12th April: Thursday evening and it's opening night at Walsall, the festival having moved back to the Town Hall after being at the local college last year. I arrange to meet Nick at the Black Country Arms so that we can start on the dark beers right away (Night Ryder for me with something from Orkney for Nick), and then we proceed to the festival to see what's on offer there. Armed with programme, beer tokens and a 'Beertrice' glass, we set about our selections starting with a stout each - my Burton Old Cottage definitely hit the spot. The hall was certainly an elegant civic setting for the event, a large organ at one end of the room as the brews were lined up on the left hand side. A quiet room was positioned off another corridor and there was a canteen area serving reasonably priced food, the grey paes and bacon at £1 being a particularly enjoyable snack.There were over 100 ales and ciders in total so we were spoilt for choice, with Kinver's Black Ram and a Ramsgate Dogbolter also catching my eye amongst the stouts and porters. The Beer Geek Brewery has only recently been set up in Birmingham so we were very pleased to sample their Dark Side of the Geek which went down very well, and it was highly appropriate to try some 1912 from Titanic in the centenary week of the ship making its fateful voyage. However, the highlight of the evening has to be my long-awaited first taste of green beer - Roger mentioned such a thing a few years ago but the ale had somehow eluded me, until now. The beer in question is Sign of Spring from the Stonehenge Brewery, which is vividly green in colour but still has a very moreish pleasant taste, definitely worth waiting for. We decreed that our visit to the event had been a resounding success and celebrated this fact with a visit to the Falcon, Willenhall on the way home.
Friday 13th: another day, another beer festival. Coventry was our day two destination, renewing our acquaintance with the Coventry Rugby Club setting, the Butts Park Arena. Last year the place got very crowded on the evening so we were aiming for the lunch session this time, a wise decision that meant we could explore Coventry itself a little later in the afternoon. Approaching midday we join an already healthy queue outside the venue and gradually filter inside. Entry secured, we head for the beer racks and work our way through some of the more unusual flavourings that were available - liquourice, lemongrass and ginger, double espresso and orange all featured. I always like to try a local brew that I haven't come across before so Tunnel's Fletcher Portal (with a whiff of Christmas pudding) and Wood Farm's No. 8 both fit the bill nicely. For the second day running I struck lucky on the tombola, whereby my Walsall haul of a pen and an alarm clock was joined here by a pint glass and a London Pride mug, Nick managing to avail himself of a couple of goody bags.
We left the festival at 2pm to partake of some chips (minus the twilight on this occasion) and then we ventured forth to try some of the pubs in the immediate area. The Broomfield Tavern is a mere stone's throw away and is very homely overlooking a little park - some Hyde's Berry Good kept up our theme of taste experimentation. A little stroll further brings us to the Craven Run, a sequence of pubs I've dipped into a couple of times before. Three of them are in the 2012 Good Beer Guide so it was only right that we should visit them all, hence we had the Nursery Tavern (admiring the Formula One memorabilia over a half of Raspberry Fool), the Craven Arms (chatting to the barmaid about the horse racing at Aintree) and the Hearsall Inn (distinctly Irish with some Church End Goat's Milk). We then head into the City Centre to round things off with Whitefriars Olde Ale House, now firmly confirmed as a personal favourite - some Molly's Chocolate Stout was a real treat amongst the medieval curiosities.Well then, what a couple of days it has been - excellent local pubs, some intriguing beer discoveries and two superb beer festivals rightfully taking centre stage. There is such a lot of planning and dedication that goes into putting on a successful festival and the CAMRA volunteers at both Walsall and Coventry deserve an immense amount of credit for making the events so friendly and enjoyable - thank you to every single one of them. Add in the thought of green beer and it couldn't have been better - Cheers!