When Crystal Palace Beer Festival tickets went on sale there was a real chance that we would end up going along and watching the FA Cup with a sombre attitude as Palace found themselves relegated to the Championship. Luckily between purchasing the tickets and the day coming around the season was just about saved and Palace live to fight another day – I would call it a reason to celebrate but how we ended up in that situation in the first place is far too frustrating to deserve a pint to be raised.
This was not my first time at the event although my memory of my previous visit two years ago is rather hazy with a mixture of having a bit too much to drink and also it being around the time when my mental health was incredibly quickly deteriorating. This time I was a lot more sensible on the voucher purchasing and made sure I focused on paying attention to the little details to at least jot down my experiences here for future reference as well as to give you an idea as to whether you might want to attend in a future year.
My partner had not been to the event before and given we usually only have Saturday as a day together and he likes beer and football I thought it would be a good day out for us to spend some time together and do something a bit different to visiting the same places (but also because I would never have gone along alone so he seemed like the ideal person to drag along).We decided to sit down and look through the booklet given to us along with our glass pint glass with a simple design to commemorate the event and figure out which ones we most wanted to try. One of the few things that I do remember from the last time I went was that there was only a handful of ciders available (as you might expect at a beer festival) but given my hatred of beer I was delighted to see the expansion to the top floor being dedicated to cider, especially on a warmer day, as well as others dotted across other floors of the Holmesdale stand.
The football matches on the pitch, played out by amateurs including people that paid several hundred pounds to take part, were entertaining due to the sheer awfulness of some of the action (though having said that they did a lot better than I could even imagine).
It was hard to sit down and focus on either the second match, a full 90 minute length game, given the FA Cup was on the big screen behind them. The games seemed to amusingly sync up at times with the whistle going and goals happening within a couple of minutes in both games but both happening at once did cause me to get a little stressed as I have quite hyper-reactive senses and found myself listening to both but not being able to focus on either.
Having the in person games was probably a welcome relief however as for a lot of the FA Cup match there was little to watch or focus on, at least with the screen being so far away and the video not being properly across it, as it was quite tiring on the eyes and seeing player names or the scores was completely impossible.
The issue with drinking is that so often you end up needing some food to soak it up or the time runs away with you and given the strict rules regarding taking food through the entry gates and security checks you are forced to purchase something in the venue.
With being restricted to needing to purchase something inside the stadium, rather than taking in a £3 meal deal from the Sainsburys on the other corner of Selhurst Park, they know that they can whack any price on the food and people are going to end up purchasing it. And the thing about drinking is that they are also hoping that people do not pick up on the quality, or perhaps lack, of the ingredients.
This pork and black pudding sausage baguette with onion was £5 which is a pretty standard price for something like that from a food van or at a festival but with that you expect it to be a decent consistent quantity. But the onions had been overly cooked to make them soft to the point of being mushy and lacking in any flavour, the baguette was generally soft but you could tell that it had been sitting around for several hours waiting to go and then the sausages just tasted like a standard pork sausage with no hint of black pudding (I did assume the black pudding would be chunks on top as I am not sure how you can mix the two together effectively) and the outer skin was super stringy and on biting into it I could not pull it apart without great difficulty – an issue my partner did not have but his were a bit better cooked I believe.
To save from lots of individual sections having to deal with cash and handing change around, slowing down the process of getting people united with drinks, you purchase tokens and hand one token over for half a pint. Each token costs £2 and you can either buy packs of five or ten from various spots throughout the event which does mean that this is not a cheap way to have a drink (which does cut down the number of 18-year-old’s running around) so you really need to pick and choose carefully.
These vouchers can also be used towards food and merchandise, though you can pay for those with cash, meaning if you have a few leftover and have hit your booze limit you can instead grab some chips or something and that was something I heard several people going off to do the further the day went along.
We decided to get five each, so ten in total, as that would be equal to two and a half pints each meaning we would not be forcing ourselves to have too much, with the choice to return and get more vouchers, whilst still getting to try a decent variety of drinks.
There were some really interesting ciders at the festival this year as well as a couple that sounded unusual but somehow came in more than one style from different brands and this applied for my favourite of the day; rhubarb and custard.
The one I ended up having was by Cornwall Cider Co that came in at a common 4% thanks to a combination of rhubarb puree and vanilla extract to give it a smooth fruity taste followed up with a mild spice after kick. When approaching the stand I had originally wanted to try the medium cider at 4.5% by Gwynty Y Ddraig but that did not seem to be available but the Cornwall one was an absolute delight (I am from the Rhubarb Triangle, I have a lot of thoughts and love for anything rhubarb flavoured). Would I spend £16 on a three litre pouch of the stuff though? I guess time will tell… would you?
There was one, a Spanish one by Mills White Cider that I was not hugely keen on as the aftertaste came across like I had just drank a lager and, given I hate beer, was not something I was really looking for or hoping for from a cider.
But overall it is a great way to find some new products to consider getting in the future, that rhubarb and custard cider is 100% on the alcohol list for the wedding, as well as coming across some new names and flavours that are worth looking out for in larger supermarkets or online stores to sample at a later date.
It is an event I would recommend to people if they like to sample a variety of beer and watch football in a chilled environment. It was obviously helped by the lovely sunny weather making it nicer to sit in the stands than if it was a cold or grey day as it helps people to be a little more spread out throughout the venue. It does cost £10 to get in when purchasing a ticket in advance and for that you get to watch the game, get the pint glass and the programme but it does still seem like quite a hefty price tag when you consider that half a pint is £2 and then food is £4.50+.
At the end of the football season it is a great way to catch up with people and just unwind with friends but it does require a bit of pre-planning in advance if you are in any way on a budget. I would probably go again next year but if there was another event coming up on the same day I wouldn’t be massively heartbroken about missing out.
Have you ever gone a beer festival? What are your thoughts on this style of event? And what is your greatest discovery? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or on twitter.