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VIDEO: 10 Objects #9 — Token

This is the 9th in our series of really short films The Strange Rebirth of British Beer in 10 Objects.

It’s about a beer festival token and the development of the modern British beer festival.

With thanks to David Shipman, one of the directors of the Birmingham Beer Bash for donating the token.

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A Brief Bashing of the Bunny

Brodie's Brewery window sign.

We can’t claim to have really ‘done’ the Brodie’s Brewery ‘Bunny Basher’ festival, but here are a few observations based on popping in twice over the weekend.

The beer was never less than interesting, and the atmosphere was brilliant. Like the Blue Anchor in Helston, the pub is both a tourist attraction and a local boozer. People are there to drink and have a good time; some do it with Foster’s lager and football, while others sit alone with their third of kegged Belgian-style sour and write code on a laptop. No-one cares what anyone else is doing.

Brodie’s seem to be better at pale beers than dark. Apart from one dry-hopped with Motueka which smelled just a tiny bit too much like freshly-expressed urine, the yellow’n’hoppy ales were all at least good, and most were excellent. (But regular brew Citra at 3.1% is still our favourite.)

Cinnamon still doesn’t work in beer. Is there a market for a patented Beer Ruiner? If so, here’s the recipe: some cinnamon. (Coffee optional.)

We found the much-vaunted Elizabethan Ale (22% ABV) undrinkable. HP Sauce? We didn’t persevere past a couple of sips each, to be fair, and perhaps we need to get in training, c.12% being really the upper limit of our experience with strong beer.

We will certainly try to be in town if/when the Bunny Basher is on next year.

Matt ‘Total Ales’ Curtis’s take on the festival is also worth a read.

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Worth the Bus Ride

Tasting flight at the Driftwood Spars beer festival.

This week’s ‘mini beer festival’ at the Driftwood Spars was enough to tempt us into undertaking the two-stage, two-hour schlep from Penzance to St Agnes.

It’s a pub that we like at the best of times: the house beers are rarely less then solid and occasionally excellent, and there’s plenty of whatever it is that makes for real ‘pubbiness’. The festival was just the icing on the cake.

Some of the guest beers were on the main bar, including a couple of interesting keg products, with a further ten or so casks on stillage in the back room. There were no fiddly tokens or raffle tickets — just good old cash. Beer was £3.30 a pint, £1.65 a half, or £1.10 a third, the latter also being available in ‘flights’ of three for £3.30.

By the pint from the main bar, we enjoyed Bolster’s Blood, the house porter, as much this time as ever before — it’s a tasty, old-fashioned-tasting, sessionable black beer. The other Driftwood beers (Dek 10 and Red Mission) were nice enough and, if lacking the big hop aroma so in vogue these days, at least intensely bitter and chewily malty respectively.

Having been disappointed by the few of their bottles we’ve tried, we were glad of the chance to try a Mallinson’s beer on cask. Now we get it: the pale’n’hoppy Simcoe (3.8%) was a dead ringer for an old favourite, Dark Star Hophead, and, if we weren’t in ticking mode, was one we could happily have settled on for the rest of the afternoon.

We didn’t expect to like Harbour Brewing Farmhouse IPA (cask, 7%) — surely, we thought, that is code for ‘an IPA that got infected’ — but, no, it was really very moreish and satisfying. It had an unmistakeable saison (Dupont?) yeast character along with some lemon/lime/lychee hop fruitiness, with something like cheese rind in the far, far background adding a note of challenge.

We didn’t agree with the barman’s suggestion that Tiny Rebel Loki Black IPA (cask, 4.5%) was ‘sublime’, but we did enjoy it. Kind of. Tiny Rebel beers seem to have a very distinctive ‘house character’ which has, in the past, struck as us a bit ‘wrong’, but, in this case, succeeded in convincing us it was ‘quirky’ and interesting. We need to drink more of their beer and give them more thought.

It was another Harbour Brewing beer that won the day for us: Pale Ale (keg, 6%) was like something we’d expect to find in a Brewdog bar. What does that mean? It was bold to the point of brashness, stopping just short of rough — loud but balanced. It was opaque, but by no means yeasty, muddy or murky, with lots of juiciness but no grit. The hops were a weedy, minty and mustardy green salad. We need to drink it another time or two, but it has the potential to make this year’s local list.

Though this wasn’t the time to try them, we also noted that the standard range of bottles seems to have improved: Brooklyn Chocolate Stout, Boon Kriek, Westmalle Tripel, and several other ‘world beer’ classics were knocking about in fridges at the back of the bar.

As we worked our way woozily up the hill from Trevaunance Cove, past the ruined mine workings to the bus stop, we came to two conclusions. First, small festivals with achievable beer lists, held in pubs rather than echoing conference centres, are the best. And, secondly, the Driftwood Spars, even without a festival underway, is one of a handful of pubs we think it’s worth travelling for two hours to reach.

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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.

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See You on the Other Side

Lager in the tropics.

We’re going to be away for two weeks, gadding about Germany and France with our Bradshaw and a fistful of Baedekers.

We probably won’t be posting anything here, but we’ll try to keep up our Tweeting and maybe do a little Facebooking.

In the meantime, here are some nuggets to chew on.

  • We’re going to ‘go long‘ again on 30 November. What we write will probably have a Christmas theme. Once again, we’d be delighted if you joined us, like this lot did last week.

Indeed as the big brewers launch ‘badged’ beers to try to create the impression of ‘guests’ and attempt to steal the micros’ clothes with limited edition ales (Whitbread should learn to brew one beer properly before they try to brew a Classic Series reckons Don), competition is not just within the sector, but for the sector.

  • On our return, we’ll be speaking at the Eden Project’s food and drink festival, this time on the subject of historical beer styles and their influence on what’s available on the market right now. We’re writing the script on our hols, so that’s all we know for the moment, except that we’re hoping to use St Austell Proper Job and 1913 Stout in the tasting.
  • And, finally, if you’ve ever wondered what the HELL we look like, you might want to keep an eye on Enormous Face, where a ‘guest post’ is imminent.