beer festivals Beer history

Happy Talk at the Eden Project

The tent where we gave our talks at the Eden Project.

For a second year running, we were invited to speak at the Eden Project’s harvest food festival.

Quite apart from the fact that it makes us feel all professional and ‘beer writery’, it is an interesting opportunity to get to talk to people who are interested in beer, without necessarily being obsessed.

We tasted St Austell 1913 Stout while discussing the history of porter; and Orval and St Austell Proper Job while talking about India Pale Ale. We chose the two St Austell beers because we know them well and like them, and to avoid any trouble getting sufficient supply; with Orval to add a bit of variety, and to illustrate roughly what an early nineteenth-century IPA might have been like after maturation.

The audiences, were, generally, indifferent to the stout, either because they were Guinness drinkers and found it too different; or because they were Guinness haters who found it too similar. Either way, Guinness’s dominance of what ‘stout’ means to people was underlined.

We expected Orval, which took us a long time to ‘get’, to provoke some disgust and amusement. To our surprise, it was generally very popular, with people noting  a gingery flavour we hadn’t previously picked up. (‘Spicy’ yeast?) A Belgian couple in the audience helped us out by explaining that, back home, Orval is regarded as a Tripel, despite it’s scant resemblance to, say, Westmalle’s.

Proper Job divided the audience. Younger members and a couple of veteran CAMRA members loved it, and especially appreciated its big, flowery aroma. Many others found it too boozy (at 5.5%), and rather over-the-top in its aroma: air-freshener was mentioned.

A useful reality check all round.

1. Why don’t people drink more mild?

With suitable disclaimers (we hadn’t researched this in advance) we answered that we thought it was down to (a) the age and background of beer enthusiasts at the height of the ‘real ale revolution’ in the nineteen-seventies and eighties; (b) a vicious circle of quality and demand, i.e. it was used as a repository for ‘slops’, or was simply bland bitter with caramel colouring; and (c) a vicious circle of availability and demand — no one drinks it, so no one sells it, so no one drinks it.

(How did we do?)

2. If I held a gun to your head, what would you say would be your favourite beer in the world?

First, we asked the gentleman in question to calm down and put his gun away: ‘There’s no need for anybody to get hurt — we can just talk and work this thing out.’

Beer writers must be used to getting asked this but we weren’t ready for it. Fortunately, we were able to refer to our ‘beer of the year’ for last year, but also reflected that, after two weeks in Germany, we came back desperate for a pint of Potion 9 at the Star Inn, so maybe that.

As last year, this was a paying gig, and Eden provided the beers as per our shopping list. Books, hops and malt model’s own.

16 replies on “Happy Talk at the Eden Project”

That’s an interesting observation about Proper Job and I think the main reason that Hawkshead’s Windermere Pale didn’t make it through to the Grand Final of the recent Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt. I think that that kind of mangotastic flavourful beer, was maybe a touch too much for some of the more conservative beer buying public. Having said that, if it had been in any other region, it would have progressed.

When I made a mild for May it sold more slowly than new beers usually did. Many pubs wouldn’t touch mild at all, saying it just didn’t sell, but in pubs that did take mild it sold well.

The conclusion I reached was people who like mild really like it, but there aren’t many of them.

I love a drop of mild, but not in May. In May I want to be on the wheat beers, the pale and hoppy beers and the like. Now, if it was March on the other hand…

A couple that have really surprised and impressed me this year have been milds. Consequently, I now buy a mild whenever I see one on sale, which isn’t often

I like mild as a style, but I’m sometimes wary of taking a punt on an unknown mild – a bland bitter is just bland, but a bland dark mild (last paragraph) is actively unpleasant.

Some people – particularly in the Northwest – just really like it pale. (Even mild – I’ve seen Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best in a lot more places than their dark mild.) I ordered a guest dark mild at the Marble Beerhouse once; the barman asked me when I wanted to come back and drink the other 71 pints.

I have fond memories of Banks’s Mild from my student days and would like to drink more mild, but you don’t see it as much as bitter, golden ales etc. Last pint I had was in poor condition, alas.

You’re probably asking the wrong crowd (ie us) about Mild! For me, it’s probably a mix of all of the above – the drab name (like ‘ordinary’ or ‘plain’ bitter – hardly sets the pulse racing), lack of interest leading to a lack of brewers actually bothering to make decent, wel-thought out, tasty milds. No doubt someone will make one shortly that might burst a bubble and get people thinking about it again (see also sours)…but yeah, people don’t really get it. I can’t even recall the last time I *saw* a mild on the bar.
As for the favourite beer question – get ready to be asked it a lot more when you do interviews and stuff for the book. I don’t mind it; it shows people are listening and if it leads them to go out and buy it- whatever it may be – then that’s good.

No, I haven’t. Oddly, I had this conversation not so long ago. For a long, long time now, it’s remained quite high on my ‘must-try’ beers. That’s the kinda guy I am….

Nor us, and for two years running now, we’ve been cornered after our Eden talks by midlanders telling us we *must*. Maybe we should organise a beer bloggers’ expedition?

Most of the pubs I go in in Cambridge, Lincoln or Nottingham have a regular mild pump and it always seems extremely popular. Maybe not liking mild is a northern thing?

Holt’s, Lees’, Hyde’s, Robinson’s and Timothy Taylor’s have eight regular milds between them, so I don’t think that can be it. On the other hand, only two or three* of those are actually sold under the name of ‘mild’, so maybe it’s that that people don’t go for.

*Holt’s Mild, TT’s Dark Mild and possibly Hyde’s Light Mild, although I’ve only seen it once.

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