City Station felt much busier than it usually does on a Saturday morning, maybe it was the promise of a fine day for a change? Maroon and Amber shirts were everywhere. Bradford City en route to Wembley. Quite a few boarded our train, presumably making their way to London via York, or maybe they just couldn’t get tickets and decided to have a day out at the coast instead?
The Leeds to Scarbro’ service was interesting; Groups of Lancastrian RL fans travelling to St James Park for the Magic Weekend were, as ever, immaculately behaved. An unconvincing tranny in a cheap blond wig and red leather skirt amazed everyone by scoffing two huge Baguette style sandwiches, before we got to York. A concerned father frantically calling WH Smiths on York station concourse, whilst his small son bawled about leaving his fidget spinners on the shop counter, was probably just a little over optimistic. That thirtysomething lass berating her partner was quite rude! Having said that, if he had sorted the dogs out and stopped them fighting, and she’d packed the holdall, then they wouldn’t have forgotten the toiletry bag and the hair straighteners would they! As the train rumbled through the edge of the Howardian hills, somewhere near Castle Howard, the journey reached it’s apogee, a Roebuck standing proudly, staring at me from the edge of a wood.
I wasn’t sure exactly where the Milton rooms were, but on alighting at Malton, Google maps showed it to be within crawling distance of the station. Having an hour to spend walking around Malton before the mid day opening was quite pleasant. It’s a characterful, yet unspoilt, and fully functional market town with lots of locally sourced foody things and chronic vehicular congestion problems, both in disproportion to it’s size. Having said that, it is the main (only) commercial centre in the middle of a large and beautiful tract of countryside. Hence, the large number of gents, of all ages, in stout boots, sporting flat caps, waistcoats, checked shirts and tweed jackets are actually indigenous natives and not hipsters sans beards. Joking apart, it’s a really cool place and some of the shops are awesome, particularly Woodall’s rope, net and cover makers who will make said pair of bespoke stout boots, hammock, holdall, or whatever you want, from scratch.
At straight up twelve, we entered the venue to be cordially met by co-organiser, Phil Saltonstall, of Brass Castle Brewery fame. We’d paid in advance online, but he was more than happy to take six quid off unannounced callers for the entry and souvenir glass. I don’t mind quality polycarbonates that much. I know they’re not the same as glass, but, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the quality beers on offer one bit, and you got two quid back if you didn’t want to take it home.
So, lets get into the beers then. Three had already sold out on the Friday evening; Brass Castle Rhubarb and Custard light mild, Northern Alchemy Grapefruit and Rosemary sour and Lost Industry Fell on Black Days. That’s 5% of the sixty two beers available, which on the last day of a three day event wasn’t bad. Phil told me it had been pretty busy the day before, but he expected Saturday to be busier, saying they’d sold three times more advance tickets for the session than they had for the Friday.
The first beer I went for was a Kernel Pale ale with Nelson Sauvin, Loral and Cascade (5.1%). The main reason being, I like the brewery and the changing hop varieties, and you don’t often see Kernel beers OTB up here. Everything was being sold in thirds, halves, two thirds and pints, I only drank thirds all day, but the list says this particular keg ale was £4.50 a pint. I’m not going to dwell on pricing, but, if that’s how your drinking choice is determined, there were four cask ales on at £3 a pint, with half of the rest coming in at £3.50, some at £4 and a handful at £4.50. The keg beers were, as per usual, dearer and went from £4 right up to £10 a pint. How much? Slow down, don’t worry! Only four of the thirty five keg beers were over £6 and those were things like a 10.6% Legitimate Industries and Northern Monk collaboration, Quad, Pirate Life IIPA (8.8%) and Demollen and Omnipollo Sitis (8.8%).
The Legitimate Industries beer got four (out of 5) stars from me, as did the Pirate Life DIPA, and also their Export Stout. Downside, you could tell the Auzzie beers were filtered, in steel kegs, rather than live unfiltered beer in key-keg, still v.nice, but if they’d been unfiltered … ?
Anyway, half way through my glass of Kernel, Chris Waplington, aka Bad Seed Chris, positions a step ladder under the giant blackboard in the main hall, rapidly climbing up and chalking out the DeMollen brew from the list of beers, a pineapple IPA that was making it’s debut in the UK, which I really wanted to try. Serves me right, I should have had that one first!
As the afternoon progressed, Chris’s ascents of the ladder became more frequent. By the time we left at six o’clock, I counted eighteen beers had sold out. If you’re thinking of going next time then I wouldn’t let this put you off, there were still loads of great beers on, and they weren’t going to run out totally. On the other hand, if there’s something a bit different you’d like to try then I’d go on Friday, or at least early doors Saturday. And believe you me, there was plenty that were a bit different.
The most unusual thing for me was Table IPA (3.6%), from Notch brewing of Salem, Massachusetts. I’d never had an American beer from the cask, dispensed through a beer engine. Notch seem to have more than a dalliance with British beers and traditional styles, almost the reverse of a lot of modern UK, American Craft Beer influenced, brewers. Through his USA connections, Phil Saltonstall imported a few cask ales from over there and this was the last one. If I’m going to be honest, and don’t get me wrong, it was pretty tasty, it just didn’t feel totally fresh to me. I’m glad I tried it though and it’s nice to see American brewers looking to the UK for innovation.
Out and out the wackiest thing I tasted was Northern Alchemy Lavender Black Berlinerweisse. The tasting notes said, mind blowing rich spiced sour – which was absolutely correct. The guy who served it seemed particularly tentative, ‘Have you tried it before? Would you like a taster?’
Wow! It might only have been 3.2%, but it packed a killer punch in the mouth. It was hard to describe. Sour, definitely. Lavender? A subtle hint, definitely not an overpowering perfumey flavour. It instantly took me back to childhood days of Ben Shaw’s Dandelion and Burdock. Not the pop we loved as kids, this drink wasn’t for the immature palate at all, more a very grown up, dark, balsamic, challenging herballyness. I’ll say it again, just for effect. WoW!
Worthy of mention, and I’m not going into everything I had a taste of from the square, island bar; Arbor Pocket Rocket (3.9%), impressive cask ale with a hop character far beyond what the ABV might suggest. Bad Seed Funk (5.5%), more than the name suggests, should be called Funky!
So what was the rest of it like Rich? Kids (well behaved and in small numbers) , Dogs (lots of cute ones), Music (read on), Food (read on), Lovely people (everyone), Lovely place (art deco meets neo-classical fading grandeur).
I’ll start with the music. Two Geordies in white grandad shirts, waistcoats and flap caps; I’m not stereotyping neither! The Black Marcs played some very well done covers of all manner of songs, covering at least a fifty year time span, spot on lads. Instead of being on the stage, all the bands played from a balcony cum musicians gallery, up above the capacious auditorium. Visible, audible and for them that don’t like no music at beer festivals, they weren’t over intrusive and you could take or leave them, almost. The stage, as were several other rooms and annexes, was devoted to comfortable seating and tables.
Now, I thought the cross dresser I mentioned stayed on the train when we alighted at Malton? I had to think again when I heard some one say, ‘Have you seen that bloke in the dress?’
I reckon some folk thought it was Conchita Wurst? Me? I couldn’t stop laughing when Ginchy Stardust’s opening gambit included, ‘Please don’t make the mistake of taking us seriously!’ Apparently half the duo is the head brewer at brand new start up Turning Point BrewCo. The other half was a big bearded bloke, with a dress over the top of his everyday clothes. A sort of horizontally striped, brownish, mid length, seventies Crimplene number. Absolutely brilliant! The brewing guitarist was as tight as you like, while the bloke in the dress switched between brilliant interpretation mode through to absolutely murdering a couple of disco classics. Top drawer entertainment, which brought rapturous applause and calls of encore from the crowd below.
On a side note. If the Disco King APA (5.1% on keg) is anything to go by then Kirbymoorside’s Turning Point are a new brewery who need attentively watching and following; their beer sold out long before we left.
The food looked and smelled delicious. On my dietician’s advice, I purposefully steered away from the locally produced pies and pasties, however wonderful they looked, similarly the wood fired pizzas. I really fancied the impressive looking chicken and prawn Singapore noodles though. Only thing was, for little more than a snack sized box, they were ten, yes! Ten quid! I’m sure they would have been delicious, but the price of this street food, the only genuine disappointment of the event, forced the decision to head back to Leeds to eat later.
If value for money was what you are really after then you could get your faced painted for nowt. Everyone was having it done, even the ultra friendly security staff. Milly Rose came from Hull and her business card said it all: Extraordinary Painter of People and Things.
The presence of the face painter sort of captured the whole ethos, friendly, good natured, good humoured.
I guess there will be some who are going to be over critical and say that a quarter of the beers were from Brass Castle and Bad Seed breweries. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, they both produce some excellent progressive beers – unfined and unfiltered, both cask and keg. In any case, isn’t that why they originally set up the event to showcase what they’re doing in this small N.Yorks market town?
Okay, a showcase of local brewers, but, what about the rest of it? The conversation I had when I bumped into Phil Saltonstall on the way out answers this one;
PS: ’Well? What do you think?’
Me: ’Brilliant! Wacky! Wonderful!’
PS: ’Yeah … apart from our own stuff, we’ve just chosen all the beers we really like … it’s our beer festival!’
And that’s what you get when quality, adventurous brewers get to chose the beers. Probably the best curated selection of beers, in one place, I’ve encountered for a good while. Okay, if you like solid traditional beers then it’s probably not for you, although you’ll find some decent beers in and amongst the selection. If you like something a bit different though, that mixes up the best of cask and keg beers, from all over the place, then you’ll love it.
Walking round chatting, and looking, you couldn’t really pick any specific types out from the crowd, just a mish mash of nice folk; all ages, locals, people from afar, people who’d come for the day and people who were staying over, which sounds like a pretty good idea for what will be the fifth Beertown next year: Travel over for Friday evening, B & B, walk round Malton in the morning, Saturday afternoon session, go home – jobs a carrot! It really is that good, I’m off to book for next year, now!