in around 30 taps spread across 5 bars, all without having to sacrifice seating space or the kitchen. This is a testament to the size of the Dark Horse. It is mahussive. What made the festival even more memorable was how distinctive each room was. The beer garden out front was bustling with energy, as punters soaked up the unending sun (remember the sun, guys?). The ground floor was slightly more subdued, with a focus on quieter conversation as people enjoyed their drinks and food. Natural light poured in through the large front windows, bringing the room alive.
Upstairs housed the dark and dank “dive bar”, complete with wall to wall bar mirror and a ridiculous amount of old gig posters. As an almost anti-downstairs, natural light did not exist here. This room also had a constant stream of movies being projected onto the wall, sans audio, an enjoyable touch that distracted our trio on a number of occasions (when some deaths occur on Battle Royale, you just gotta watch). Finally, the mezzanine in the attic of the building had an extremely chilled vibe to it – lights were low, couches and chairs were a-plenty, music set to ambient levels. There were also rows of seats set-up ready for meet the brewer events and the home-brew competition.
Going above and beyond
I’d like to take this opportunity to commend the Dark Horse staff for pulling an absolute blinder. From ticket vending, to drink pouring – each task was met with apparent enthusiasm. These weren’t just people working their 9 to 5, they cared about what was happening and wanted to make sure us attendees had the best time possible. Our greeter went to great lengths to explain the beer token system (more on that later), and his friendliness and willingness to help set the right tone for the rest of the day. The word that best summarises the staff I interacted with that day is “passionate”, on a number of occasions I had a good-old friendly chat with the pourer about the beers at their particular bar, what they had been enjoying and what was coming up. I also got to talk about the rather unique combination of Sum 41’s ‘In Too Deep’ being played over a projection of Forrest Gump. Young Forrest trying to navigate the social difficulties of bus seat etiquette will never be seen the same way again.
Not without (minor) fault
There was only one gripe for me, and that was the money system. The poor gentlemen on greeting us to the festival must have had to explain the system to me and my compadres three times before we couldn’t take the social embarrassment and brought £40 worth of vouchers.
The way it works sounds simple on paper – you can purchase beer vouchers in £5 denominations in designated locations so that the staff can focus on keeping the beer flowing, rather than having to deal with the silvers, coppers and erroneous buttons fumbled over. The problem lies deeper when your eyes boggle at the 5 by 10 grid laid out before you. Each rectangle represented 10p, and if there was something I didn’t want to be doing at a beer festival, it was having to adapt my brain to a new monetary system.
After splitting off and picking up a few beers, we found ourselves looking at three different sheets, one with 38 rectangles crossed off, another with 44 and the last with 32. That leaves £3.60 split over 3 flyer-sized vouchers, not the most elegant solution I must say. Still, any unmarked sheet could be returned for a straight refund, so as long as you didn’t start a sheet fresh with each drink, you would have kept your wasted money to a minimum.
What I’d like to see next time
As cliche as it may sound, more of the same again please! No but seriously, there’s very little different I would want to see at next year’s iteration. The festival was organised extremely well and whoever put it together deserves a giant pat on the back for bringing so much incredible beer to the Midlands.
If I were to offer my 2 cents on how they could make the festival better, the first (as you have probably guessed) would be to change the ticketing system. I would personally like to see a straight up beer token system, 1 token = 1 beer. Keep the confusion to a minimum whilst still allowing the beer to flow.
The second would be to have more live music on and to give the performers more prominence. We were there for a fair few hours, and we only managed to catch one or two acts. There are a cavalcade of local bands itching to perform, let them get in on the action!
Thirdly, and this is on all of us, we need to spread the word more next year. This festival definitely deserved bigger crowds than what I saw, let’s do everything we can to make sure they get it next time.
I’ve rambled for long enough here, so I’ll just end with this – Moseley Craft Beer Festival 2018 was phenomenal, bring on 2019.