I hadn’t really intended to go to an American Beer Festival, conflicting demands dictated otherwise, and then all of a sudden the conflicting demands took me into town, so I sneaked away for half an hour with my camera and ended up chatting to Katrina on the festival reception.
I’ve previously been a bit dubious about commercial beer festivals, any excuse just to get a few more quid out of you, and why should you pay extra to drink in a pub that’s open all day anyway? I changed my mind here though when Katrina explained my options:
Option 1 – you could just rock up and get a third, half, or pint of one of the seventy four beers from American brewers, or UK outfits brewing in an American style, all it would cost you was the price of the beer.
Option 2 – pay £5 and get a nice commemorative tulip glass, a free half pint and an A6 size programme with full notes and descriptions of all the beers.
Option 3 – pay £7 and get all the above, except the free half which is replaced by a bottle of Wilde Childe Brewing Co. Behemoth 11% Honey Barley Wine.
Got it? So it doesn’t have to cost you a penny, apart from your ale, or you can pay a bit more and get, well a bit more. A lot in fact, because with some diligent choice you could get at least three quids worth of free half, which made the nice glass less than two nicker and that’s not bad for a decent glass, providing you get it home in one piece. Personally, I would have paid anyway to get hold of the programme notes.
On the grounds I was only having a quick half and taking a few photos, I blagged a programme from Katrina to take home with me. As I stood chatting, I became highly impressed with the curated selection of beers on offer. So much so, the idea of a Sunday afternoon out and a few beers became very tempting.
Katrina made the suggestion of, ‘A cheeky roast dinner and a few beers?’
David Herbert, General Manager of Whitelock’s and Turks Head, sealed the deal when he said, ‘It should be a nice easy going day tomorrow and there’s loads more top beers to come on yet.’
Mr Herbert was indeed correct, Sunday afternoon was nowhere near as busy as it had been at the same time on Saturday. He was right about the beers too. Obviously with the number of beers lined up from nineteen US and twenty four UK brewers, there was no way they could have them all on at once. Everything was dispensed from the two venues regular lines, a bit like a tap takeover, there were no ad hoc dispense systems in use. In any case with Whitelock’s nine cask lines and a dozen or so keg lines and Turk’s Head’s twelve keg and two cask lines there’s plenty of scope for a good selection at all times. If anyone is unsure about the set up between Whitelock’s and Turk’s Head have a look here.
Whatever you thought of the logistical choices available, it was obvious on Sunday afternoon that most folk were there for a casual beer and something to eat. I didn’t see many festival glasses being brandished, apart from our own. If I’m honest, it didn’t feel like a Beer Festival to me, that’s not to say it wasn’t good, it was, it felt more like a Festival of American Beers, if that makes sense?
There was even a couple of tutored tasting events. I didn’t pay the £20 to take part, but I was sat close enough to them in Turk’s Head to listen in. Andy of The Bottle Shop, UK concessionaires for ‘The Lost Abbey’ led the tasting. If you think the brewery doesn’t sound very American and should probably be somewhere in Belgium or Northern France, then that’s because they got really lost and ended up in California! The ‘Lost Abbey’ series is actually produced by Port Brewing Co.
If you think twenty quid was a bit steep, there were ten, pint bottles, between seven of them to go at, and they did them all. Would I have been happy spending that? Well the guy could talk, I’ll say that, when he could get a word in between the audience member who liked to hear himself talk even more; empty vessels and all that. And that folks is why I’m not a fan. Still, from what I heard, pretty interesting. There was a second one later in the evening with beers from The Bruery.
Even Ed Mason, of Five Points Brewing Co. fame, and owner of the venue had turned up, which was nice to see. I had to have a photo of him in his own bar and I have to say what a really nice down to earth bloke, who remembered my cautionary words when I heard they were tampering with the old lady.
Before I get onto the beers I’ve just got to mention the Sunday, they call them Roasts, but really they’re Sunday Dinners. And what Sunday Dinners too. Okay, they might not be the cheapest, but on a pricing par with other similar quality establishments, and they are as good as you’ll get without going all fine dining, linen covers and silver service. Roast Beef was £13 and Lamb £14. The regionally (Yorkshire) sourced meat was cooked to perfection, pink and tender, the roast potatoes were soft inside, all candied and crisp at the same time, covered up by a huge Yorkshire pud, note a homemade one, sat atop the assorted home cooked veg. I do like red cabbage with my Sunday Dinner.
As well as the in house catering there was also an Italian-American street food stall, obligatory at anything remotely like this event, although there is a tie-in with one of Mr Mason’s other ventures. The food sounded delicious and what they were preparing looked really good. Oh, but the prices! I’m not having a go at this particular vendor, nor the whole experience thing, top prices seem to be par for the course for street food stalls at the minute; £8.50 for stood up, slow cooked beef sandwich, or £13 for a full on sit down Sunday lunch, inside, with knives and forks. No argument is there Ms Jones – Capish?
I mentioned earlier, not all the beers were on at once and as one went off another one came on. Snooze and you lose, they went off and got replaced at quite a rate. If I had the opportunity I would have come on the first day, got a glass and programme, then returned on successive days for an hour, or two, ticking your picks off on a pay as you go basis.
Out and out favourite for me was Cloudwater Tremendous Ideas 8% Imperial IPA on keg, a collaboration with Other Half Brewing, and something you probably won’t see in keg. The murky, almost orange, half oats, brewed with US and J W Lees yeasts was stunning. I thought it much tastier and better balanced than their 9% NW DIPA Ekuanot (keg), which wasn’t half bad neither.
Going the other way and having half of Marble’s 6.5% IPA Dobber on cask, when it’s usually in keg, disappointed a bit. I much prefer the kegged version. Things went back up with Arbor Ales Yakima Valley IPA (cask), but back down again with Weird Beard’s Five O’clock Shadow 7.3% IPA (cask); the alcohol was bit too prominent and spoiled the balance here.
I kept having a quick taste of Mrs C’s, predominantly sour, beers. Sierra Nevada’s Otra Vez, a 4.5% Gose, was a not quite authentic, but a very nice, version of a Gose, if you like sour cactus! The other thought provoking beer she tried was Founder’s Nitro Rubaeus, a 5% fruit beer. Very red. Very raspberry. Very fruity. Very smooth. Think Timmerman’s, but fruuuitier and smooother. I guess it’s the fruity ‘craft’ equivalent of John Smith’s Smooth? As one old gadgie once told me, ‘It never varies lad’ – it’s always crap then!
The Nitro Rubaeus was actually rather pleasant, but because of the John Smith’s Smooth connotations (other mass produced nitro beers are available), I’m still not taken on the whole Nitro thing. But I suppose I’ll come round to it with time? Mrs C’s pick of the beers was Founders Frootwood an 8% cherry beer, from their Backstage Series, that had been aged in oak casks which had held both bourbon and maple syrup previously, and you could tell.
So what did I make of it all then? Pretty good actually, a chance to sample some different beers that you might not see every day.
I asked David Herbert how things had gone? He told me they had been far busier than the previous years event, due to more people turning up right into the evening. He was pretty pleased, even with the showery weather we had experienced over the entire four days. Apparently the automatic canopies over Turk’s Head yard saved the day on Saturday evening when both venues and the yard were packed and it started siling it down.
It’s always nice to pop into Whitelock’s, and I really like the chilled sophistication of Turk’s Head. Add to that some excellent beers and a decent scran, it all made for a cracking afternoon out, but there’s only so many DIPA’s and Sunday Dinners one can take so we headed off into the sunset …