Saturday, May 3, 2014

Reading Beerfest 2014

We visited the Reading Beer and Cider Festival again this year, after being very impressed by the organization, scale and quality in 2013. Again, this is a huge and attractive festival, with a wonderful range of real ales, ciders and perries, wines, snacks and hot food, and even games and live music. The significantly cooler weather this year did rather highlight the drawback of holding a festival outdoor/in a pavilion in British spring, as by evening it was almost intolerable to be sitting about even in outdoor coats. (Can't blame the organizers for the weather though!) The food queues were also long and not terribly well-organized, but it would be invidious to complain about catering that was better than almost any other festival I've ever been to. And as always, there was an excellent range of beer to be had. Some highlights:

Black Iris, Intergalactic IPA (mislabeled as "Aussie IPA", and listed in the programme both under its correct name and "Black Flag, Aussie IPA"): this bright orange, clear pale ale from Derbyshire has a lovely orangy hop odor, and a tart and zesty first taste, leading to smoky and yeasty mouth-taste, a hint of orange with the pits chewed up in it. The lingering bitterness is more chewy and woody, not as satisfying as I hoped from the start. Okay though. ***

W.J. King, Working Class Hero: a dark amber with light and airy head, but an aroma a bit like cider vinegar. The first taste is fruity and acid, but otherwise a little weak and watery. More robust citrus bitterness is evident in the mouth, and a traditional easy finish that barely lingers beyond the swallow. Not terrible, on its own terms, but I couldn't get over the cidery smell, and so didn't bother finishing the half-pint. *

Highland, Orkney Blast: a bright gold ale, looks almost still in the glass, but has a deeeeelicious fruity hop aroma. The spicy citrus fruit punch first taste, leads to a chewy hop in the mouth, yeasty and grainy, with floury and elder notes. A pithy swallow with lingering zesty grapefruit is absolutely gorgeous overall. Probably the highlight of the festival. ****

Williams Bros, Fraoch: a very pale, still beer with not much of a smell, perhaps a little orange pollen. The gently tart first taste is more zesty than sweet, then a little bit of cloying yeast in the mouth. A fruity swallow doesn't leave much of an impression, but not particularly unpleasant. Drinkable, but certainly won't stick in my memory. ***

Twickenham, Wolf in the Woods: a slightly cloudy light amber, with pollen and pine sap aroma. A first taste of green bark with no sweetness at all leads to a fairly traditional bitter tone in the mouth, and then a bit yeasty on the swallow, with a lingering woody aftertaste. Hm. I wondered if this one was maybe at the bottom of the barrel? **

Kissingate, Gardenia Mild (reviewed by Valeria): a golden amber/orange; aroma of flowers and ripe (or stewed) tree-fruit. Refreshing first taste of bitter lemon peel, leading to a whole pine forest of sappy mouthtaste; nice balance of elderflower, resin and forest-fruit sweetness, with a pleasant bitterness that gently lingers, not overwhelming but lovely. Nice but unusual; I'd have one of these if I ever find it in a pub, but it's a bit too strange to drink all night. ***

Monty's, Masquerade (gluten-free): a cloudy but light beer with sweet orange smell, and a little tart first taste, but pleasantly tangy, leading to a coarse, slightly chewy but mild hoppiness. Refreshingly fruity on the swallow, with hoppy bitterness that dissolves rapidly; an aftertaste of wood and yeast is very pleasant. Nothing unusual or exciting about this ale, but it is extremely quaffable. Noted. ****

Highland, Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout (reviewed by Simona): a black, opaque ale, with little brown foam. Subtle roasted malt smell, a heavily roasted palate, and smoky bitterness at the back of the tongue. The subtle taste of old forest berry jam, lingers, along with wood-smoke in the aftertaste. ***

Force, Thunderball Stout: pitch black with a hint of mahogany against the light; scent of smoky chocolate and lime zest, like the breath of a belching dragon who's just eaten a Spanish orchard. Very tart and juicy on the tip of my tongue, which leads to a charcoal tanginess with yeasty and malty tones. The gravelly stout really hits in the swallow, hoppy enough to satisfy, but not lingering enough to be sickly. Not bad at all at the end, leaving an impression of intense bitterness. ***

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