Tucker’s Maltings Beer Festival, At Last

Exterior of Tucker's Maltings.

It’s been running for 24 years but we only made it to our first Tucker’s Malting Beer Festival, in Newton Abbot, Devon, last week.

In the last few years when we might have gone, we’ve either been work­ing or on hol­i­day. But maybe we’d have made more effort if we liked beer fes­ti­vals more, which we don’t, because:

  1. Eight dif­fer­ent beers is about the most we can han­dle between us in one ses­sion so 250 is over-fac­ing.
  2. Our two favourite places to drink are (a) the pub and (b) our sofa; hangars, barns, indus­tri­al spaces, town halls, church­es, and so on, come way down the list.
  3. There’s too much flat beer, not helped by being served in unwashed glass­es that get stick­i­er with each pass­ing hour.

Propaganda-style mural at Tucker's Maltings.

Hav­ing said that… Tucker’s Malt­ings was fun. It’s one of those events that isn’t just about beer, and that isn’t just pop­u­lar with CAMRA mem­bers and tick­ers.

It gen­er­ates a mer­ry buzz around the town of New­ton Abbot, a place which isn’t oth­er­wise on the tourist trail – ‘It’s a fun­ny old place’, as one attendee said to us – much as Waltham­stow Vil­lage Fes­ti­val used to in the days before full-on gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, or as Bridg­wa­ter Car­ni­val does in Bailey’s home town.

There were faces we’d seen at oth­er fes­ti­vals (for exam­ple, a con­tin­gent from Corn­wall CAMRA), gangs of young lads with sculpt­ed quiffs and mus­cles on dis­play despite the chill, age­ing hip­pies, age­ing rock­ers, age­ing punks, rug­by fans, a stag do or two, stu­dents from Exeter Uni­ver­si­ty, local dig­ni­taries (New­ton Abbot’s may­or is a ven­er­a­ble old gent with some­thing of the Ger­man bur­go­mas­ter about him), and teams of brew­ers from up and down the West Coun­try in brand­ed polo shirts hav­ing it cor­po­rate­ly large.

Peo­ple were drunk, in the 18th-cen­tu­ry Dutch paint­ing way, and occa­sion­al bouts of danc­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly that half-walk-half-boo­gie mer­ry peo­ple some­times do while car­ry­ing brim­ful glass­es.

What­ev­er the spark of life is, the qual­i­ty that puts the fes­tiv- in fes­ti­val, Tucker’s Malt­ings has it. We’ll def­i­nite­ly go again.

Dis­clo­sure: we paid for entry to Fri­day afternoon’s ses­sion and for beer tokens; Guy Shep­pard of SIBA/Exe Val­ley, who is on the organ­is­ing com­mit­tee, bought us a half each while we inter­viewed him; and we were giv­en free entry to the first hour of the ses­sion that fol­lowed.