28th Swindon Beer Festival
FIRST VISIT: THURSDAY 23 OCTOBER 2014
Indy Man Beer Con
FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 11 OCTOBER 2014
How can you fail to love the Indy Man Beer Con? You get to drink great beer while staggering around a disused Victorian Public Baths!
I woke up drunk from the night before. It had been a good night that had started with drinking Stillwater in the King’s Arms and had ended with a mosh at a Future of the Left gig in the Garage… and in between those two events we managed to knock back some cans of Bengali Tiger and some pints of Devil’s Backbone IPA in a Spoons. The morning started just before seven with a bottle of IPA Citra Galactique (by Brasseurs du Grand Paris) in the house the on the train we had a bottle of Moet & Chandon followed by a can of Smog Rocket and a bottle of La Noire (by Correizenne). By the time I arrived in Manchester at 11am I was already pretty trashed. We wandered in the general direction of the Victorian Baths but eventually got bored and flagged down a taxi.
Once inside the festival my opening salvo was an Original (Cider) from Thistly Cross. After that it was beer overdrive! At some point I got so drunk that I actually stopped logging beers on Untappd. Before that I spent a fair bit of time hanging out in the Turkish Baths and on a rocking chair that was somewhere near the Magic Rock bar. Along the way I met up with old friends but probably didn’t make any new ones. I had a lovely time.
For the sake of historical accuracy, here are the beers I had (before my ability to tap an iProduct screen escaped me):
So’Hop – Moor
Gamma Ray – Beavertown
Earl Phantom – Beavertown
Cap Dog – BrewDog
Pognophobia – Magic Rock
Sour Bikini – Evil Twin
Imperial Doughnut Break – Evil Twin
Fuck Art This Is Advertising – To Øl
One Hells Of A Beaver – Camden Town and Beavertown
Black Betty – Beavertown
Yeah, IndyManBeerCon 2014 was great… I will be returning in 2015.
Great Dorset Steam Fair
FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 30 AUGUST 2014
As the name suggests the Great Dorset Steam Fair isn’t a beer festival, it’s a festival of steam powered machinery. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t ample opportunity to drink lots of beer. There are several beer & music tents located around the festival site with the main one for beer lovers being the Real Ale Marquee. In recent years the bars have been run by Glastonbury Ales. The selection of beers available hasn’t been at the ‘craft’ end of the spectrum but it has boasted some decent offerings from the likes of Dark Star and Sunny Republic. And, of course, you could always get a pint of the festival special Big Steam. Sadly, this year Glastonbury are no longer part of the scene and they’ve been replaced by Felinfoel.
As tradition has it, the first bar I entered was the Shire Arms. I could tell as soon as I got to the bar that something wasn’t right. It all looked a bit drab and dull. Glastonbury used to put a pump clip on all the gravity barrels but they were missing this year. I asked if there was any Big Steam and was told that they weren’t doing that this year. The barman then gave me a run through of the three beers he did have. Only three! Usually you’d find at least six in the Shire Arms. I bought a pint of Felinfoel’s Dorset Steam, which I assumed was the new festival special – it was manky brown yuk and I poured more than half of it away.
As we headed to the Real Ale Marquee, for the 1st Skimmity Hitchers gig of the day, we wandered past the Bridge Farm cider tent so I ducked inside and got a pint of their Dry – it’s good stuff. On arrival at the Marquee we were greeted by the same low level drabness that we encountered at the Shire Arms. Previous years there was pump clips on the barrels and big banners that listed the beers and their breweries. This year there was naked barrels and a piece of paper stuck to the bar that listed the beers but not the breweries. Practically all the beers were in the low four to mid four ABV range. It was all very disappointing. I decided there and then that I would spend the day on the cider, which is no bad thing as alongside Bridge Farm you can score cider from Burrow Hill (the Blue Bus), Wilcox, New Forest and, if the mood takes you, Westons. I had a couple of Dry from Burrow Hill, a Dry and a Vintage from Bridge Farm and a Dry from both Wilcox and New Forest.
Yeah, the beer at this year’s Steam Fair was a major disappointment but the cider was great. And the two Skimmity gigs were ace fun. And it’s always a pleasure to see heavy steam powered machinery and vintage tractors hauling heavy loads. I’ll be back next year and hopefully so will the good beer.
Great British Beer Festival
FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 16 AUGUST 2014
Everybody knows what the Great British Beer Festival is. Everybody has an opinion on the Great British Beer Festival – some of those opinions are favourable and some of those opinions are not so favourable. My viewpoint is simple: Feel free to dis it but you’d be daft to miss it.
There’s no real point giving you a blow by blow account of my GBBF 2014 experience but suffice to say – as I arrived before one and remained until the bars closed at seven – I had a lovely day.
For the sake of historical accuracy here are the beers I consumed:
Collaboration – Hogs Back & Elusive
North Wall – Hop Kettle
Roaring Meg – Springhead
Sublime Chaos – Anarchy [best UK beer I had]
Bananatana – De 3 Horne
Hemel & Aarde (Octomore BA) – De Molen [best beer I had]
TIPA – Emelisse
Vintage Ale 2014 – Fullers
Prince of Denmark – Harveys
Lekker Bakkie Kobi – Uiltje
Den Dorstige Tijger – Ramses
Brettanosaurus Rex – Oersoep
McEwan’s IPA – Wells
Kastel Triple – Van Honsebrouck
Kastel Rougue – Van Honsebrouck
Morpheus Undressed Foederbier – Alvinne
Rauchbier Kräusen – Schlenkerla
Sublime Chaos – Anarchy [so good I had it twice]
Shire Stout – Ramses
Hemel & Aarde (Octomore BA) – De Molen [so good I had it twice]
London Drinker Beer & Cider Fest
THURSDAY 13 MARCH 2014
Disappointing. Very disappointing.
The Thursday afternoon session is free entry. Consequently, I expected the place to be almost empty when I arrived a few minutes after opening. But it wasn’t which was good to see. But if it is busy, why not charge? I guess once upon a time there used to be an entrance fee but nobody came so they made it free in and the masses descended.
I purchased a half pint glass for £2.50 (an extra 25p would’ve got me a pint glass but only complete maniacs drink pints at beer festivals) and then scanned the room. The venue was quietly impressive looking – sort of like a cross between an old school hall and a court room. The majority of the people present looked as though they were over seventy. I only saw one person who I thought was younger than me. I suppose the only people who can easily go to a beer festival on a Thursday afternoon are people who don’t work, which is why, I assume, the average age was so high.
Before attending the festival I’d viewed the beer list online. It wasn’t great but there were options that made it worth a visit. The first beer I went for was Summer Wine’s Diablo, which is usually a joyous riot of hops. Sadly, it was in very poor condition. I then opted for a Clarkshaws Gorgon’s Alive. It took several minutes for my half to trickle out of the cask. Several CAMRA members held it up to light and nodded sagely. It had passed the clarity test so therefore it was obviously okay to drink. Ummm… no. I’d never had the beer before so wasn’t sure what it was meant to taste like but I’m pretty certain it isn’t meant to taste flat, dull and vaguely of vinegar. I wandered into the foreign beer bar (housed in a separate hall) and every one of the old dudes in there stopped talking and turned towards me. Most bizarre. The young guy behind the bar looked a bit lost and in need of company but I decided not to put him out of his misery. I returned to the main bar and ordered a Redwillow Wreckless. Third Time lucky? Nope. Another beer in atrocious condition. I was defeated. I had no desire to try anything else. Every beer festival I’ve been to I’ve always kept hold of my glass. It’s a little souvenir. And it seems a bit cheap to return it and ask for the money back. Not this time. I was so pissed off with the quality of my three beers that I demanded the return of my two and a half quid. But I felt a bit guilty so I stuck a quid of it in a charity pot.
To the Euston Tap…
Hop Kettle Brewery
FIRST VISIT: FRIDAY 28 FEBRUARY 2014 (with a slight return on Sunday 2 March) 2014
The first of what will hopefully be many Winter Beer Festivals taking place at the Red Lion in Cricklade.
Friday nights are always busy at the Red Lion and the beer festival would undoubtedly make this one busier than most so was I mildly concerned. The Red Lion is a great pub but no pub is great when it’s overcrowded. But I shouldn’t have been concerned because Tom and his crew know what they are doing. I should have known they would have a plan and that the plan would be a good one.
The beers were served from inside the Hop Kettle brewery, onto which a spacious and heated marquee was attached – spacious enough for several picnic benches coupled with plenty of standing room. The extra space was great but the real value of the marquee was the fact that it allowed the beer to be sold from inside the brewery – an excellent touch that gave the festival an extra stamp in the cool column. Another excellent idea was to have a wall of the marquee that doubled as a beer info point: each beer had a landscape piece of A4 paper on the wall which featured a print out of the pump clip art and tasting notes. There were printed programs available but the info wall served as a focal point that brought people together to share likes and dislikes and have a general chat about beer and whatnot.
Twenty five beers were up for grabs – 22 cask and 3 keg – alongside seven ciders. Cask beers were from (among others) Arbor, Dark Star, Hawkshead, Roosters, Tiny Rebel and Wild Beer. The 3 keg beers were Anchor’s Flying Cloud Stout (Zymaster Series No.3), Burning Sky’s Saison a la Provision and Barrel Aged Sunturnbrew by Nøgne Ø. All in all it was a pretty impressive list.
I started with a Hop Kettle Flapjack Black (Buffalo Trace BA). The original Flapjack Black was by far my favourite beer of 2013 so I was keen to see what being stuck in a bourbon barrel for four months had added to the mix. I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed. If I’d never had the original unadulterated version I’m sure I’d be raving about the BA version. But I felt the bourbon barrel smoothed off the jagged curves a touch too much. I like my breakfast stouts to be a little bit rough and uncompromising, which I why I feel it’s a style that always works better from the cask than it does from the keg. It was a disappointment. Not a true disappointment. Just a disappointment when compared to its illustrious predecessor. Like comparing Adventure to Marquee Moon.
Next up was a genuine disappointment: Bourbon Milk Stout from Sonnet 43. It tasted like a weak JD a coke that had been left on the mantelpiece overnight. The overall condition of the beer was fine but the taste wasn’t to my liking. Third up to bat was Old Stock Ale from Tiny Rebel, which was far fruitier than I was expecting it to be despite the tasting notes stating it was fruity little number. It was just the lift my senses needed.
Time to switch to keg!
Burning Sky are a brewery that folk have been shouting about for several months… and even several months before they had a beer on sale. When I turned up at the Red Lion Winter Beer Fest I still hadn’t tasted a Burning Sky (Call yourself a Beer Geek!?) Time for that to change. If Sorachi Ace is the hop that splits the beer community, Saison is the beer style (It’s not a style!) that splits the community. I like saisons but I’ve begun to grow slightly mistrustful of them as some breweries seem to chuck out a new one every other week. But Burning Sky’s a la Provision is a great example – a slightly sour liquid sherbet with a definite Belgian yeast hit. Lovely.
After a couple of palate fresheners it was time to return to the dark and moody beers.
Keg hit number two was Anchor’s Flying Cloud. It’s thick and indulgent – exactly how a 7.4% stout should be. Next up was the beer that had got me most excited when I’d perused the beer list prior to attending the festival: Nøgne Ø Sunturnbrew Oaked. I was not disappointed. A smoked beer that’s been smoked then smoked again.. then smoked again… than allowed some time and space to mellow out. Smooth. Luxurious. But with a little bit of an edge. A fantastic experience for all of the senses. (On the Sunday I returned for a two pint growler fill of the Sunturnbrew Oaked – it paired perfectly with a lazy afternoon spent watching superhero movies.)
Time was now against me as my designated driver wanted to get to the fish n chip shop before it closed at 10. I nipped back to the bar for another dose of Flapjack Black and decided that despite my earlier appraisal it warranted a growler fill. Then the party was over.
There was a great crowd at the festival. Several people I know. Several people I recognised as Red Lion regulars (or at least irregular regulars like myself). And loads of people who were first time visitors. But, if the ones I chatted to are anything to go by, a fair few of those first time visitors will be returning to the Red Lion soon and often. And the local CAMRA party had a sizeable contingent in attendance.
Great beer + a buzzing crowd = a perfect festival.
The summer edition should be taking place in June – when a firm date is announced you should stick it in your diary.
EDIT: The Red Lion Summer Beer Festival will commence on Friday 27 June 2014
Craft Beer Rising
Old Truman Brewery
19 Brick Lane
FIRST VISIT: SATURDAY 22 FEBRUARY 2014 (AFTERNOON SESSION)
Craft Beer Rising launched in 2013. Even before it had opened its doors to the paying public the word on the street was that it was nothing more than a corporate wank fest. By the time it had gently shepherded out the last of its drunken punters that word on the street was that it was nothing more than a corporate wank fest but it was also whatever you chose to make of it. In due course the 2014 edition was announced and I initially had no plans to go. But then I was informed that the Saturday sessions were taking place on the same Saturday as a gig by The Coal Porters. A beer festival followed by a gig? Count me in. Over the coming weeks the brewery list began to emerge. It was certainly more than decent enough but not exactly epoch slaying. There were several great breweries on the last but hardly anybody that you’d struggle to find if you went searching within the confines of the M25. But, hey, a beer festival is whatever you choose to make of it.
I had a great time. Caught up some old acquaintances. Made some new ones. Chatted face to face with some folk who I’d previously only chatted to on Twitter. Bumped into quite a few people who I know from the excellent Bristol beer scene. And, perhaps most importantly, I got drunk on super tasty beer.
The Old Truman Brewery is a great space. The festival occupied several rooms of varying shapes and sizes – like a giant beer lined rabbit warren. Some the areas were way more cramped than others but even in those spaces the traffic was flowing reasonably smoothly and swiftly and you rarely had to wait for more than a few seconds to get a beer. Some criticism has been levelled at the amount of branding at the event but I liked the fact that each brewery had their own little stall and it was easy to see exactly who they were before getting too close as it made it easy to avoid having to make the embarrassing choice of walking away emptied handed or buying a beer you didn’t really want. Oh, the queue for the gents wasn’t anything to be overly concerned about, which is always a bonus. The people manning the bars and food stands were all friendly and helpful. And the stewards and security staff were numerous and easy to spot but certainly not obtrusive. All in all it was a job well done.
Anyway, for those interested, here are the beers I consumed:
Attaboy by Truman’s – 4.6%
Sour Saxon (Cell Rebirth) by The Celt Experience – 4%
Ola Dubh 18 by Harviestoun – 8%
Original by Thistly Cross Cider – 7.2%
Fifth Element by Beavertown – 7.3%
All Day IPA by Founders – 4.7%
Discovery by Renaissance – 4.5%
IPA by Lagunitas – 6.2%
Re Hop by Toccalmatto – 5%
Delirium Tremens by Huyghe – 7.5%
Black IPA by Brighton Bier – 7%
Sour Saxon (Cell Rebirth) by The Celt Experience – 4%
In The Pines by Wiper & True – 5.3%
Independence by Bristol Beer Factory – 4.6%
Imperial Raspberry Stout by Thornbridge & St Eriks – 10%
I suppose the simple fact that the only beer I had more than once was the Sour Saxon strongly suggests that it was my beer of the festival. It arguably was but it should be noted that I didn’t have a bad beer all day, which is something I’ve never managed to say after a session at the Great British Beer Festival.
If Craft Beer Rising returns in 2015 I will return to Craft Beer Rising.