Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Day 2 – Dragon Hall Beer Festival

May 4, 2011 · No Comments


Pleased with yesterday’s turnout, the organizers expected an even bigger turnout. Unlike on Friday, Saturday would have two festival sessions, a short afternoon one and the longer evening one. The afternoon session, although quite, attracted about the same number of people as yesterday’s evening session. For me, it was a continuation of yesterday’s tasks: moving boxes and keeping count of the number of visitors. I was surprised by the number of foreigners (Americans, Portuguese, Italians) that came by. It attests to the strong cultural significance that beer festivals have. Aside from the local people of Norwich, there were several people from different breweries who came to have a taste.

I guess I should tell you how the festival works. The entrance fee is 5 pounds (4, if you are a CAMRA member) and you receive a pint glass with tokens. For the sake of efficiency, you buy tokens with which you buy a half pint or pint of whatever ale you want. This way, the bartenders (many of whom are inexperienced, including myself) do not have to worry about handling change. I believe the rate was something like 20pence for every token, so a pint glass would cost roughly (depending on the ale) $1.40 or 14 tokens. Oh, and you would get to keep the glass.

As a charity event, the beer festival relies on the goodwill of several ale companies to send in a cask of one of their own concoctions. So, for example, we received two ales from The Fat Cat called Honey and Cougar, both of which are light but delicious. I think in all, we had around 20 different types of beer plus two ciders and a variety of bottle beers.  The surprise ale for me was one called Jack’s Revenge. A fruity, chocolatey ale, Jack’s provided a hearty taste to the usual bitter and sweet palettes. There was also one called Porter’s which I had that was specifically made for the coffee lover. But if you are a lightweight you are probably better off having half a pint or less after a meal. Tipple’s Brewery is actually the main sponsor so they brewed an ale specifically for the event called Red Head. To be honest, though, I have had nearly the entire menu that it’s difficult to sit here and differentiate them. In any case, they were all ales I would not have had otherwise. After all, beer fests are all about trying something new for a change. The great thing about volunteering is that you get to drink all day. There is absolutely no limit, given you conduct yourself properly.

After handing out tokens at the voucher desk, Dodge asked me to take over for somebody at the bar. Unfortunately, we would begin to run out of beer by the time it was 7 or 8 o’clock. So by the time it was 9 and 10, and new people were coming in, we would have to deny them their first choices – and often, their second and third choices as well. By the end of the day, we had 2 casks left. Anyway, I was very nervous for the first drink I had to serve. The man asked for a half pint of Wizzard. I grabbed his cup, put the rim towards the spout of the cask and turned the knob until the liquid reached the half-pint mark. I carefully brought the glass over to the customer and asked for 7 tokens. It seemed fairly easy enough. Emma, one of the seasoned volunteers, pulled me aside, however, and pointed out the things that I did wrong. First, she told me, you want to hold the glass on the lower third of the glass. Typically, the lower third is for the bartender, the middle for the customer, and the top, obviously, for the customer’s lips. Second, when you are pouring the ale into the glass, you want to begin by tilting the bottom of the glass towards you so that you make sure that beer does not escape and  so that when the ale hits the cup, you can prevent too much foam from rising (or else, you rob the customer of ale). Emma assurred me that after a couple of drinks, I would get the hang of it. And I did. But the strange aspect of it was how much I began to enjoy serving drinks to the customers. The night reached the point in which we were all serving 2,3 customers per minute. I was a bit on nerves but I enjoyed the adrenaline rush. Indeed, whereas I spent a quite evening on the bottom floor arranging cups the first day, today, I was very much in the middle of the event. I don’t think you can duplicate this environment at a pub. Being a hall, there are not a lot of chairs and tables. Everyone is mostly standing, which adds to the mood and atmosphere. There’s a lot more freedom to move around and the high ceiling prevents the place from becoming too clausterphobic.

Much of what made bartending so enjoyable, I think, was because of the customers. Just that brief interaction with a stranger, whether it be a simple “thank you” or conversation, is a pleasurable thing. Everyone is smiling and conversing. I had a nice exchange with a man who you used to work at the INTO center. He asked me where I was from and what I was doing here. It was a short conversation, but I appreciated his warmth and candor. There wasn’t anything particularly amazing about the exchange, yet his kindness was the sort of thing that made the whole event worth my time.  

I wouldn’t mind volunteering for the next beer festival.

Date: 30 April 2011
Time: 11:00-24:00
Total Hours: 20
Location: Dragon Hall
Supervisor: Rachel M.

Categories: 2010 Sean

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