Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wandsworth Common Beerfest, La Gothique, March 27-29, 2014

We went to the Wandsworth Common beerfest in summer last year, and found it very charming, a pleasant venue, excellent beer range and all-round lovely day (the weather and company obviously helped!). The spring beerfest they hold in March is less sparkling (although the company was just as great), as it's not yet warm enough to sit outdoors all evening, and the venue is less well-equipped than we remember it being in July. No food trucks out back; no seating on the grass; the beer ran out more quickly on the Saturday afternoon. It was still a good fun day out, and I'm sure we'll come again some time.

Quick note re my beer notes: I've given each ale a star rating, roughly speaking, (1*) = so terrible I couldn't even finish the glass; (2*) not bad, but I'd rather not drink this in future if there's anything else on offer; (3*) pretty good, I could drink a few pints of this if it was on in my local one night; (4*) very good indeed, I enjoyed this very much and might seek it out; (5*) this is such a great beer, it's on my list of all-time favorite ales and I'll actively seek it out from here on in. There were no 1s or 5s tonight, but I've highlighted a couple of 4s below with (****) as they are the standouts of the festival for me.

I started the afternoon with a glass of Foxfield, Sand Cascade: a very pale, slightly cloudy straw-colored beer, smelling of caramel and a hint of lager malts, leading to sweet orange on the tip of the tongue. It was then zesty and tangy in the mouth, with a little charcoal and yeast (perhaps the barrel was hazed?); a plain crusty bitterness lingers, but is not very memorable. (**)

Wold Top, Spring Fling is a slightly cloudy blonde/gold ale, with a bit of a musty/composty scent, zesty sweetness that is lemony and pithy in the mouth, and final bitterness overwhelmed with tart yeast and a slightly earthy aftertaste. Although this may seem like a lukewarm review at best, the whole is better than the sum of its parts, and is quite quaffable. (***)

The first stand-out, for me, was Red Willow, Ageless: very bright pale orange ale with a rich aroma of toasted wheat flakes and orange blossom honey; tart and zesty orange on the first taste, with pithy tangerine in the mouth, pretty intense and complex citrus notes, and beautiful fruity mouthfuls of flavour. A smoky, coarse swallow and zesty aftertaste lingers for a short time, but the sweetness also echoes on the tongue. It's very bitter, but still doesn't taste nearly as strong as it is. (****)

Very nice indeed, but not in any sense a session ale was Sarah Hughes, Snowflake: a very deep honey-amber color, with sweet, slightly acerbic smell of enamel paint or a field of lemons. The first taste is honey-sweet with toasted hazelnut, vanilla and caramel; smooth maltcake and molasses grows in the mouth with a bit of harsh burnt sugar bitterness, not too malty but with crystals of processed sugar. The hint of coconut in the swallow becomes slightly artificial, and the lingering flavour is chemical rather than fruit, like the hit coming off the refuse site of a sugar factory. Not bad at all, truly; but you couldn't drink this all night. (***)

Settle, Signal Main Line was another lovely one: a light clear copper ale with a gentle bready aroma, like a rye sourdough with dried fruit peel; sour orange first taste, very nicely tangy, but more watery further back, leading to very tart bitterness, spicy and fruity at the same time. I wasn't convinced after the first couple sips, but it grew on me. A happy combination at the end. (****)

Dent, T'owd Tup is black as a Tory's soul, completely opaque and almost still; there's sweet coffee and old tar in the aroma, and a very gentle burnt sugar first taste. It's fruity but understated in the mouth, leading to a slightly cloying, dessert before bedtime, chewy finish; coffee on the swallow and a charcoal aftertaste, but neither really lingering. Perfectly pleasant, but not much to write home about. (***)

Mallinson's, Amarillo is a very pale gold-blonde with a frisky but thin head, lovely green citrus zest odor, and flattish, tangy, slightly numbing sweetness, growing to more lime zest in the mouth. The swallow has notes of orange pits or unripe almonds, lingering IPA hops and lemon pith, with quite a satisfying finish. (***)

And finally, happily, we had Hawkshead, Brodie's Prime: a very dark beer with mild coffeebean and caramel aroma, sweet walnut maltyness in the first taste, plenty of nuts and sweet cereal in the mouth, but quite the lovely balanced bitterness in the swallow offsets what would otherwise be overwhelming sweetness, with smoky molasses and woody liquorice in the aftertaste. Worked very well, even late in the evening. Recommended. (****)

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