On October 28-29 2011 we attended the Friday and Saturday sessions of the Twickenham Beer and Cider Festival. It's a nice venue (York House), although there was less seating available than in previous years (despite there also being less stalls: bottled beer seemed to be missing, and the memorabilia stall was basically CAMRA books and a couple of t-shirts). Not much by way of creature comforts then, but we were there to taste the real ale. Here's what I sampled (I didn't get notes from anyone else).
Traditional Scottish William Wallace: When I asked for this the server warned me that it was "a little bit funky", and made me taste it before committing to all of a half pint (!). Indeed it had a very pungent odour, smelling darker than the light ale it was, like off fruit. On the first taste it was sweet and a bit apply, sour and musty on the swill, very bitter and somewhat ethyllic on the swallow. A very odd but nevertheless satisfying beer.
Old Mill's Bullion: this dark amber ale had a bready malt aroma, a bit of a sweet first taste with some dried fruit and perhaps a touch too much yeast; it was slightly bitter on the swallow. Okay, but overall not very interesting.
Holden's Black Country Bitter: a clear, light pint with hoppy smell like dusty ripening grain, a wheaty first touch, and coarse and hoppy with green fruit in the swallow.
Butts' organic Barbus Barbus: (the server was thrown by my pronunciation of this beer's name as /bar-bυ/ [French for "bearded"]; I don't know if that makes him silly or me. Probably me.) A deep, cloudy golden ale with a warm, hoppy aroma; sugared lime at first taste, almost cringingly bitter and pithy on the swallow. A lovely complex beer, but I don't think I could drink this all evening.
Twickenham Strange Brew: a dark blond/pale amber, with a creamy head and aroma; a subtly acerbic taste leads to a deep grapefruity swill and some lemon pith in the swallow. Appropriately named, interesting bitter ale.
Seabrook's Pale Ale: a very light beer with a sweet citrus aroma; taut and sappy first taste, but oddly sweet and cakey to finish. Another pint that I liked, but wouldn't take home with me.
Butts' Golden Brown: a deep brown and slightly cloudy ale, with a yeasty and smoky odor, a big mouthful of bitterness and reminiscent of chewy sourdough. I wonder if this beer was actually a bit off.
Castle Rock Black Gold: an opaque dark brown ale, smelling of rich and smoky malt; there is sweet coffee in the first taste, bitter chocolate on the swill, and a smooth malty ovaltine swallow. In a certain mood I'd really like this, but it scored less well as a festival ale.
Cairngorm's Black Gold: a very dark russet beer with a soft malty head and a subtly smoky first taste; something woody and sour in the swill, and a strong jolt of citrus in the swallow. Lovely. Maybe a bit too distinctive for a session ale?
Fyne's Highlander: an oaky amber coloured ale with a spicy, juicy odor; it had a very tart fruity first taste, reminiscent of peppery steak on the swill, and a delicate hoppy swallow. Very interesting, in a good way.
Springhead Barebones: a smoky amber ale, with a gentle aroma of ripe berries; unexpectedly it was overwhelmingly bitter on first taste, and had tangy peach and honey in a complex swallow. I think I need to try this one again to decide how much I liked it. But I did like it.
Downton's Quadhop: a light amber beer, with hints of sparkly honey and hop in the head; a tangy sweet floral touch, and generic fruity tones on finish. A nice pint, but a bit gentle, perhaps forgettable.
Windsor & Eton Knight of the Garter: a light, straw-colored amber ale, with a musty hop aroma; there was unripe tropical fruit in the first taste, but it was a bit flat on the swallow.
Palmer's Tally Ho!: a dark brown old ale, with a rich ripe aroma like compost or humus; there are decadent pudding tastes with a crispy burnt fruit finish. The festival may not have been the best place to appreciate a strong ale like this, but I come away with good memories of it.
Ringwoods Best Bitter: a warm coppery colored beer with red fruit odor, a smoky bitter first taste, and mature maltiness for a bitter, tart rhubarb finish. Pretty good beer from one of my personal favourite small breweries.
Asked to pick my favourite of the weekend, I'm not sure it would be fair to highlight any out of those I didn't dislike, really. But if you held a gun to my head I'd say it was between Cairngorm's Black Gold and Ringwood's Best, although several of the new (to me) beers deserve a second try, especially the Barbus Barbus, Strange Brew, and Barebones.