CAMRA Kernow Festival, Falmouth

Detail from the logo of CAMRA Kernow

Having moved to Penzance proper from a village a few weeks ago, we suddenly find ourselves much better connected by public transport, and so getting up to Falmouth for the CAMRA Kernow beer festival on Saturday was a doddle.

Even as we approached the venue from the station, we could tell it was going to be good: the streets were crowded much like the approach to a football ground on match day. The venue itself was busy — almost chaotic — but the startled looking volunteers were nonetheless fast and efficient and had us inside, pints in hand, within five minute of hitting the door. Impressive.

Now, there was plenty of Cornish and other West Country beer on offer but, frankly, we can get that any day of the week so we made a beeline for what we’ve been missing the most since the move: proper northern beer.

We knew Steel City Brewing’s Escafeld would be hoppy and weren’t disappointed: it smelled of mown grass, and tasted something like a good, sharp gooseberry jam. Kelham Island’s Now That’s What I Call Bitter was exactly the kind of flinty, crisp, pale and hoppy beer we’d been dreaming of. It took us right back to Sheffield in an instant. And we couldn’t resist an old favourite — Thornbridge Kipling. Can you believe we’ve gone more than six months without a pint of anything from Thornbridge? Weird.

We didn’t just drink beers from up north, though, and also dug into the very decent selection from Oakham, reminding ourselves that this brewery (whose products we don’t see enough of) are up there with Dark Star, Crouch Vale and other favourites of ours. Black Hole Porter was the standout.

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.

Of course, the real  buzz was about the toilets: many of the women in attendance were gleeful at a turning of the tables which saw them walking straight in while the gents queued for a urinal. “I wouldn’t use the sink in the disabled toilet if I were you.” Eeew.

A plug and a rant

London’s Rake Bar has stolen all the good Cornish beer for the August bank holiday weekend. Amongst others, their Cornish beer festival features rare up-country outings for two of our favourite local breweries, the Penzance brewing company and the Driftwood Spars.

But… why can’t St Austell make some of their fancy beers more readily available in bloody Cornwall? By drinking endless pints of Tribute (or Proper Job if we’re really lucky) we subsidise the production of amazing-sounding beers like Smuggler’s Grand, Proper Black and Big Smoke, so that the urban beer bloggerati can get shitfaced on double IPAs. Not fair.

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.

Pirates, pale ale and pork sandwiches

Wedmore Real Ale Festival 2009

We’ve got a standing commitment to go to the annual Wedmore Real Ale Festival in Somerset as often as possible.

We’ve described the unusually young, party-like, community atmosphere before
, so we’ll just update a couple of topical details: the fancy dress theme this year was pirates, and the live band, Loose Change, were led by the absurdly charismatic local hero Pete Hicks.

These were the highlights on the beer front:

Not-extreme beer at GBBF

gbbf2009

We’ve always had mixed feelings about the Great British Beer Festival but our experiences are getting better and better each year.

This year I went along to the trade day, which was definitely the best way to experience it.  It’s a bit quieter, and the beer seemed in much better condition.  It also helped that I was drinking in such fantastic company — Ally, Bionic Laura, Beer Nut, Thom and other representatives of Irish Craft Brewer were great drinking companions.

I decided to stick to beers at 4% or less for the first couple of hours — partly to save the liver and partly to narrow down the choice a bit.  I got to try some excellent session beers from all over Britain and particularly enjoyed:

  • “Good as Gold”, by the Spire Brewery (4%)
  • Butt’s “Jester”,  3.5%, fruity and dry, like a nice Franconian wine
  • Hooky Dark, 3.2%, sweet, chocolatey with a touch of coffee
  • Moor Revival, 3.8%, crisp and floral
  • Welton’s Pride and Joy – for a mere 2.8% this is a remarkably tasty beer and doesn’t taste “low alcohol” at all.

I had a few others that didn’t float my boat, but all in all, it goes to show that you can pack a lot of flavour (and different flavours at that) into relatively low-strength beers.

I had a couple of pies, then hit the stronger stuff.  Midas Touch “Ancient Beer”, by Dogfish Head, is brewed with honey and saffron.  Sharing a bottle was definitely the way to go. This stuff was rich.  I mostly got honey and not a lot else, but it was a very interesting beer, and would make a nice appetiser.

A sip of Ally’s Tsarina (by De Molen) was a revelation. It’s possibly the most intense Imperial Stout I’ve ever tasted. Too intense for GBBF, in my view. This is the kind of beer I want to savour over several hours in a cosy Belgian bar, not knock back in a bustling aircraft hanger.  It deserves respect.

So, I went for Portsmouth’s Milk Coffee stout, which tasted like cold Irish coffee (that’s a good thing). I liked it a lot, but not as much as Rogue chocolate stout, which my phone tells me I’ve drunk before, but which I don’t recall being as tasty as it seemed this time.  It’s like a grown up version of Young’s Chocolate stout.  I enjoyed it so much that I decided to finish the evening there.

It was also nice to meet Mark, and to see Tandleman, Pete Brown and Brad/Dubbel again.

Boak

Duran Duran and Carlsberg

lovebox

We spent yesterday at London’s Lovebox festival watching Florence and the Machine, Gang of Four and Duran Duran, amongst others.

This seemed to be one of those festivals fuelled by alcohol rather than drugs, so there were lots of young men swaggering about  shirtless, slurring and falling over.

Sadly, the booze options were limited to Tuborg in tins, Gaymers cider in paper cups, or a generic product simply called “BEER” served from back-mounted kegs by roving salespeople. We eventually worked out that it was Carlsberg.

Surely there must be some way to combine this kind of thing with the Great British Beer Festival? One’s got soul but no beer; the other has beer but no soul.

The ups and downs of big beer

bigbeer

If it’s 4th July,  it must be the American Beer Festival at the White Horse.

Knowing this pub gets seriously busy even without a special festival on, I decided to take Friday afternoon off to pickle my liver in the sunshine. Bailey was off sick, but Ally and Pete made excellent drinking buddies.

It was difficult to know where to start. Or where to end, for that matter.  With very few offerings under seven per cent, there was just no way I was going to be able to try everything I wanted.

I started with an Arrogant Bastard v Oaked Aged Arrogant Bastard showdown. There was definitely a difference between the two, but you couldn’t really taste oakiness.  Still, it’s the first time I’ve had Arrogant Bastard, and it didn’t disappoint: big body; citrusy crisp hops; and a very pleasant feeling in the throat and belly.

I can’t decide whether the highlight for me was the Dogfish Head 75 minute IPA or the Meantime Porter.  The DH (cask version, no less) was a fruity delight, with mango and pineapple flavours in abundance.  The Meantime Porter (aged in a whisky cask) was like liquid tiramisu.  Both were dangerously drinkable.

My recollection fades a little after this point.  My phone reveals that I thought that the Stone Pale Ale with coriander tasted like carrot cake.

Unfortunately, even though I felt that I was drinking quite moderately, I still ended up feeling very ill at the end of the day.

There’s definitely a place in my life for “extreme beers”, even if my internal organs disagree.  I tasted some truly memorable beers yesterday.  Would I have done it if I’d have known I’d end up throwing up all evening?  Almost certainly.  But it’ll be another year before I tackle that amount of big beer in one go.

The festival continues today and tomorrow.

Beer festival in South London

hosts

Hoopers, a pub in South London, have dropped us a line to tell us about their contribution to Cask Ale Week. They’re running a beer festival from today (3 April) through to Monday 13 April. The beer list is here.

We’ve never been to Hoopers, but the standing 50-strong bottled beer list is quite interesting, with everything from Polish porter to sour Belgian efforts.

Any other landlords who want to tell us about interesting beer they’ve got on should feel free to drop us a line.