It's apt that my return from the relative wilderness is to bring you an update from this year's Robin Hood Beer & Cider Festival. This year's event saw a change from the usual scenery. With Nottingham Castle closed for much needed refurbishment until 2020, this year marked the first of at least 3 years in which the festival took place at a new location, namely the Nottingham Motorpoint Arena, location of many a live gig as well as the home of Nottingham's own ice hockey team, the Panthers.
The arena is part of the National Ice Centre which was constructed on the site of the former Nottingham Ice Stadium. The ice stadium opened in 1939 and was showing its age, so, in September 1995, plans were announced to replace the Ice Stadium. Plans for the new ice rink, supported by the British Olympic Association, were unveiled in October 1996. In mid-1997 Nottingham City Council voted to adapt the plans of the new centre to incorporate a sport arena.
Several buildings were demolished to make way for the new ice centre; This included an Art Deco warehouse and "The Old Cricket Players" pub, which was initially planned to be spared. The former Ice Stadium closed in March 2000, and by May 2000 was described as "nearly demolished", with four skip loads of demolition rubble being removed from the site every day.
During excavation for the new building in July 1998 a rare 1,100-year-old Saxon jug was found, which is on display at the Nottingham Castle Museum. A 19th-century graveyard was also found under the car park, from which the bodies were then exhumed.
On 1 April 2000, the National Ice Centre was officially opened by Olympic gold medalist Jayne Torvill. The second phase of the project — the family rink — was scheduled to be completed by May–June 2001, but opened early on 7 April 2001. The National Ice Centre was the first twin Olympic-sized ice rink in the UK. The final cost of the project was £43million. The arena was inaugurated by English band, Simply Red on 29 April 2000.
By 2002, the arena was not as popular as planned. The venue posted an operating loss of £1 million in its first year. Concert promoters would often have acts skip Nottingham in favour of Sheffield and Birmingham. In July, the arena booked Rod Stewart and the concert helped place Nottingham on the map. The arena was able to book many big name artists such as: Elton John, Diana Ross, Kylie Minogue, Barry Manilow, Westlife, Usher, Green Day, Iron Maiden, Kasabian, Metallica, Muse and The Killers.
HM The Queen visited the National Ice Centre and Arena on 31 July 2002.
In 2007, former radio station, Trent FM purchased naming rights for four years, becoming the Trent FM Arena Nottingham. When Trent FM was bought by Global Radio, the naming rights were assigned to Capital FM, and the Arena now became known as Capital FM Arena Nottingham.
In 2011, the arena installed a draping system, reducing the capacity to 4,000 for intimate shows. The arena's overall capacity was also expanded from 9,000 to 10,000.
Despite the average event ticket price rising almost £5 from the year before (to £37.22), in the 2012–13 season the arena made a £200,000 "operating deficit", with a 9% drop in attendance at the Arena, and a 6% fall in the number events held.
The arena is multi-use. Metallica holds the record for the largest concert at the arena, with an audience of 10,337. The Killers' 2009 concert was the fastest selling show, selling 9,661 tickets in one hour. Westlife has performed the most at the arena, with 20 shows between 2001–2012. As of 2014 the arena has hosted artists and events including Whitney Houston, Katy Perry, Elton John, Lady Gaga, The X Factor Tour and We Will Rock You, as well as conferences, galas and balls, including Nottingham Trent University’s Graduation Ball. Kylie Minogue performed here as part of her Kiss Me Once Tour in October 2014 and again in September 2018 with her Golden Tour. The Who performed there in December 2014 and Iron Maiden have performed here three times (in 2003, 2011 and 2017). On 8 May 2007, Diana Ross brought her I Love You Tour to the arena. In 2014, it was announced that Kasabian would be playing at the arena in November 2014, with an extra date added at the arena due to the first date nearly selling out in under an hour.
On 29 September 2012, it played host to UFC on Fuel TV: Struve vs. Miocic, the first ever UFC event to be held there. On 17 November 2012 the arena hosted the fight between Nottingham boxer Carl Froch and Yusaf Mack, with Froch retaining his world title as IBF super-middleweight. On Saturday 10 December 2011, it played host to BAMMA 8.
Since 2007, it has played host to the Premier League Darts.
My companions for this year festival shenanigans were my now wife Amy and Matt, who had made the journey up from the West Country, having missed the festival last year. We were also scheduled to meet George at some point during the day (more on him later). We arrived at the arena slightly before the scheduled opening time of 11am but were allowed in straight away which mean we were able to quickly begin to explore the new layout. Whereas the Castle site consisted of a large tent, a small tent and a number of brewery bars spread around the bandstand, the Arena layout was markedly different. The main arena floor housed the majority of the ale bars and several brewery bars and a single 'Cider Barn' containing all of the ciders and perries on offer. The area behind where the arena stage would be had been converted into a backstage village consisting of a small stage, several food vans and some brewery bars whilst Bolero Square, in front of the main entrance, also housed brewery bars food stalls and an acoustic stage. The first hour or so of our visit would consist of adjusting to the new venue, which we'd all visited before for various gigs but never under the pretence of drinking copious amounts of ale.
We decided that we'd start by exploring the backstage village and, armed with our souvenir glasses and beer tokens, we headed out. It was time for the first beer of the day and we procured this from one of the brewery bars, namely that of Ilkeston based Thorley & Son. My first beer of the festival was their Pale Ale (4.2%), a delicious pale beer packed with Chinook hops for a fruity flavour and soft hints of pineapple. It was a very good place to start and we took a seat at a nearby picnic bench to discuss our surroundings and acclimatise. We also took time discussing next year's potential music festival headliners which led to us finding out that Scorpions are headlining Bloodstock, something which Matt was very excited about!
More beer was soon required and I felt that it was only fair to show my face at the Magpie Brewery bar, seeing as I've worked in one of their pubs for almost a year. This was almost opposite where we sitting so it didn't take long at all for us to have our glasses refilled. Amy and I opted for a seasonal ale, namely Eight for a Wish (4.2%), a pumpkin spiced amber ale in keeping with the time of the year, although the weather was unseasonably balmy. I was familiar with this particular beer from work I knew what to expect from its faintly warming pumpkin flavours. Amy also enjoyed her first taste of this beer and with that we decided to head back inside to further explore the main area. Matt and Amy decided to peruse the cider barn whilst I finished my beer. After much perusal and recommendations from the very helpful staff they had both selected a cider that they were happy with. I had something else in mind for my next beverage. Heading back onto the arena floor, I headed to the bar operated by York based Brew York, hosting their own bar at the festival for the first time. I was instantly drawn to X-Panda (4.5%), a delicious session IPA which went down far too easily and basically only lasted for as long as it took us to walk to Bolero Square to explore that side of the site. Having bumped into an old work colleague of mine, Trish, who was working on one of the food stalls, and 2 regulars from one of my old workplaces, we headed over to a festival stalwart (and festival sponsor), Castle Rock, to see what they had on offer this year. I was struggling to decide between Flying Trapeze and Pinball Wizard until I was told that Pinball Wizard was being discontinued and this was my last chance to try it. Problem solved! Pinball Wizard (4.4%), is a dry-hopped pale ale with subtle flavours of fruit and some piney characters. It was an excellent decision and made me a little bit sad that this will be my last chance to drink this delicious brew.
Suitably lubricated, we once again made our way back inside where Matt and I quickly identified a beer name in the program that jumped out at us. Rivington in Anderton, Lancashire have brewed Average Guy, Exceptional Hair (5%), a pale ale with stone fruit flavours, hopped with Citra, Amarillo and Azacca for lots of New World hop flavours. By this stage, we'd finally heard from George who, in traditional George fashion, had left things late to find out if he physically needed his ticket printed to enter the festival or if having it displayed on his phone was enough. We left him to figure things out and promised to meet him once (if) he got inside. For now, we resolved to explore some of the brewery bars (and replenish our stock of tokens) on the main arena floor. The first of these was the ever-reliable Blue Monkey where I was quick to select Blubarb and Custard (4.8%). This is a pale wheat beer that utilises local fresh rhubarb and added vanilla for a taste that certainly lives up to its name! Whilst we were deciding what our next move would, we again heard from George, who was about to join the queue to enter the arena. There was plenty of time for another beer or 2 before he arrived. To that end, we headed over to the Thornbridge bar. Another of my favourite breweries, they had plenty of excellent beers on offer. I was in the mood for something darker so I went for the Strawberry Lucaria (4.5%), a very very tasty strawberry ice cream porter. It's dark and sweet with all the flavours of strawberry ice cream. It's wonderful and odd all at the same time. Speaking of which, George quickly joined us. His arrival coincided with the need for another beer so I made the decision to work along the bars adjacent to the Thornbridge bar, largely to cut down on walking time. Next up was a local favourite brewery in the form of Black Iris, out of Basford. Amongst their wide variety of weird and wonderful options, Drain the Blood jumped out. At 5.2%, this is a blood orange tea infused wheat beer with banana and clove aromas, citrus flavours and a dry finish. It's another absolute belter of a beer!
With George now here, we further absorbed ourselves in conversation. George was flitting back and forth between us and a larger group of friends and he headed off to them now but we would catch up with him later. Another local brewery took my fancy now in the shape of Totally Brewed. Their Biscuit Break (5.5%) took my fancy. This is an amber ale brewed with a variety of biscuit malts and the slightest hint of coffee. The best description is that it's very much like drinking biscuits but in a thoroughly good way! We wandered outside to the backstage village now to see what was happening on the stage, where a male guitarist and female drummer were rattling through a few cover versions including decent versions of both 'Ace of Spades' and 'The Passenger'. More beer soon beckoned so we decided to make our way back to Bolero Square. I collected another beverage on the way, specifically Sleepless (5.4%) from Macclesfield's Redwillow Brewery. This is a hoppy American style amber ale made with red rye. It certainly made the walk to the other side of the arena more pleasurable. Bolero Square was considerably busier than our first visit as the acoustic stage was in full swing, filling the air with the sounds of many different covers including standard singalongs like '500 Miles' and 'Wonderwall'. We located a good spot to stand and chat whilst we enjoyed the atmosphere that only good beer and good music can provide. It seemed as good a time as any to further investigate the brewery bars at this level. Next up, the Shipstone's bar. Their IPA (5.5%) is a full-bodied beer with a floral aroma and a smooth, hop finish. It's certainly a cracking example of the style and it's good to see that one of Nottingham's old brewing names is back and going strong.
Nearby, my old employers and recent award winners, Navigation Brewery had their bar so it only seemed fair that I pop over, say hello and have a beer as well. Having had a chat with Dom, the Navigation head brewer earlier in the day, I knew what beer I would be having so I dived straight in to their Bakewell Tart Ale (4.8%). This did exactly what it said on the pump clip with cherry and almond flavours and an overall sweetness. It really was like drinking a pudding! Amy took the opportunity to grab some food and we hung around by the acoustic stage until the set ended or before we'd run out of beer, whichever happened first. My next brew was one from the nearby Bateman's tent. The wonderfully named Skull & Hammers (4%) is a uniquely blended amber ale, packed with flavour and hints of citrus. This was perfect sustenance for the walk back to the main floor of the arena where we were reunited with George and an assorted group of mutual friends. This happened conveniently close to one of the stillage bars which easy access to beer as well as conversation. I was intrigued by a brewery from Guernsey called White Rock so I decided that I needed to see what they had to offer. I was not disappointed. Lost Tourist (5.3%), is a very hoppy IPA that went down very well indeed and before I knew it, my glass was empty. I hate it when that happens!
Amy had had enough by this stage and was feeling tired and so decided to make her way home. Matt and I continued our stay for a while longer as there were still many beers that we wanted to try. The next of these that I'd focused on sounded very intriguing. From Colyton in Devon, Darkplace have produced On the Beach (5.5%), a beetroot saison. A stark but delicious combination of beetroot and orange, this is a very fruity and dry beer that tastes a lot weaker than it is. Matt and I were feeling a tad intoxicated by this stage but vowed to soldier on until our supply of vouchers was exhausted. My next beer came from Jaw Brewing, out of Glasgow. I was drawn to the Capsize (5.7%), a peach golden ale with floral and toffee flavours and a very sweet, fruity finish. I can definitely recommend checking out their stuff if you get the chance! Another big hitting IPA was my next choice, namely The Snake from Manchester's Soul Brewing. Coming in at 5.6%, this is brewed with Chinook, Ahtanum and Centennial hops. This was another that went down very swiftly! By this stage, we'd taken up a position roughly between the backstage village and the main arena floor in front of the aforementioned stage where another cover band were making their way through a rock and roll themed set. I decided that now was a good time to get some food so I headed for a nearby burger van that did just the job.
Another Scottish brewery drew my attention next and I wandered over to the bar where I located the offerings of St. Andrews from Edinburgh. Yippie IPA (6%) is infused with tropical fruits and delivers a crisp, refreshing bitter finish. Scotland knows what it's doing where beer is concerned! Having temporarily lost Matt, he soon re-emerged in need of further alcohol. Luckily I was in the same boat so we decided to give the Nene Valley Brewery bar a look. Persuaded by a rather tipsy gentleman, we both opted for Big Bang Theory (5.3%). I'm fairly certain that I also had this beer last year and I remember why. It's excellent! It's a pale ale with huge hop aromas, malty sweetness and a bitter finish. Big bang indeed! We still had a few vouchers left so the decision was now what to use them on. First to earn some of the remaining vouchers was Well Drawn Brewery from Caerphilly. Their 2nd Breakfast IPA (5.1%) is a pale, session ale brewed with Target and Fuggles but also flavoured with elderflower which adds a very interesting flavour and sweetness to the whole thing. By now, the rock cover band had given way to a punk band who mixed cover versions with their own material and whose singer kept randomly wearing a Donald Trump mask. Because reasons.
Beer-wise, I went local again for my next beer, immersing myself in Phoenix (4.5%) from Lenton Lane brewery. This is a strong ruby mild with lots of full, malty flavours. This marked a departure for me as I'm not normally a fan of mild but this one was worth the effort. I'd been hearing a lot of chatter about fabled green beer this year and I finally found it in my next beer. Located in the backstage village was the excellent Funfair Brewery bar and their Frowner (5.1%). This is a traditional ginger beer, green in colour with a twist of lime and, despite how it sounds, was very good indeed! I was glad that I'd been able to find this particular beer so late in the day but it was very much worth the wait. I had enough vouchers and lingering sobriety left for 2 more beers and I sensed that Matt was flagging as well. Josh had also joined us after work along with a couple of my formal work colleagues to add to see the ensemble. My penultimate beer choice was another big hoppy number, this time originating from Brew Monster in Cwmbran. Mephisto IPA is a traditional style IPA that comes in at 5.6% and carries hints of spice and a floral aroma. Once again, I can only recommend Welsh breweries for the quality and range of beers available. One beer to go before it was acceptable to leave and I made my decision for the hilarious pun alone. Another Welsh brewery, this time Vale of Glamorgan, and their Miami Weiss (4.5%), a deliberately cloudy, pale, American-style wheat beer. It was a perfect example of one of my favourite styles and perfectly wrapped up the day's beer consumption.
With that, it was time to make our departure. It had been a whirlwind of a day, in great company and drinking great beers. The obvious question is, has the festival stood up to scrutiny in the wake of its move to a new venue? 100% yes! The layout is simple and it's as easy, if not easier, to find your way around. The use of the 2 outside areas has added something different and allowed for more live music to help enhance the atmosphere. The brewery bars are as good and as varied as ever and the range and quality of beers is second to none! I've always been a huge fan of the Robin Hood Beer and Cider Festival since my first visit in 2012 and there is no sign of that changing anytime soon. Without a shadow of a doubt, despite the misgivings of many, this year's festival was a roaring success. Bring on next year!