Roll out the barrels

IPSWICH Beer Festival opens tomorrow. This year it is focussing on beers from Yorkshire and Lancashire, with a War of the Roses theme. PAUL GEATER finds out why real ale retains its appeal - and looks at what the future holds for pubs in the area.

By Paul Geater

IPSWICH Beer Festival opens tomorrow. This year it is focussing on beers from Yorkshire and Lancashire, with a War of the Roses theme. PAUL GEATER finds out why real ale retains its appeal - and looks at what the future holds for pubs in the area.

WITH just 24 hours to go before the first pints are pulled at the 24th Ipswich Beer Festival, organisers are today looking forward to a busy week at the town's Corn Exchange.

This year there is a distinct emphasis on beers from the north of England, including many never seen in Ipswich before.

But the old favourites from East Anglian breweries have not been forgotten - and this year the festival has a sponsor in the shape of Suffolk brewing giant Greene King. Rae Gardiner has been helping to organise the festival since it was first held in 1982, and is now heavily involved in cellar duties.

The organisers have been busy setting up the festival since Sunday.

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Mr Gardiner said: “We get in the stillage (the frames which hold the barrels) and some of the early barrels in on Sunday with the rest of the barrels arriving on Monday.”

An army of volunteers runs the beer festival, with members of the Ipswich and East Suffolk Camra branch taking time off work.

And the biggest threat to the festival's future is the lack of new faces coming through.

Mr Gardiner explained: “Many of us have been running the festival every year since it started and we do need some new blood to come through.

“If we don't get some younger people interested we can't carry on like this indefinitely.”

Any Camra member can volunteer to help behind the bars during the festival and they get free beer and food provided.

Mr Gardiner said: “Those of us who do that, take it as a week's holiday. We prefer it to just sitting around on the beach in August!”

The festival is open 5pm - 11pm Wednesday, and 11am-11pm Thursday to Saturday.

N What's your favourite place to drink and why? Do you think real ale deserves its popularity? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email

IPSWICH'S pub and club scene has changed dramatically over the last two decades - reflecting changing tastes among drinkers and people looking for a night out.

While new clubs and bars have opened around the town centre - in a former theatre, furniture shop, even the former job centre as well as new-build clubs in the Cardinal Park area - on the town's outskirts and the residential estates things have been looking much bleaker.

The traditional neighbourhood pub relying on local residents who want to go there for a pint and a game of darts is becoming a thing of the past.

Since the 1980s many have closed and either been converted into other uses or demolished altogether.

Pubs like the Safe Harbour, and the Waveney, closed several years ago.

More recent closures include the Live and Let Live in Wherstead Road, currently the subject of a planning application for demolition and replacement with a development of flats and houses.

There is also a proposal to turn the town's oldest pub, the Old Bell in Stoke Street, into a restaurant with a few bedrooms.

But while some pubs are closing their doors, others have developed to find their own market.

One of the smallest pubs in town was the Spring Tavern.

This small, community-based pub, became a free house specialising in real ale and quickly developed a clientele way outside its Spring Road catchment area.

The Fat Cat, as it is now called, is now one of the most popular pubs in town.

Other real ale pubs, including the Dove and others in east Ipswich, have also discovered a new lease of life among lovers of hand-pulled beer.

Nigel Smith from Ipswich and East Suffolk CAMRA said a geographical split had opened in Ipswich - but could not explain why. He said: “On the east side of Ipswich, pubs have survived pretty well - I can only think of a handful of closures over the last 20 years.

“But on the west side of the town the story has been very different with very few left - some of the big estates have been left without local pubs for people to visit. If there isn't a pub, people will either drink at home or go into the town. There are some really good pubs to visit - but it's a shame when they lose their connection with the local community.”

The growth of nightclubs and of pubs catering to specific tastes suggests that people are happy to travel to find what they want, and are not just content to take what is offer.

Mr Smith said: “People will go to pubs for live music, for real ale, for the food they serve - but why the pubs on one side of the town have struggled and closed and those on the other seem to have held their own is not really clear.”

AMONG the beers on offer this year is a rare selection from the north of England - some will be familiar while others are making their first appearance in the town.

Among those drinkers may have tried before are brews from Paul Theakston's Black Sheep brewery and Holts and Hydes.

The most local beers to Ipswich on offer are products from the Earl Soham and Bildeston breweries - although there is a chance that the new St Jude's beer from Ipswich may make its first appearance at the festival.

Tolly Cobbold is, of course, not brewed in the town any more.

A total of 200 beers are on offer at the festival, but the maximum likely to be on offer at any one time is likely to be about 150.

By Saturday evening the choice is likely to be more limited, but there will still be plenty of beer on offer and drinkers will be entertained by John Otway and his big band.

Although visitors to the festival are likely to get through a substantial amount of beer, drunkenness is not expected to be a major problem.

Rae Gardiner said: “We have worked out that most people who come to the festival drink about three and a half pints.

“That is far too much to drive, but it is hardly binge drinking - people are not falling over drunk after three and a half pints!”

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