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beer festivals

Beasts of Bodmin and the Price of a Pint

The heritage railway ran beer festival visitors from Bodmin Parkway into town.
The heritage railway ran beer festival visitors from Bodmin Parkway into town.

Unlike at most beer festivals, we found room to breathe at Bodmin. There were no queues for anything and we had little trouble getting a seat. This, of course, probably means that it was fatally undersubscribed, but we won’t worry about that for now.

Working our way through the beastly strong Burton Ale candidates on the menu, pondering the “West Country Ale” as a separate useful descriptor for certain types of sweet, strong brown beer, we became aware that the chaps at the other end of the table wanted our attention.

“Do you know where the local Wetherspoon’s is?”

We didn’t, but we ended up chatting to them for a while, and very nice they were too — veterans of Exeter CAMRA with the bulging, twenty year old tickers’ notebooks to prove it. Once we’d compared notes (literal in their case) on the beers at the festival, the conversation turned to Exeter. As we’d struggled to find a good pint there, we decided to pump them for information.

We were interested to note, however, that their comments went something like this: “The Old Red Lion — now, that’s a nice pub, £2.90 a pint, about four handpumps.” For them, the average price of a pint was a key piece of information, and they had an estimate for every pub in Exeter.

When they asked us about Penzance, we had no specific idea of the price of a pint in any pub. Are we odd?

We enjoyed St Austell Big Job ‘double IPA’, Driftwood Spars Alfie’s Revenge, Spingo Special, as well as beers from Coastal and the Penzance Brewing Company.

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beer festivals

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.

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beer festivals

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.

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beer festivals london

And another little festival

The Betjeman Arms at King’s Cross St Pancras is having a little ale and cider festival right now. I’m drinking a very passable pint of Dark Star Hophead (our beer of the year last year) right now.

It’s a very variable but extremely convenient pub.

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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.