A Beer Festival? In *This* Economy?

Fidelity, at lastAfter the better part of two years of anticipation, Fidelity, the Dublin beer festival brought to us by Whiplash Beer and their sister bar, The Big Romance, finally happened! The last beer festival I attended was not just in the Before Times, but was in our previous city and country: Seattle’s annual Women in Beer at Pike Brewing in May of 2019. On the whole, we tended to stick to the smaller, ideally cask-focused festivals (yes, they exist in North America); while some of the larger events like Oregon Brewers Festival can be great fun, at a certain point, they can just seem, well, crowded. There is also the tendency to bring out all of the ‘weird stuff’ – which, at a weird stuff-specific festival is delightful, but I do get a big curmudgeonly when that’s all that’s on offer at a more general beer festival. Now, some of this is related to where one is on the Craft Beer Cycle at any given point, but I do like to use a festival to find out whether or not a new-to-me brewery has a core range I might like; that said, if there is a ‘secret’ tapping or bottle opening of a bizarro one-off, sure, that’s fun.

So, with that preamble out of the way, what was I expecting from Fidelity? In truth, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, and the anticipation of the unknown was rather exciting. There seem to be – based on my limited experience of non-Covid Ireland – relatively few beer festivals of any kind in Ireland, and many of the others I’m aware of (but have not yet had a chance to attend) have been small – perhaps 5-10 breweries represented. That’s no huge surprise given the size of the craft beer market in Ireland, but Fidelity was certainly on a very different scale. Running over two evenings, with breweries from across Europe, the UK and North America as well as Ireland, this was a real EVENT. Organised (curated? I normally hate using the term in any non-specialist context, but I’ll bend the rule here.) by Whiplash and held in the Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, or, more accurately, in the Round Room, which advertises itself as ‘Ireland’s premier events venue since 1821,’ this was full-on, properly put-together Good Times. This was, perhaps, less of a beer festival and more of a festival of people who enjoy beer, which is not a criticism – just a bit of a different vibe, and, given the lack of opportunity for events of any kind for so long, a very welcome one. I got to SEE MY PEOPLE and had a great time with them.

And there was some really tasty beer on offer, even if my own personal preference would have been for a few more bitters and pale ales, given the hot weather, the trend toward weird sours was likely fortuitous. There were also a fair few beers in the 10-14% ABV range, but I usually give those a miss at festivals anyway; I just don’t have the stamina for that kind of thing any more. However, I especially enjoyed the following:

Wylam Keeper’s Ale, 8.3% – For me, this hit in all the right beer festival feels: a short but useful chat with the person pouring, who explained this was brewed in conjunction with historians at Newcastle – er – castle – from a medieval recipe, brewed with figs, raisins and other various oddities. It reminded me very much of Dogfish Head’s Raison D’Etre, and while it was stronger than my usual festival sample, it was fantastic. It definitely made me keen to think more seriously about getting over to Newcastle (where it will eventually be on tap in the castle dungeon) and doing the Great North Run at some point.

Verdant 300 Laps of Your Garden Hazy Pale Ale, 4.8% – While I tend not to be a fan of most hazy pale ales, some get it just right, and this is a perfect example. It was ‘soft’ without veering too much into the ‘juice’ category for me, and had a nice bit of bitterness as well; very refreshing indeed.

Deya Steady Rolling Man Pale Ale, 5.2% – I’ve had some really nice lagers from Deya before, but this was my first time trying this beer, and my first chance to try one of their beers from a keg vs a can. It really did tick most of the ‘Platonic ideal of a pale ale’ boxes for me, and it was so clean and fresh; I will certainly be seeking this one out in future.

Inside the magicAnd again, not a complaint, but most of my favourite Irish breweries were not represented at Fidelity (even if many of their staff were) – the likes of Hope, Ballykilcavan, Dead Centre, Kinnegar or Lough Gill were not around, though it was great to see Mescan, Trouble and Boundary, and you could certainly see and feel the Whiplash approach in everything, from the professional lighting design and art direction – yes, this was a beer festival with art direction – to the DJ setup. But as mentioned above, given the size of the industry here, I would never expect every brewery to make every ‘event’ – and perhaps a few will appear at some of those smaller festivals as they (hopefully) return to the calendar. In fact, my only knock of any kind on Fidelity is that it is an evening festival; I don’t think I’ve ever been to one before that didn’t start in the afternoon, and for a Tired Person like me who is typically well on my way to bed by 8 pm, starting at 6 was a bit of a struggle – I do much prefer the event to be a daytime one, but I’m sure there are very good reasons around venue and capacity that made evening better in this case. That was my only real FOMO – it looked like all the fun photos were taken after I’d gone home!

But a few other really positive things to highlight: the water stations were tidy and accessible, the bathrooms were clean and did not have horrible queues, and I did not see any untoward behaviour – the email sent out in advance advising people to ‘be sound’ seemed to have done the trick. There were posters around giving clear advice on how to seek help if any difficulties arose, and the tortilla chips from Blanco Niño were a great snack, even if they did eventually run out of them. This had to be an enormous undertaking from an organisational perspective, so Leah and the rest of the Whiplash/Fidelity team deserve a huge amount of credit; well done, all! My only regret was not making it over to The Big Romance, which is only a 10 minute walk for me, for the day-after afterparty, but while not hung over (thank you, water stations, reasonable pours and sensible prep!), I was still Very Tired.

We also have tickets to Hagstravaganza in August, and that should be interesting to compare; I’m expecting a very different ‘feel,’ but a lot of fun…and for that one, while it involves a train journey, I should still be able to be home by 9…the report on that will come in due course!

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