Wedmore Real Ale Festival 2007

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I spent Saturday evening at a real ale festival in Wedmore, Somerset, former home of Gary Glitter. It’s apparently Somerset’s biggest beer festival and was unlike any other I’ve been to, in a good way.

Wedmore is in the middle of nowhere with a population of fewer than 4000 people, so a three day beer festival is a big deal, and pretty much everyone who lives nearby turned up. I didn’t see one bearded bloke with a notebook, just lots of locals out to have fun and get drunk.

That meant that the atmosphere was genuinely lively. The little village hall was incredibly crowded, which was annoying until we’d had two pints, when it suddenly felt like the cosiest, friendliest place on Earth.

There was loud music; dancing; and there were even some people on the pull. Successfully on the pull. At a beer festival. You don’t see much of that at the Great British Beer Festival, do you? Or is there a special area for it…?

What about the beer? Well, that was great too. There were some 50 beers on offer and, it being Somerset, loads of decent cider.

I had St Austell Black Prince (a mild); something called Trade Winds that, disappointingly, wasn’t the Cairngorm beer of the same name I tried at the Pembury Tavern beer festival; Wentworth oatmeal stout (fantastically fulsome and smoky, if not complex); and a “Black as yer ‘at”. Is that a racial epithet? Hope not.

My Dad had a pint of Thwaites Lancaster Bomber that was mostly sediment but, as the proceeds of the event were going to charity, he gallantly poured it away rather than cause a big fuss at the very busy bar.

He also had something called Dr Hexter’s Healer which was a massively malty strong ale with no medicinal properties whatsoever….

I will be back there next year, for sure.

Nice place (singular) to drink near Paddington Station

On my way down to the West Country last night, I ended up stuck at Paddington Station for a few hours. London stations are generally horrid, and pubs in London stations are both horrid and depressing. The Mad Bishop and Bear at Paddington made a refreshing change in that it was actually pretty good.

Not just “good for a station”, but better than a lot of other ordinary pubs in London. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to spend a long Sunday lunchtime — the noise and smoke from the station are annoying, and the music is too loud — but it’s fairly big and comfortable, unlike the usual cupboard with three chairs (viz. the Mash Tun at Victoria, if that’s its name).

Perhaps part of the reason why it’s a cut above is that it’s a Fuller’s pub, with the full range of their beers, all in tip-top condition. Like Maieb says, the stuff in bottles looked a bit cold, but the stuff from the cask was great. I had a very pleasant pint of Seafarer (“fake” Gales, 3.8% — malty, dark, and very different to Chiswick, Fuller’s other session bitter) but was excited to see St Austell Tribute on the pumps too, and Brooklyn Lager in the fridge.

Perhaps most importantly, though, there is an enormous departures and arrivals board hanging over the door, so rather than join the scrum on the concourse, I could just sup my pint and wait until the last possible moment to board the train. Lovely.

I say “fake” Gales because the brewery doesn’t exist anymore, and Gales never brewed this particular beer when it did exist. Odd.

Why aren’t British towns more proud of their breweries?

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I’ve been travelling a lot for work in recent weeks, and I’ve noticed one obvious difference between the UK and Germany: British towns don’t advertise their local brewery at the railway station.

The long slow slide into a railway station in Britain does not offer romantic views. You see broken, graffiti’d trains; old sheds with the windows smashed; stacks of sleepers; brambles with knickers and plastic bags tangled up in them; if you’re lucky, you might spot a couple of workmen in orange jackets scratching their behinds and staring at something on the ground; or a big but withered floral display welcoming you half-heartedly to whichever town you’re visiting.

Compare that with the experience of whipping into a German station, where you see: the painted wall of a huge brewery near the station; a billboard for another of the town’s breweries; an even bigger billboard for the town’s biggest brewery; and a lot of smaller signs for the local beers being served in the station cafes. In short, you know before you get off the train what the local brew is. Cologne station has a collosal ad for Dom Kolsch inside the station, hanging over the platforms.

In Britain, you have to spend a few hours in advance Googling, or poring over the Good Beer Guide, or you might never come across a local brew the whole time you’re in town. That can’t be right. Local councils: subsidise an ad for your local brewery on the bleak ride into town. It can only do you good.

Pic is an uninspiring, recycled photo of Cologne cathedral. I’ll try to find a more apposite image tomorrow..

Pic is now slightly more relevant — they’re very proud of the local beers in Rothenburg. This charming picture of a group of oddballs with wispy moustaches and traditional costume enjoying Landwehr Brau is on the main road into town from the station.

El Legado de Yuste – Spanish abbey beer

yuste.jpgBoak is on tour in France and Spain.

A few years back Heineken España brought out El Legado de Yuste, “the first spanish abbey beer”, apparently brewed in the tradition of the master brewers of Flanders. I picked some up yesterday to give it a go.

It has a nice aroma – possibly slightly Belgian, definitely very malty. Initially a very good malt flavour but this quickly fades. It has an extremely weak body and quite a watery aftertaste. Some bitterness but no hop aroma or flavour. It´s too carbonated for a Belgian abbey ale. My initial reaction was that it was a watered-down Salvator (as in the Paulaner dopplebock – not that inconceivable – they are all part of the Heineken conglomerate). Because of its wateriness, it might be quite refreshing on a hot Spanish day – except for the fact that at 6.5%, you´re not going to drink many in the sun before the “heatstroke” sets in.

Ron Pattinson has listed it in his European beer guide and says that he´s not sure if it´s top or bottom fermented. I´m none the wiser from the bottle, it just says it´s made with “exclusive” yeasts (and vienna malt and specially selected hops) . It strikes me more as an amber lager effort than a belgian ale, whatever they use.

There is a website in Spanish devoted to this product, if you´re really interested. Lots of “history” of the product, suggestions on how to serve it (with game, apparently) and even a comprehensive guide to different types of beer. So I­t´s obviously targeted at the would-be connoisseur. But it doesn´t do anything for this amateur. I´ll stick with Salvator – maybe over ice?

Boak

UK to stay with imperial and metric muddle

On the BBC, it´s been announced that there will no longer be pressure from the EU for the UK to standardise its measurements.

The imperial v metric debate was always very impassioned, and I could never work out why. I couldn´t understand why the EU thought it was worth the energy to force us Brits out of our crazy system, nor could I understand why market traders and the like got so inflamed about changing over. I´ve lived on the continent and have no problem whatsoever with buying half a kilo of apples instead of a pound. Nor a half litre of beer instead of a pint (though interestingly, this was one of the sacred measurements that we were always going to be able to keep!)

On the one hand, I´m pleased this has come to an end of sorts. The debate always seemed to throw up the most petty and ignorant comments — like the idea that the metric system is something Johnny Foreigner cooked up to diddle us, when actually it was invented by British scientists. Or the idea that it enables us to better trade with America, when many of the US imperial measurements are different from ours.

On the other hand this leaves us with the same muddle we´ve had for the past thirty years. I know my weight in stones and my height in feet and inches, measure short distances in centimetres and metres and long distances in miles. I struggle to remember how many ounces there are in a pound, or how many pounds there are in a stone, and I have absolutely no idea what an acre of land represents. Some metric measurements seen to have taken well — I reckon most people measure temperature in Celsius here – but others just refuse to stick.

Where´s the beer relevance? Try homebrewing when your references are American and your equipment is a mixture of British and European. Working out how many litres an American quart is to add to your pounds of grain and grams of spices. Or working your way through the mash temperature debate but having to translate everything into Celsius so you understand it. Thank God for spreadsheets and internet ready-reckoners.

Boak (in Spain, not struggling to cope with metric measurement)