In Other News

Tetley sign, Sheffield.
A Tetley sign in Sheffield, just because, OK?

There are a few things going on around the Blogoshire and in the real world that we wanted to highlight.

  • In our last post, we wondered whether it was time for commentators to take a more assertive stance in ‘calling out’ the industry. With perfect timing, The BeerCast posted this account of a tiff with Arran Brewery. It’s certainly entertaining, and exactly the kind of challenge we had in mind, but might it not get a bit exhausting to read this kind of thing every week?
  • And, finally… you might have noticed the blog has a new design. This new off-the-shelf theme comes with various bells and whistles including distinctive formatting for different types of post, e.g. quotations, video, audio, photo galleries, and so on. We tested the water with a quotation yesterday. What do you reckon — should we stick to ‘proper’ blogging, or mix it up a bit?

The Permanent Technicolor Beer Festival

Horse-drawn Thwaites dray at the Great British Beer Festival.

It’s taken us a couple of weeks to think through our reaction to CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival. We don’t go every year because we haven’t always enjoyed it enough, frankly, to push us into making the effort, but then sometimes we do. This year, we got tickets for the trade session (gratis, free, and for nothing) and, as we were in London for the Olympics decided to give it another go.

The venue, Olympia, was a vast improvement on the vast hangar-like Earl’s Court of previous years; there were some very exciting beers on offer (Greene King 5X); all the volunteers we dealt with were lovely, especially the rebel who’d ditched his mandatory Hobgoblin T-shirt; and it was nice to bump into beery people we’d only previously met online.

But… on the whole, what did it offer that we couldn’t get on a pub crawl in London? Or even in East London? Yes, there were some specific rare beers, but we’re not much into ‘ticking’, and, anyway, every pub we went into in the course of a fortnight had wonderful beers we’d never tried before.

These days, and long may it last, London is a year-round, permanent beer festival, so why endure queues, grubby festival glasses, deposit schemes, hours spent leaning against pillars for want of a seat, and the constant clattering of Betty Stogs’ marching band?

Here’s a contrary view from Tandleman.

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.

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

A virtual tasting for beer-beginners

Versión en español

Delirium, over at “De Cervezas y otras cosas”, has set a very interesting topic for this month’s “round” (the Session for Spanish-speaking beer-bloggers). It was so thought-provoking that we thought we’d post it in English as well.

The challenge was to come up with a “virtual” tasting session aimed at people who are not beer lovers. We had to pick between five and eight beers that we would put forward, avoiding obscure microbreweries, and explain why we’d selected them.

We like to beervangelise from time to time, so it’s a question we’ve thought about a lot in the past. After much pondering, we finally came up with some definite proposals, which we put forward here. Continue reading “A virtual tasting for beer-beginners”