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Beer festivals are growing on us

At a loose end, we decided to pop to Manchester for the weekend, taking in the National Winter Ales Festival, of which Tandleman was one of the organisers.

After startling him with our unannounced arrival (he made a very effective bouncer) we made our way upstairs to the main hall. Our first impressions were of a relatively young crowd with the kind of male-female mix you’d expect in the real world. The atmosphere was like that of a large, busy, if rather brightly lit pub. Or, with people sat on the floor in groups, was it reminiscent of a music festival? We felt very comfortable and soon completely forgot we were in a wedding banquet hall on an industrial estate in a city we hardly knew.

We headed straight for the German rarities. Uerige Sticke Alt, which we’d been wanting to try for a long time, had the trademark Uerige bitterness, although after such anticipation, it was a little disappointing. Schlenkerla Urbock (or did the label say Eichbock?) (6.5%) was clear and syrupy and, frankly, balanced too much towards sweetness for our taste.

A brief detour to Bohemia next with Bernard Kvasnicove took the idea of unfiltered beer to the extreme:  there was a bit of wood in it. It was mellow and, again, sweetish. It wasn’t warm, but it could have got away with being two degrees colder.

Lowenbrau Buttenheim Bock didn’t taste as strong as 6.5%. It was very nicely balanced, clearly a well crafted beer, and far from bland, but we wanted a bit more zing.

We went closer to home for the next round. Broughton 80 Shilling was bland; Acorn Gorlovka Stout astounding. What a contrast. We were sceptical as to how a 5% beer could lay claim to the ‘imperial’ moniker but this beauty did it, through hop bitterness, chocolate intensity and a very heavy, chewy body. It was the stand out beer of the evening.

JW Lees Darkside was really interesting — so fruity and sour that if someone said it had plums or maybe even cherries in, we’d believe them.

Red shield, White Shield’s weaker, blonder, cask-conditioned cousin, could have borne a lote more hop aroma and came off as a bit boring in comparison to, say, Dark Star Hophead or Marble Pint.

11 replies on “Beer festivals are growing on us”

You missed out the beards and tankards and I must say I didn’t have to bounce anyone. The event of over 8000 people was entirely trouble free.

I’m looking forward to trying the Darkside in the pub – sparkled of course.

I’m glad you like the Acorn stuff. I think their beers are absolutely superb but they seem to attract none of the hype of other brewers of comparably high quality. They deserve some praise!

(And if they could sort out more supply to the Cambridge area, I for one would be delighted!)

The Schlenkerla that you found a bit sweet was probably the Eichbock, 8.0% with malt smoked over oak instead of the usual beech: I thought the same about it. The Urbock was the full in your face smoked sausage kind of beer, which was gorgeous. I probably bumped into you or served you at some point – I think bloggers should wear badges when at such events so readers can identify them 😀

We were pretty sure it said Eichbock on the sign but couldn’t find any mention of such a thing online, hence the confusion. Thanks for clearing that up.

Not sure about badges — we quite like being stealth bloggers.

yeah, I second your kudos to Acorn. Although near-on ubiquitous up here, it’s easy to forget how consistent they are. Consistency is a oft-forgotten talent in todays ‘gimme more, gimme extreme’ beer world.

I can’t say anything about the beers up there, but I had the best kebab of my life somewhere in the Manchester area. That was eleven years ago. I haven’t been back since. I still remember that kebab thoughbut.

The Acorn’s a good ‘un, not enough pubs in the local area have their beer son regular though.

After the furore we’ve hear over Marble Pint I can’t say I was disappointed, not a hint of unpleasant bitterness despite a nose that hinted at hop overload. Wonderfully balanced beer.

Did you or for the curry or the pies and peas route for food (or neither?!)

That’s what we thought, but it was definitely listed as 5% at the festival. No wonder it tasted good…

[…] Not for the first time, we’ve been very impressed by a regional festival in a way that we aren’t generally by the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF). Why? Perhaps because there’s less overwhelming choice; a different crowd — locals, students, passing hippies; and a cosier venue? We’ll keep pondering this. […]

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