All ale and hearty – a welcome return to beer festival season

The beer festival season is back. After covid cancellations, this year feels like it’s back to business for these jamborees of brewing, and BILL LACEY went along to Selhurst Park at the weekend to experience one of the very best

Time and a place for everything: Palace’s home ground proved a fine venue for the return of a celebration of ales

Along with the football fixture list and primary school half-term dates, the timetable for beer festivals is one I carve into my diary with remorseless discipline, protecting this time against the demands of, you know, annoying relatives and the like.

I particularly like the lesser-known festivals in out-of-city locations, taking the train to an unknown town and trudging my way to a field of cask dreams, sitting around with all the anoraks. At least I could justify my first beer festival of this year by denying that I’m such a person. The Crystal Palace FC Beer Festival at Selhurst Park was only a half an hour’s walk from me.

I’d never been to a beer festival at a football ground before. The usual offerings at football grounds are variable. Sometimes it’s no more than a warm Carlsberg in a plastic glass, but Palace is a Premiership club, and this was a special event, so expectations were high. And they were met.

As Selhurst Park came into sight, it felt like a matchday, with Palace shirts everywhere. Where were the anoraks? I’ve now hit the point at which everyone looks young, but some of the red-and-blue clad youngsters looked a bit young to drink. Then I realised: the club had an opening training session on the pitch just before the festival opened. What a great idea. I could see the dads peeling off now that the kids had their morning fun to enjoy the real second half.

“Super Pat” Vieira had time for no more than a perfunctory cup of tea before he had to be upstairs in the Holmesdale Stand to open the festival. I couldn’t miss this, so I powered through bodies, Vieira-like, to make my way to the queue. The process of getting into the stadium was swift (the whole event was expertly organised), but I missed the opening.

I settled for a half-pint of a rum and raisin mild in my new festival glass, included in the ticket (along with two tokens). It wasn’t a bad compensation at all.

The beers were laid out at the back of the Holmesdale, enough room for a choice selection. It was a superb range – some old favourites and some new breweries, from London breweries such as Anspach and Hobday, Brockley, By the Horns and Drop Project, but also from all over the country.

Wide range: there were beers available from across the country, and Croydon

I was pleased to see The Cronx, the local Croydon brewery, well-represented (indeed it now has a permanent bar at Selhurst Park). There were some good quality well-known beers (Titantic Plum Porter, Oakham Citra, Thornbridge Jaipur), as well as some lesser-known beers.

I saw the actor Neil Morrissey ahead of me in the queue (is he following me? I once saw him at Portsmouth station) and discovered his own brewery, Wolf, had a selection – indeed, the delightful Lavender Honey was one of the beers of the day for me.

At £2.50 a half, prices were reasonable. Following etiquette, I stayed on the halves, which enabled me to try as many as possible. But this could only touch the sides – there were around 170 beers and ciders in total, spread over three floors in the stand. My only minor criticism is that there wasn’t as many strong dark beers on as I would have liked.

There were different food choices – I had an excellent (and necessary) Goddard’s pie, mash and gravy, and there were also pizza and BBQ food. If the beer wasn’t enough to draw you in, each stand had live entertainment too – and the Cup final starting later guaranteed the fun continued into the evening.

Although it was a convenient journey for me, I would make a special detour for such an event as good as this, to any town and any football ground (except Spurs). A must for any ale-loving south Londoner.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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