I’ve already written about the Champion Bottled Beer of Britain judging and GBBF for work, so here I’ll let the pictures I tweeted on the day do (most of) the talking…
After this there was Magic Rock at the Cock Tavern, then Thornbridge at the Craft, then donner kebabs. Fab day, lovely to catch up with everyone and I’ll hopefully see some of you at Leeds/IndyMan!
I was too excited not to say a few quick words today: I simply cannot wait to be at the Independent Salford Beer Festival (24th-25th October) this evening! For one night only I’ll be back behind the bar, serving the good people of Manchester great cask beer from either side of the Pennines, and it’s all to raise money for St Sebastian’s Community Centre. Jim (of BeersManchester fame) has put together a rather exciting beer list, including the one and only cask of Five-Oh Brew Co’s Sorachi Ace Stout (6.5%)! Tonight and Saturday arvo are sold out(!), but there are still a few Saturday evening tickets left. See you there; it’ll be a blast. Don’t forget to say hi if you spot me on the bar!
The night before the Great British Beer Festival, The Hope in Carshalton held their London Showcase, as part of the London Beer City celebrations. Featuring a wide range of breweries from the London Brewers’ Alliance, the idea was to throw the spotlight on some of the excellent beers that one wouldn’t be able to find at GBBF; beers such as Clarence and Fredericks Cascadian Blackberry, Redemption Little Chief, London Fields Grapefruit Dead, Kernel Simcoe Citra 366, Beavertown Gamma Ray, and Five Points IPA.
Having spent five hours that day travelling on the coach down to London from Manchester, I was desperate for something pale, citrussy, and refreshing, so plumped for Redemption Tropical Trinity: a fruity version of their 3% pale, dry hopped and brewed with mango and pineapple especially for the festival, followed by Brodie’s Kiwi, full of NZ hops. Moving on to something slightly stronger, I decided to give Pressure Drop’s Pale Fire another go. Between six months and a year ago (I believe), I tried a bottle of it in The Font, Fallowfield, and to be honest it tasted like not-terribly-accomplished homebrew. However, Pressure Drop have developed marvellously, and now make some rather good beer. Pale Fire is a full bodied, well balanced, and eminently quaffable pale ale, which I’ll be looking forward to drinking more of in future. My beer of the showcase, however, has to go to Brodie’s London Sour (Redcurrant). Mouthpuckeringly sour, clean, refreshing, and full of tart fruit flavour, I couldn’t get enough of it, and would have happily sipped my way through pints and pints of it over the evening if I hadn’t had a huge list of other beers to explore. I certainly came back to it when I returned to The Hope a couple of days later. Sitting in a suburban pub conservatory, sipping London Sour, watching the weather change and catching my breath in amongst the hustle and bustle of London Beer City; the perfect accompaniment to the eye of the storm.
Ah, the Great British (Cask Conditioned) Beer Festival. Trade Day is always an excellent chance to catch up with far-flung friends, meet new folk, and do a bit of beer-celebrity spotting. This year was no exception; many names and faces were matched to profile photos and Twitter handles, and firm friendships forged in the seas of ale.
Arriving bright and early, I bumped into Suzy the Pub Geek (@lincolnpubgeek) and, our Press Passes securely pinned dickheadishly to our tops, we did a circuit of the festival. Glancing at the beers listed above each of the bars, I made a few mental notes as to what I might try later, but nothing was grabbing me. Suzy nabbed a Fownes Frosthammer, brewed by a pal of hers, but I was still feeling uninspired. “Fuck it,” I sighed, “let’s gravitate to the American bar”.
A cheerful volunteer took one look at us and asked if we’d like to try something sour. Big smiles now: “YES PLEASE!” It transpired that he’d been half-joking, hating the style himself, but we were happy, and my stemmed third glass soon contained the first beer of the day: Single Hop Sour, from Fate Brewing Company in Arizona, a kettle-soured wheat beer with El Dorado hops. Light, tart, and lemony, it was a pleasant way to begin the session. I hear that Fate also brew a Cucumber Single Hop Sour, which I am rather desperate to get my hands on…
Sipping our beers, we soon spotted some of the regular crew, and joined them. This seating area by the American bar swiftly became known as ‘The Craft Wanker Table’/’Craft Wanker Corner’, a veritable who’s who of brewers, bloggers, pub/bar people, and various other beer nerds. When traversing the festival, acquaintances would spot each other, “Hello! How are you? See you at the craft wanker table? Yes? Good”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people I like and respect all together in one space, and the atmosphere of cheer and camaraderie was genuinely uplifting. The next beer I chose was R&D Dry-hopped Pale, by Ninkasi Brewing Company in Oregon. Clean, clear as a bell, with masses of grapefruit, the primary word I’d use to describe this beer is ‘fresh’.
Wandering away from the craft wanker table in a bid to find the delegation from The Hope, Carshalton, and Cobbett’s Real Ales in Dorking, I grabbed a glass of Hogsback and Andy Parker (@tabamatu)’s Collaboration: Cascade, Centennial, and robust malts. Eventually I found my crew ensconced on the practically deserted upper level – at this point, few people had braved the climb up the stairs. After a few disparaging remarks about the festival programme’s Tesco adverts in counterpoint to the prominent ‘Pubs Matter’ displays placed in the hall decrying the conversion of pubs to other uses such as, er, supermarkets, for example, the 110 (at least) new Tescos converted from pubs since January 2012, we felt the need for another drink, and made our way to the German and Belgian bars.
Unfortunately the keg set-up on the Belgian bar wasn’t working, and nobody we asked throughout the session seemed to know when they would be on. The German bar it was, then, and a Schneider-Weisse Tap 4 went down nicely. Passing the T-shirt stall which seems to do the round of CAMRA festivals, I noticed that nobody had bothered to ask the stall owner to remove the vest tops with “Designated area of outstanding natural beauty” and “Weapons of mass distraction” emblazoned over the tit area. Now, I know there’s no malicious intent here, but those items being on sale at a beer festival just doesn’t sit well with me. At a small branch festival, that sort of oversight is forgivable, but at the flagship national festival, you can’t be seen to be condoning the objectification of women. By allowing those t-shirt designs to be displayed, you’re sending a message to the women present that you don’t care if they are made uncomfortable, and you’re helping to reinforce the stereotype that CAMRA consists of sexist old men. It’s unfair to your members, and alienating to your potential members.
But this was a minor unpleasantness in an otherwise delightful day, and who knows, maybe nobody who can do anything about it has actually ever looked in detail at the t-shirt designs on offer. At any rate, it was almost time for the announcement of the Champion Beer of Britain, so I decided to do what I do best, and live tweet the whole thing. The announcement was considerably delayed, and at one point the assembled crowd started booing, to mine and Suzy’s bafflement. Was this a jokey ritual? Perhaps the booing was ironic?
Eventually the announcements were made. Gold in the Mild category went to Bank Top Dark Mild – not one I’ve tried, but it’s from Bolton, so I’m sure I’ll see it around up here soon. Gold in the Bitter category went to Timothy Taylors Boltmaker. I’ve found Timothy Taylors beers in general to be pretty dull, with Landlord being the best of the bunch, and I tried Boltmaker back when it was called Best Bitter: fine, but bit bland. Gold in the Best Bitter category went to Salopian Darwin’s Origin. I like Salopian, and think they make solid beers. I’ll be trying this if I see it. Gold in the Golden Ales category went to Oakham Citra, a good go-to beer, and well deserved. Gold in the Strong Bitter category went to Church End Fallen Angel; another brewery I’m not familiar with. Gold in the Speciality category went to Saltaire Triple Chocaholic, which I haven’t had for a couple of years but remember as being tasty enough. Another Chocolate beer won Gold in the Real Ale in a Bottle category, with Marble Chocolate – a big seller at The Epicurean up here in Didsbury.
The overall Champion Beer of Britain Bronze went to Salopian Darwin’s Origin, Silver to Oakham Citra, and Gold to Timothy Taylors Boltmaker. Once again, the general consensus amongst the assembled crowd seemed to be that Boltmaker was, in fact, rather dull. It reminded me of attending in 2011, when Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde was declared the Champion Beer of Britain. Considering that some of the best breweries in Britain didn’t even have a presence at GBBF, I shouldn’t be surprised by these outcomes. This isn’t to cast aspersions on the beer, the brewers, or the judges. Boltmaker isn’t bad, it just isn’t the best bitter in Britain, let alone the best beer. Getting Bruce Dickinson on stage to make the announcement was a nice touch, though; I haven’t tried Trooper yet, but you can’t beat a bit of Iron Maiden.
We legged it back to Craft Wanker Corner to break the news about Boltmaker, and to further explore the offerings from the American bar. After this point in the afternoon, my Untappd check-ins become less consistent; there were too many people to talk to, too much beer to enjoy. Franklin’s Brewery Psychedelic Smokehouse, from Maryland, was something rather special, being a smoked sour brewed with Copper Fox Mesquite-smoked malt. Smoked cheese wafts up from the glass, an insistent presence, while still being light and tart on the palate. Of all the beers I drank at GBBF, this is the one I’ve been craving in the days after… If anyone knows how I might get my grubby mitts on some more, please do drop me a line!
Other honourable mentions go to Dark Star NHA, Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, Lagunitas Maximus, and De Molen Hemel & Aarde Octomore. As ever, though, the real joy of the day came from the people. It’s always wonderful to catch up with friends old and new, and I look forward to seeing everyone at IndyMan. It’s going to be a blast.
Damn right. I found it dangerously quaffable, though like Steph I prefer my big IPAs to be slightly more bitter. We’re jaded IBU fiends, though. My decidedly non-beer geek partner also liked it, describing the taste as ‘undiluted orange squash’..! I’d like to try this in a bottle, but I think most of them have been snapped up by now. Never mind – there’ll be some more next year! All in all, a very tasty beer, and a great sense of camaraderie surrounding it.
You can check out more photos from the night over at Steph’s blog. Of course, while we were savouring our first sips of this year’s Un-Human Cannonball, those London types had already been drinking it for three hours. Steve from The Beer O’ Clock Show tells all here…
So, while I was exploring the offerings at The Celt Experience bar, I happened to bump into their head bloke, Tom, and, erm, the king of wine. After playing it semi-cool, I kind of went into nerd mode, and asked for a photo. What is it the kids say these days – yolo? Anyway, this is a photo of Oz (who I politely told off for not visiting any of the pubs on the Otley Run that actually serve cask-conditioned beer when he was on telly with whats’isface, hah, representing Leeds University Union Real Ale Society til I die) and me and Tom, who is an utter star and let us try some of a beer from Celt‘s Ogham series; Ash (10.5%), an imperial porter. Oh my, it’s a big beer. We sampled it with a very smelly blue cheese, which I can’t usually stomach too well, but paired with this beer it was absolute perfection. I love Celt‘s stuff, with Bleddyn (5.6%) rocking my world earlier this year paired with some Kit Calvert Wensleydale, and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for their beers in and around Manc.
The day dawned bright and fair – well, it wasn’t raining, so it pretty much counted as a balmy summer’s day in Manchester – but the weather was of little concern to the cyclists, whizzing round like mad things inside the Velodrome. Now, I don’t know about the mentality of these super fit athletes, but when I’ve been exercising (the readers roar with laughter at the thought of me actually doing any exercise), my thoughts turn towards a nice, refreshing pale ale. If these poor cyclists are already fighting the urge for a pint after their training, it’s going to be a hell of a lot harder for them this week, as they are cycling round and round a beer festival. Which sadistic bastards thought that one up, eh?
Some rather efficient and dedicated sadistic bastards, that’s who. The National Winter Ales Festival has moved from the Sheridan Suite to, um, Derby, leaving a gap in our beery calendar. But no worries, cask-lovers of Manchester, our local CAMRA folk had already got it sorted, with a new festival featuring over 300 cask beers and 75 ciders and perries. When this came to my attention last year, I popped it in my diary straight away. I don’t generally get to drink as much cask beer as I’d like, so a CAMRA festival is always a pleasant change.
On Wednesday afternoon, I met my partner in crime for the day, BrewDog Mancs’ Becky, and we got the tram out to the Velodrome. This venue had already won points over the Sheridan Suite in my book – it had its own dedicated tram stop, which made everything so much easier than the long trek up Oldham Road/the wait for the inevitably packed out bus/shelling out for the cab ride of doom on the way home. Glasses were either pints with the MBCF design on, or half tankards with the National Winter Ales logo (why?). I generally prefer a tankard to a pint glass, especially in a beer festival environment, but, nerdy collector that I am, I do like to get this year’s glass – so the pint it was. Following the well signposted route, we made the trek through the tunnel to the beer floor. Down, down, into the mines of Moria, and up again into a veritable Lothlorien of beer. Don’t worry, that’s the last Tolkien reference you’ll read in this post, I promise* (*I promise nothing).
Wary of being flustered by the choice, I’d browsed the beer list online beforehand, and made a little list of what sounded appealing, bar by bar. Aren’t I organised? We started at the responsible end of the scale, with a third of Beartown Peach Melbear (4.4%), which was very perfumed, but pleasant. It was Becky’s first beer festival, and, being her aged and esteemed guide, I had sent her a text reminding her to get cash out beforehand – a trek to the cash machine at the nearby Asda was not something that particularly appealed – but in my preoccupation with beer money, I had forgotten one of the most important factors in beer fest preparedness: layers, layers, layers. Most beer festivals seem to have their own tropical microclimates once you’re in there, and the Velodrome was no exception. It was sweltering at the bars, and we found ourselves retreating regularly into the middle of the beer floor, where the temperature dropped to something resembling comfortable. The seating areas around the outside of the track were, of course, far cooler, but we couldn’t particularly be arsed wombling through the tunnels to get over there, especially while we were ploughing through low ABV thirds and frequently needed a top up. The next beer was Brightside Our Town (4%), a pale ale. I think I slightly prefer their Odin (3.8%), also pale, which I tried on cask the other day in Mary and Archie, but everything I’ve tried from them so far has been pretty good. They also have excellent branding – clean, modern and eye-catching, whilst somehow still seeming ‘classic’ in a way that I can’t quite define.
Wandering over to the Ilkley bar, a quick chat with one of the chaps there led to my first half of the day, Ilkley Forbidden Fruit (5%), a grapefruit pale ale using a new hop which is currently exclusive to Ilkley (#1391, for those who are interested). Forbidden Fruit was brewed with Melissa Cole, who has worked with the brewery before to create such beers as Siberia, a rhubarb saison, and Green Goddess, a green hop IPA. The first word that sprung to mind when I tasted this beer was ‘refreshing’. What with all of the big, sour beers that are so prominent at the moment, we were surprised at how restrained the grapefruit aspect was. But you know what? In that moment, parched by the heat of the Velodrome, Forbidden Fruit was the absolute perfect beer to throw back. I really don’t understand why people drink crap lager ‘because it’s refreshing and easy to drink’ when you could drink something like this, which fulfils those criteria but tastes nice as well..! We all know I love my sour beers, but sometimes you just need a good pale ale.
Next up was Waen Chilli Plum Porter (6.1%), which didn’t do it for me, as the chilli was pretty rough. I’m a bit of a chilli fiend – the Mr always rolls his eyes at me for adding hot sauce/jalapenos to my meals – but this particular chilli beer unfortunately didn’t quite work. Luckily, the rest of the afternoon featured, among others, such excellent beers as Marble Earl Grey IPA (6%) and Weird Beard Fade to Black (7.3%), both of which I’d somehow never tried before but had come highly recommended, and the glorious Hawkshead NZPA (6%). An old favourite, I love this beer in cask, and I must admit, once I got on it I was loathe to drink anything else! A number of these were sipped while hanging out with various beery human beings, honourable mentions going to the chaps from the other side of the hills (including Sam, Scott, David of Bier Huis, etc), the inimitable Max from Dulcimer (that scamp!), and of course, Jim of BeersManchester, (who has already been back to the festival and written TWO POSTS about it in the time it’s taken me to get round to writing one! Pro!) and the excellent @CJJazwinski who recommended us Coniston No 9 Barley Wine, which I didn’t get round to trying because I got distracted by the Coniston Infinity IPA (6%), which, the general consensus was, tasted about 4%. Not necessarily a bad thing.
Now, I haven’t been to a CAMRA festival for a while, but I really enjoyed it. Fancy, trendy festivals are great, but sometimes you just want cask beer, a plate of pie and mushy peas, and a vendor selling pub memorabilia. Becky and I both come from a cask background, our careers starting off in little, community pubs serving real ale, so it was a nice, nostalgic diversion from our city centre trendy ‘craft keg’ bar jobs. Not that there’s anything wrong with drinking cool beer in the city centre, but to me, there’s something a bit special about cask. The volunteers were absolutely lovely, as has generally been my experience, and almost everyone I dealt with was very personable, especially one of the chaps on Bar 1, who served us a few times but whose name I didn’t catch. The only slight issue I had with any of the volunteers was with a young woman who we found to be a little brash and unhelpful – but perhaps everyone else was being so nice that her way of interacting with people was a bit jarring. They were all working very hard, at any rate, and I hope they had fun doing it! I must volunteer at a beer festival some time soon; it’s on the to-do list. Sadly, there were the inevitable uncomfortable moments caused by random attendees. Nothing malicious, just cringy “we’ll have to put that tshirt on you, ooh, we’ll have to lube you up to do it” Kegbuster-esque bollocks, which were met with the standard look of disapproval and subsequent manoeuvres to avoid the offending party. To be fair, everyone around this particular offender looked embarrassed for him. There were a few little things along those lines, and, of course, that bloody awful t-shirt stand which shows up at every CAMRA festival. I like the Exorcist parody tshirt ‘the Excessist’. An ex bought that for me at a CAMRA festival when I was eighteen or nineteen, and I’ve only just thrown it away. What I’m not so keen on are the t-shirts ‘for women’. You know the ones – strappy/low-cut tops with terrible slogans written over the tit area. Other than the initial vague amusement at a bit of wordplay when they first hear the pun, I know very few women – or men – or anybody who doesn’t subscribe to a certain gender – who find them funny. Most, if not all, of the people I know would find them sad, and a bit offensive. We’re trying to move forward, kids, and get more people using our pubs – we don’t want to be alienating our audience, now, do we?
I know that some people had complaints about the distance between the beer floor and the seating area/food/loos, and, later in the week, queues and closing times. I think it’s important to remember that it’s a new festival, in a new venue, and there were always going to be teething issues. Overall, I’d say it was a great success. I am aware that I was experiencing the festival as a 23 year old able-bodied person, with less creaky knees than some of the other attendees, so, Mines of Moria jokes aside, the walk to the loos and the lack of seating on the beer floor didn’t really bother me. They put out seating on the beer floor the next day, in response to criticism, and anyone who seriously complains about queues for the men’s loos at a beer festival… Well, they clearly haven’t attended too many. I didn’t get to go to the Friday or Saturday sessions, as I was working, but I hear that they had far more attendees than expected. When 2500 unanticipated people turn up to drink your beer, you can’t be blamed for running out earlier than you thought you would! And, well, as someone who was working in a beer bar Saturday night, we got a lot of custom from the overspill, so it’s good for the community, right? It’s wonderful that Manchester has so many people wanting to drink beer, and it bodes well for next year’s festival. I was very happy with the choice of venue – watching athletes cycle as you drink adds an extra surreal magic to the proceedings – and I hope everyone involved has enjoyed a few well deserved pints. Cheers, kids, and see you next year!