Top ten picks at the Wetherspoons Real Ale & Cider Festival

There's a lot that can be said against Wetherspoons pubs, but few could argue against their cask beer selection being the best of any large pub chain in the UK. Nearly every spoons I've been in has had at least 8 cask handpulls that are usually well chosen, often local, and generally in good condition. What they do, they do very well.

As well as this, the regular real ale festivals are a great way to get everday drinkers into the joys of cask ale; a gateway into the world of good beer. Tasting notes on the bar, international brewers, funny little third pint tasters, unusual beers at an attractive price - all of these things make the idea of trying cask ale exciting and I personally think Camra and Wetherspoons should be commended for the effort they put in.

I've had a look at the Wetherspoons real ale festival (23rd March to 11th April) website and picked out the ten beers I'll be seeking out in particular.

Rather than regurgitate the tasting notes I'll outline why I like the look of each beer, but if you want to read a full list of featured beers and their tasting notes then visit the festival website at

Let me know your picks in the comments box below and happy ticking!

Leeds Brewery - Doubting Tom 4.0%
I'm a big fan of Leeds Brewery's year round regular Pale Ale, so this limited edition Pale brewed with Cascade and Sorachi Ace hops looks like a perfect thirst quencher that will hopefully have decent hop bite and bags of fruity flavour.

Robinsons - Ginger Tom 4.3%
I'm more than a little intrigued by this new specialist beer from Old Tom brewers Robinsons. It'll be interesting to see if they can balance the spice and ginger mentioned in the tasting notes without it tasting too much like alcoholic ginger beer.

Feral Brewery - Feral the runt 4.7% (Australia)
The cask beers brewed by guest international brew masters (brewed at breweries in the UK) are a fantastic feature of the JDW festivals and are always worth a try. This citra hopped pale ale looks particularly good, will be interesting to see if they really go for an easy drinking style or more heavily hopped with the citra.

Ballast Point Brewery - Ballast Point Calico Amber 5.2% (USA)
This is an American brewery's take on a strong English Bitter which I'm assuming to mean an amber, malty beer with classic American hoppiness. US versions of UK beers are something I've found to work really well in the past with beers such as Honkers Ale by Goose Island Brewery, so this should be a good one.

Lodewijk Swinkels - Lodewijk's Dutch Delight 5.5% (Holland)
Yet another of the international brewer beers, and yet another take on a British style. This time its a 1930s Strong Ale recipe which the brewer has added his own style to, namely floral aromatic hops and a touch of caramel flavour. I really like the sound of this as a combination and the pure 'weirdness' of these international brews never fails to grab my interest.

Rooster's - Angry Yank IPA 5.0%
Another exclusive to the festival, this IPA is the brainchild of National Homebrew Competition 2010 winner Gareth Lester-Oliver, which in combination with the excellent beers Rooster are serving up throughout the rest of the year, makes this one an absolute must try, especially for an IPA lover like me.

Thwaites - Bloomin Smoky 5.0%
With summer slowly on its way I'm finding myself looking out for wheat beers on the bar, and this specially brewed smoked version looks particularly interesting. It's not a style of beer I've tried before and I'm keen to see how the unusual flavour profiles will work together. Could see this one being an all or nothing, love it or hate it kind of beer.

Freeminer Brewery - Deep Shaft 6.2%
This one has been around since 1992, which might explain the terrible name and pump clip art (possibly made with clipart by the looks of it). That said it's not a beer I've tried and at 6.2% this stout is an unusual sight on a Wetherspoons bar and probably worth a go.

Big City - Jamaica Stout 5.0% (Jamaica)
I missed Lion Stout when it ran in one of the Wetherspoons festivals previously so am keen to try this different Jamaican stout this time around. As a big fan of the Nigerian version of Guinness FES it will be interesting to see if this stout has that unusual twang 'hot climate stouts' seem to acquire, even when it's brewed in the drizzly UK.

Hawkshead Brewery - Cumbrian Five Hop 5.0%
It was a toss-up between this and the Acorn 1887 (God Created Tangerine) beer for my final spot, but I just couldn't resist the list of hops on this one (Amarillo, Bramling Cross, Citra, Fuggles, Goldings) and the fact they've mixed more traditonal hops with more en vogue ones such as Citra. The Acorn Brewery beer, as with most Acorn beers, is well worth a try as well though I reckon. It's just that ten is such a nice round number.

I'll be trying to sample as many of these as possible and will let you know of any that stand out for me, most likely via Twitter @EisntCNeil, or if they're really, really good I might write about them here.


  1. good post, a browse on the jdw website shows a few others that caught my eye, shame i dont live to close to one.

  2. I'm spoilt for choice in Leeds City centre,
    there's 4 within walking distance of my house! The only problem is that it makes it very tempting to walk round to a different one if there isn't the beer on I'm looking for, much to the dismay of my long suffering girlfriend!

    They should really figure out some way of letting drinkers know what beers are on where at anyone one time. Like an app or something.

    EDIT- A new one opened not so long ago, it's actually a 'Lloyds Bar One' (effectively a Spoons with music), but they have the festival on as well. So there's actually 5 in Leeds city centre! Thats got to be a record?

  3. Tasted Update -

    Feral The Runt - A huge dissapointment. Being served by gravity which didn't help but the beer itself is a bit insipid. Even an easy drinking pale ale should have flavour, this had very little going for it.

    Rooster's Angry Yank - A nice IPA. Not quite as hoppy as I was expecting but is nicely balanced and tasty. There is a nice hop flavour but no lingering bitterness. A good beer

  4. I've been in wetherspoons today, apparently they are changing beers most days so you'll have to be in there a lot to catch most of them.

    I had a Titanic Light Mild which was pretty good and a Cocky Blonde which was ok, but not great.

  5. Thanks for dropping by Terry. The Ballast Point is a fantastic Beer.

    I was in The Sheffield Taps sister pub yesterday The Euston Tap and was blown away by their beer selection, good to see they are opening a York Tap soon aswell.

  6. Tasted Update -

    Leeds doubting Tom - close your eyes and you'll know it's Leeds . Could be their malt but I suspect its the yeast that is so obviously Leeds Brewery. It's actually quite caramelly and malty for a pale ale with a little hop dryness in the finish. It's a quaffer that I've only had a half of so can't pass too much judgement but it's nice. A good beer that tastes very full, and well made, Leeds beers never taste watery or insipid and have got such a distinctive character.

  7. Hi Neil, that's a great post, I'm new to the cask ales but this is probably the best start for any 'discovery'

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