Twickenham Beer Festival, October 19th, 2012
Our annual pilgrimage to the Twickenham Beer Festival continues. The venue is spartan and very crowded, with almost no seating available for the more sedate drinker. Food was pretty embarrassing—sub-canteen level swill served on paper plates. They could really do better. Beer range was good, with over 50 real ales on tap (although not all at once) and a cider stall in the foyer, although ciders and perries were not listed in the programme, so it was a bit more hit and miss. There's a large stage in York House, and our companions pointed out that a bit of local live music at some point in the evening would not have been a bad idea.
I started my evening with a glass of Orkney's Red MacGregor, an old favourite from one of the best breweries in the British Isles at the moment, very bitter and smoky with a gritty, chewy finish. My notes tell me I was a little underwhelmed by the Bridestones Sandstone, the North Yorkshire Flying Herbert and the Darktribe Full Ahead (none of which were terrible, just not the best), but I do remember enjoying the #LocAle Windsor and Eton Conqueror, a very dark red beer with a classic IPA hop aroma, but also a hint of leather in the head; shockingly strong sweetness in the first taste, but nice, tart citrus-infused swallow and a robust bitter aftertaste. My pick of the night might well have been the XT 4, an almost still, dark-blond-to-light-amber ale with a reassuring summery countryside smell, very chewy texture with a hint of mouldering straw in the swill and a very woody, bitter swallow like chewing on a taproom's oaken door-frame. Quite an intense beer, perhaps not a session ale, but rather lovely.
Pig's Ear Beer Festival, December 8th, 2012
Having made our way across to an unfamiliar part of town and breached the perimeter of the Round Chapel in Hackney, we found one of London's best known beer festivals and a quite lovely venue. The old church hall is large enough, and even though the festival was very well attended, it was laid out intelligently and thoughtfully so it was never too hard to fight through the crowds and get to the long, well-staffed bars. By Saturday afternoon many real ales had come an gone, so the listings in the programme were a bit of a fiction, but nevertheless the beer range was very good, and we also saw the best food on offer I've seen outside of the GBBF (real 10" German sausages and sauces, a massive range of quality cheeses, plus pies and sandwiches and the usual snacks). There was upstairs seating in the balconies, which if not comfortable, was perfectly pleasant for those of us not enamoured of spending several hours standing up in a madding crowd.
I started the day well again with an East London Jamboree, a cloudy lemon-yellow, pithy smelling beer with both the tart smell and the sweet taste of tropical fruit in evidence, going down easy and ending with a rather sparkly, tangy, tough bitterness. Also good was the Masters Spypost, another cloudy pint, this one dark-amber with a generous head and musty smoky aroma. The tart first taste is followed by an ashen-coffee swill, and leads to mushy, very ripe fruit on the swallow; I might find this sickly after a couple of pints, but as a taster it was lovely. I have no memories of (or memorable notes on) the Hafod Moel Famau, the Pitfield Wiper & True or the Hackner Hopster, but Moncada's Notting Hill Amber was notable for its citrusy odor, orange and lemon-filled hoppy first taste, zesty swill and whole mouthful of of citrusy hop in the swallow. Although nice, this promised IPA in the lead-in, but was far more fruity than expected, a little overpoweringly so. I think I ended the evening with a Redemption Hopspur, which is a promising dark amber fueled by subtle earthy hops, offering dark herbs in first taste, some peculiar olive and fennel thereafter and a gentle bitter swallow. Certainly memorable, if not quite what I expected.
Battersea Beer Festival, February 7th, 2013
For the first outing in the new year we headed south of the river to the Battersea Arts Centre, a venue which bizarrely we were directed to almost completely circumnavigate before entering (don't trust Southwest London CAMRA's street signage, people!). A large venue, with a good range of beers and several halls, including ciders downstairs and seating areas near the (above average canteen) food hall, but the placement of the bars in the middle of the room made the whole place feel very packed at all times. Refreshingly, complementary soft drinks were also available at the ends of the bar.
My palate was wet at the start of the evening by a drop of Ilkley Mary Jane, a pale clear ale, with a soft but very ripe odor and coarse industrial-woody first taste; it's smoother on the swallow with a hint of bitter compost giving it a redeeming complexity in the finish. Other fine samplings included: Downton Dark Delight, a very dark brown ale with a smoky chocolate/coffee aroma, lighter coffee taste, quite dry in the mouth, but sweet, malty and pleasantly chewy on the swallow. Box Steam Tunnel Vision, a very clear dark tan ale with an earthy odor, fruity and oddly sparkly first taste, some abrupt acorn bitterness in the mouth, and then a very gentle sap in the swallow; I've always been impressed by Box Steam's ales, and would like to try more some time. Downton Rye Smile, a cloudy light gold ale with the smell of grass pollen, a taste of lemon-rind brought by the sour hops, and a delicate, spicy grapefruit pithiness rounding off the pleasure at the finish. The amusingly named Beer Spelt Bier from Hop Back is of the lightest gold, with a caramel and vanilla nose, frothy toffee in the first taste, gorgeous roasted hazelnut in the body and a swallow soured by young fruit, making the whole experience complex and very happy (at least in small quantities; I'd like to try a couple of pints to see how that lasts). Toward the end of the evening I enjoyed a Longdog Lamplight, a brown-black creamy ale with a smoky Bacon and raw coffee stout odor, a shockingly bitter first taste, but a sweeter, warm crusty swallow rounding it off.
London Drinker (Camden) Beer and Cider Festival, March 6th, 2013
Most recently, we heading north to the Camden Centre, walkable from central London, for the oldest uninterrupted beer festival in the city. The hall is not very large, with bars on three sides, and it was full to the gills on the Wednesday night we were there with no seats or quiet corners. A food hall is tucked away upstairs, serving very rudimentary hot snacks, and half-way through the evening the balconies were opened, but they're not in very good nick and had uncomfortable seats. The beers were well laid out, however, with London ales to one side, rest of Britain at the far end, and ciders, internationals and teeshirts on the right. Within this rational distribution, the listings in the programme were, unusually for a beerfest, mostly up-to-date and useful.
My first dram of the night was the lovely Beavertown Gamma Ray APA, a dark gold, still beer with grapefruit pith odor, sweet and tart on the tip of the tongue, some honey in the swill and a shockingly hoppy swallow. Less impressive was Beer Geek's Geek Unique, a frothy dark amber with lovely fruity pollen and honey odor, but disappointingly sour, metallic taste and rusty swallow. Meh. Better, but too extreme for my tastes was the Saltaire Elderflower Blonde, which smelled of elder pollen, tasted of berries immediately on tongue, had a subtle fruity sweetness in the mouth, but was elderflower all the way down. And I have unpleasant memories of getting sick on elderberries, so no thank. Also meh: Purple Moose, Snowdonia, a light orange ale with a buttery smell, which is sweet and a bit lagery; it's quaffable but bland, and doesn't have a particularly interesting aftertaste.
Happily there were some more great ales that evening too: Notting Hill Ruby Rye, an almost black, dark red ale, with a malty and bready aroma, sweet to the tongue with young fruit and gentle coffee, with a refreshingly bitter finish. Lovely. Then Sambrooks Pumphouse Pale, a medium-pale beer with big bubbles, some caramel and fresh pith smells, sweet to drink with intense wheat and flowers in the finish; a nice, quaffable pint that would go down well over an evening in the bar. Towards the end of the night we had a Crate Stout, a thick brown stout with treacly and rubbery odor, sweet and malty chocolate first taste and a suggestion of flame-dried fruit further back; on the swallow the spicy charcoal is reminiscent of grilled peppers (although nobody but me thought so). A successful sampling all told!