Portsmouth doesn’t really lack beer festivals. You have the bi-yearly behemoth Portsmouth Beer Festival at the Guildhall, the relatively new kid on the block Oktoberfest just outside, the boutique Portsea Island Beer Festival at the Groundlings Theatre, the seasonal May Fayre celebrations at Saint Mary’s Church, the urban Southsea Beerex at the Wedgewood Rooms, heck even the Leopold Tavern (RIP) was pretty much a daily beer festival in its own right. So realistically what could another beer festival offer us? How would another event stand out from the crowd? To me, the answer lies in the attitude of the organisers themselves. Staggeringly Good has always been a forward thinking brewery; this is evident in their premises, the beer they create and their general brewing ethos. If you are crazy enough to have dino themed beer then I doubt you will settle with a church hall for your first beer festival?
Nope, the only thing that would do for these reprobates was a 40 gun steam powered armoured frigate built in 1860, also known as HMS Warrior. By harnessing an icon of our naval city and consolidating it with the promise of good beer, Staggeringly Good (with the support from the excellent Beer Musketeers) have created a truly unique beer festival. It comes as no surprise that all tickets sold out within 72 hours, well over 8 months before the actual event was due to take place.
Despite having visions of drinking beer as the summer sun sets over the Solent, the squally weather experienced on the day felt equally as appropriate. Battening down the hatches and holding fast in the main deck only added to the feeling that this was something really exceptional. Armed with the branded tulip glasses that were issued upon arrival we got stuck into some seriously good beers, highlights include London Ale DIPA by Cloudwater (9%, 1st Cloudwater at a Portsmouth beer fest?), White Tips by Siren (4.5%, a crew crowd pleaser), Hop Rod by SG x Beer Vaults (5.5%, can this beer please go win some kind of award?), Double Dark Alliance by Arbor (9.2%, dessert anyone?), Defacer by Weird Beard (11.1%, you’ll feel that the next day) and much more from top breweries such as Brighton Beer, Good Chemistry, Vibrant Forest, Wild Beer, Irving and Southsea Brewing. It is also worth noting that 99% of the offerings were served in an unrefined state, meaning beers that punched with flavour and character. Going through the ship itself is like going back in time; casually drinking between cannon, ropes and hammocks to the sound of sea shanties makes this an environment like no other.
Above all, Warriorfest is an exercise in quality rather than quantity. The Warrior is limited to 450 souls, which means you have room to either walk about and explore this fine ship or to simply pull up a pew with your crew and create your own space. The fact that the tickets are limited for a one off session also comes with other great advantages; only having 5 small bars peppered around the ship works fine (at no point was I left queuing too long for a beer) and we simply didn’t have to deal with the issue of certain beers not featuring due to running out from a previous session. We also need to talk about the fact that there was Cloudwater at Warriorfest, that in itself is a statement of intent from SG; come to our festival and you will drink a range of carefully curated beers from envelope pushing breweries.
Warriorfest, we salute you!