Some of the beers available at WoodfestOur visit to Woodfest 2018.

I was very much looking forward to the second annual SPBW Woodfest being held at the Exchange in North Shields and it did not disappoint. Row after row of wooden casks were filled with over 70 real ales ranging in strength and style from the classic 2.9% Hook Norton Hooky Mild to a 4% Ossett English Rose Golden Bitter to an 11% Imperial Stout collaboration from Wylam and Hawkshead called Pleasures in the Darkness. All cooled and served via handpump it was a wood-inspired dream come true. The wood did impart particular traits to some beers more than others, drying out some sweet ones and just giving a nice edge to some of the more complex ones.

Organised and run by the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, this event promotes the use and re-use of traditional wooden casks over many generations of brewing. Breweries used wood long before the invention of the now common stainless steel, aluminium and plastic casks. With many of the new smaller breweries looking to provide something different from the larger, more traditional breweries, wooden casks have offered an alternative way to change and mature beers. Some have been imported, however the renewed interest in wooden casks has enabled a new generation of British coopers (someone who makes wooden, staved vessels, held together with wooden or metal hoops and possessing flat ends or heads) to be trained in country. Only a decade ago England‘s last master cooper predicted the demise of barrel making, so great credit to those in SPBW who have never given up the fight promoting traditional wooden casks filled with lovely British beer! I do hope there are plans afoot for a Woodfest 2019.

Colleen Holiday

Note: Woodfest 2018 was held in the Exchange Arts Centre, Howard Street, North Shields NE30 1SE. The venue, an arts and culture centre, is worth a visit in its own right, with the venue bar offering up to 5 cask beers, mostly sourced from local breweries on Tyneside.

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