Review: Nottingham Craft Beer Festival 2023

Words: John Ashton
Photos: Curtis Powell
Friday 23 June 2023
reading time: min, words

Lovers of craft beer, street food and general vibes gathered in their thousands at Sneinton Avenues for NCBF23 last weekend...

NCBF 23 Day 1 Images 17 (1)

Sneinton sizzled in the early summer sunshine, and shorts, shades and sun hats paraded down the hill from Hockley. Crossing Lower Parliament Street, the accompanying soundtrack was lead by horns and sirens, with the occasional punctuation of an Ashes test match on TMS spilling from the open car windows, along with the happy conversations from passing pedestrians that only arise on Friday afternoons. The nose was filled with the aroma of traffic fumes and warm tarmac as usual, but a new scent wafted lazily through the thick, warm air; beer.

The Nottingham Craft Beer Festival has become a greatly anticipated fixture in many calendars, and judging by the crowds in attendance, it is as popular as ever. A weighty throng, somewhat pink-tinged thanks to the baking heat and a classically English aversion to Factor 50, matched well with this year's commemorative half pint glass that happily proclaimed that we’re "going on a beer hunt”. Thankfully our quarry today, the beer which we shall hunt, is plentiful, varied, close-to-hand and slightly chilled.

One of the things I’ve come to enjoy about this particular beer festival is that the clientele are far more diverse and interesting than they have been at some of the other beer festivals I’ve attended around the country. While those hulking beer festivals with their hundreds of breweries are frequented largely by older men, plump and ruddy, sniffing at their quarter pints and bemoaning how beer isn’t what it used to be, this beer festival is quite different. The crowd is largely younger, though beer enthusiasts of all (legal) ages and backgrounds seem welcome, and rather than having a hundred breweries to ‘umm' and ‘err' over, a smaller, more qualitative selection is presented to you. Locally produced stalwarts mingle shoulder-to-shoulder with other smaller labels from across the country.

NCBF 23 Day 1 Images 9

My first port of call, after a brief reconnoitre to assess the form, was the Brew York stall where I picked up a delightfully fruity IPA with the a charmingly pun-fuelled-name; Juice Forsyth. As well as tropical flavours that helped get me into the summer mood of the evening ahead, this beer also helped to cool me down. It inspired a string of lighter, more refreshing beers that included Joosy from Unbarred (a brewery from Brighton), and Navigation’s Key Lime Pale which was thirst-quenching and delicately sour. There were many others but I won’t reel off a list of every half pint quaffed - there were quite a few. Enough that a late night curry was ordered after I departed into the cool night air.

But while still in attendance on that warm Friday evening, I did manage to make some more decipherable notes about my experience that I thought I would share with you here. There were less decipherable notes - several about the cricket, one or two about songs that I wanted to listen to later, and a singular note about my desire to hide in a porta-loo and raid the kegs after everyone had left - thankfully that last one was ignored, but it is testament to how enjoyable all of the beer was. Whether enjoying a familiar demi-jar from Castle Rock, or sampling an unfamiliar drop from Tottenham’s Gravity Well brewery, I, and all my fellow visitors seemed happy.

I really enjoyed tasting beers from all over the country, but it was equally delightful to see the Nottingham native breweries doing a roaring trade and their local trade partners enjoying themselves too. Seeing Tom, proprietor of Liquid Light pouring out glass after glass of his excellent ale, while Bradley from Jam Cafe sampled potential new offerings, as, all the while, Neon Raptor took advantage of the guaranteed footfall that this festival allows them was joyous. The beer producers of Nottingham and those who ply their wares in bars and pub across the city were getting the most from this event - wonderful.

NCBF 23 Day 1 Images 28

It was an inherently pleasant affair. A gentle murmur of enjoyment echoed through the market, and all savoured the sort of evening that only an English June can offer - warm, with a cooling breeze that’s so perfect that you’d not trade the setting for any luxury penthouse suite or pristine beach on the planet. And beer was enjoyed responsibly too, with no aggro or upset, and only the spirit of happy people who enjoy their draughts. This event encourages the best of atmospheres, and even as the sun went down, and heavy heads began to feel the weight of the alcohol consumed, it was more of a lazy-fuzz than anything more disruptive or energetic. It’s so nice to be at an event like this that promotes amiable socialising and the merits of good company.

I’m determined for this not to be a pure puff-piece though, especially with LeftLion having a stake in this event. Were I to offer any criticisms, they would go thusly; seating, sustenance and sound systems. Sneinton market is not the largest of spaces for a crowd of this magnitude, and it feels like plenty of seats were in situ, and yet if you had been lucky enough to nab a pew early doors, you needed to guard it at all times as potential sitters circled like buzzards hunting for a perch to take the weight off. I think more seats could have been placed there, and an increased number of benches and chairs would be most welcome at the next event. The number of food trucks was just about right, but more variety would have been a boon that could have reduced the wait for hot grub and appeased every palette. And the musical entertainers, while talented, were lost to a sound system that didn’t quite offer the quality needed to be heard clearly at such an event.

The above criticisms are minor, and none of them truly detracted from a busy, bustling and boozy event that again proved to me that this is probably my favourite beer festival. I took more than a few moments to just take in the crowds and the smiles that lingered on their faces. From happy punters discovering a new tipple to treasure, to franticly pouring brewers enjoying the appreciation of their craft from the crowd, the smiles were in great abundance. Each sip, be it of unusual curiosity or of traditional ale, was enjoyed. Between those red brick and glass avenues, beneath those sun-shielding canopies, the business of selling and enjoying beer was happening, and it was wonderful.

As I stumbled home, my commemorative glass now housed in a brown paper bag, I made note to remember two final thoughts. Firstly, I was very much looking forward to my chicken madras and accompanying chapatti, and secondly, I wished upon an early summer star that I could go again to this beer festival on the Saturday. Will I be there again next year? Try and stop me.

Nottingham Craft Beer Festival 2023 took place at Sneinton Avenues on Friday 16 and Saturday 17 June 2023. 

We have a favour to ask

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion

Please note, we migrated all recently used accounts to the new site, but you will need to request a password reset

Sign in using

Or using your

Forgot password?

Register an account

Password must be at least 8 characters long, have 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number and 1 special character.

Forgotten your password?

Reset your password?

Password must be at least 8 characters long, have 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number and 1 special character.