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.


Hunting for Burtons

For the second time this week, we find ourselves thinking about Burton Ale, a type of beer that doesn’t exist, at least according to some taxonomies.

We didn’t like McEwan’s Champion when we tried it at the weekend. Martyn Cornell suggested that this might be because Burton is an acquired taste; if it wasn’t, it might not have disappeared from the British drinkers consciousness so rapidly and completely after World War II.

We want to test that theory by finding and drinking some. As step one in that mission, we need a list of currently available beers that might qualify. (Few are described as such on the label or pumpclip.) Here’s a first, very short attempt, awaiting your additions and corrections.

  • Young’s Winter Warmer (5%)
  • Bristol Beer Factory Exhibition (5.2%, based on a recipe from the defunct Smiles brewery)
  • Fuller’s Past Masters XX (7.5%) and 1845. (We already know these well.)
  • Old Dairy Brewery Snow Top (6%)
  • Blue Anchor Spingo Special (6.5% — “Dark in colour and sweet in taste”) and Extra Special (7.5%)
  • And McEwan’s Champion, of course.

UPDATE 06/03/2012 — suggested by commenters

  • Marston’s Owd Roger (7.6%)
  • J.W. Lees Moonraker (7.5%)
  • Porterhouse Brainblásta (7%)

That’s not a very long list. Are there are any specific Old Ales which are really/also Burtons? Are any of Harvey’s huge range of beers Burton-like? We are eyeing their Christmas and Elizabethan Ales with suspicion.

Of course, thinking about it, we might have more luck hunting Burtons when the season opens in the autumn...

beer reviews Beer styles bottled beer

Maybe a Burton, but not a good one

McEwan's Champion -- a Burton or Scottish Ale

Both Martyn ‘Zythophile’ Cornell and Ron ‘No Internet Pseudonym’ Pattinson are enthusiastic drinkers and historians of Burton, a type of beer once popular, surviving examples of which are hard to find. Where it does survive, it’s usually under a name like Winter Warmer.

Largely through their repeated cheerleading, we’ve come to be mildly obsessed with Burton too. When, in a recent post, Zythophile described McEwan’s Champion as “a truly excellent Edinburgh Ale/Burton Ale”, we got a touch excited: a Burton available in supermarkets up and down the land? For not many pennies? Yes please!

The reason we’d never tried it before was an assumption that it would be ‘trampagne’ (© VIZ comic) — a strong, acrid, sugary beer whose 7.3% abv strength is its prime selling point. We can now report that it is not exactly that. It is an interesting beer and one we derived some enjoyment from drinking.

It is complex in the sense that there were flavours and aromas we struggled to identify. We liked smelling and tasting something like butter shortbread and the incredible, long-lasting bitterness. Unfortunately, not all of the associations were so pleasant. Was that a whiff of bottom-of-the-wheely-bin? Rotting orange peel? Drains? By the last dregs, with a cardboard dryness asserting itself, the phrase that sprang to mind was “souped up John Smith’s”.

But we will certainly try it again because we suspect our bottle was stale (and not in the sense that it had been carefully aged by a nineteenth century pub landlord or brewer).