Saturday, October 19, 2013

Twickenham Beerfest 2013

As is becoming something of a tradition, we attended the Twickenham Beer Festival on the Friday night this year, and tasted a few old favourites and a few unusual new ales. As usual, this small festival is not terribly well provisioned: there was no shortage of beers, and the usual couple of dozen ciders and perries in a side bar, but apart from one CAMRA merchandise stall, that was about it. No bottled ale, disappointingly (I'm not sure why, when the fine is only up the road and sponsors the festival). The food was low-end canteen fare, and began to run out pretty early in the evening. The festival wasn't even that busy by Friday night standards (in former years there would be a line 45 minutes long outside York House by about 8 o'clock), which might have something to do with the fact that there was no signage of any kind visible from the road; but even so there was painfully inadequate seating available (I saw people with sticks and walking frames popping themselves against the bar to stay upright, while queues built up around them).

Not the finest venue and organization, then. What about the beers? First some good ones:

  • I started the night appropriately with a pint of Twickenham, Strange Brew, which I've always enjoyed in the past: a dark gold ale with a very thin, crisp head, a somewhat sweaty aroma, and a sweet, complex fruity start. A hint of spice accompanies the more chewy bitterness further back, and an intensely bitter kernel finish satisfies. This wasn't quite as good as I remembered it from other festivals, but still a very nice pint.
  • I didn't try the Hop Back, Heracles, but Richard tells me that this clear gold beer had a pretty faint odor, but was full-flavored (especially for the low alcohol content, 2.8%) with notes of barley and fresh-milled flour leading to gentle hops and a smoothly bitter aftertaste. It wasn't the most tasty beer in the world, and he didn't detect any of the spices or orange zest promised in the blurb, but it didn't feel like a low-alcohol brew either, and was one of his favourites of the night.
  • Elland, Beyond the Pale: a very pale pint with a fresh bread smell and some tangy orange in the first touch; creamy, gently hoppy in the mouth, it lingers with a coarse pithy aftertaste. It may not sound spectacular, but it was a very good example of its style, and certainly one we'd come back to for more if it was on tap in a pub.
  • Roosters, YPA (Yorkshire Pale Ale): a light gold beer with good chunky head, a lovely thistle smell and tongue-taste of fresh cut greens. Further back in the mouth there are hints of thyme and broccoli, and finally an ephemeral wild honey and herb finish. Unusual and quite nice all round, but flatlining a little at the end.
  • Amber, Chocolate Orange Stout: I always find chocolate orange to be a very variable style, ranging from excellent to terrible, so was interested to try this pitch black beer with brown-tinted foam. It had a promising strong smoky odor with just a whiff of tangerine; there was intense, chocolatey cappuccino in the first touch, leading to steadily more coarse bitterness further back. Sadly there was no more orange or citrus to be discerned in this one, all the way back to the disappointing finish. Not a bad stout, but not the best example of this cheeky style.
  • Downton, Elderquad: a rather pale yellow pint with an earthy smell, like an urban garden after a good rain; sweet, tart berries in the first taste, then some lime zest in the mouth, and ending with a deep bitterness like a crushed lemon pip, which sadly lingers only briefly. Not bad at all, but underwhelming on the swallow.
And some of the less successful tasters of the night:
  • Growler, Gladness: apparently sponsored by the British band Madness, this clear light amber beer has a strong toasty smell of freshly baked crusty bread, and taut sour grains on the tip of the tongue. Then it becomes a bit sweeter, the lager hops with which it's brewed very evident in the mouth-taste, and a surprisingly mellow swallow. This really didn't do it for me. Sorry, Sugs.
  • Another Twickenham beer, Yakima Valley ABA (American Brown Ale) was an opaque brown pint, with an odor of yeast reminiscent of a slight sick person's body sweat. There's malty bread in the first taste, followed by the vert bitter, cloyingly dense green wood finish. I have to be honest: I didn't even drink half a pint of this one.
  • Kelburn, Red Smiddy: a dark amber ale with plasticky/doughy odor, glazed fruit and yeasty tartness on the tongue, and bubblegum and sweet Apple in the finish. I couldn't help thinking of that sticky gum designed to blow huge bubbles with that you could then tie off and last for hours? Horrible stuff. Yeah. No.
  • RCH, PG Steam: a cloudy pale beer with a bit of a swimming pool smell (chlorine? children's piss in the water? damp towels left out for too long?). The first taste is of musty fruit, then a bit more promisingly bitter in the mouth, but unbearably yeasty on the swallow. I suspect this was a bit off, I'm afraid.
  • Buffy's Norwich Terrier: this beer is a very watery brown to look at, with musty fruit on the tongue, a harsh sparkly sap further back in the mouth; the pithy bitterness lingers a little, but not long enough to make this pint very interesting. It seems a bit unfair to include this in the "failures" list, but it certainly wasn't a "winner".

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