Category Archives: Beer Festivals

Peterborough Beer Festival 2013

Peterborough Beer Festival runs until 11pm on Saturday 24th August, 2013. When it ends, the River Nene will swell with the beery tears of disconsolate drinkers.

PBF2013

More than anything, the people are what makes this festival such a special experience – it seems every time I headed towards a bar, I was greeted by the smiling faces of the volunteer staff, willing me on to taste the delights of another beer. And what beers! Here are my picks…

Bexar County Brewery

The brewery nearest to the festival – just over half a mile as the crow flies – Bexar County just happens to be brewing some of the finest, most exiting beers I’ve tasted this year. The rich, roasted Imperial Stout ‘Papa Steve’ might just be the best of them all, the lip-smacking Gose is a briny beaut of a brew, the hop-heavy ‘Anciona’ took silver in the Best Beer from a New Brewery category, and ‘Vaquero’ was one of the first to sell out. Grab them while you can – they don’t hang around long.

Bexar County Brewery

Salopian – Boomerang

The brewery whose Blackwater Rat Race was voted Overall Champion last year, returned with what proved to be this year’s Champion Strong Bitter. I was privileged to be a part of the judging panel, and although the beers were blind tasted, I later learned that this was the beer that’d had us all oohing and aahing like we were at a firework display. A burst of juicy tropical fruits, honey and piney resin – superb.

Redwell – Craft Pilsner

RedwellA ‘hand crafted English lager’, grassy and grainy, few drinks are as crisp and refreshing as this on a sunny afternoon.

Usually only available from keg, here it is available straight from the cask as a one-off festival special.

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Peterborough Beer Festival returns next year from Tuesday 19th to Saturday 23rd August 2014

Green Man, Grantchester – May Beer Festival

From 3rd – 6th May the Green Man, Grantchester will be holding an Early May Bank Holiday Beer Festival and judging by the beer list and music line up, it looks like it could well be the best one yet.

Green Man Grantchester

Beers range from the sessionable 3.7% ABV Hawkshead Bitter on cask to the ‘hold on to your seats’ 11.6% Rogue Imperial Stout on keg, from the straw-coloured, citrusy George Wright Pipe Dream to the dark, chocolatey Allgates All Black. Local breweries are represented by Bexar County, Blackbar, Brewshed, Buntingford, Fellows, Moonshine, Tydd Steam and Oakham Green Devil, recently awarded Champion Cask Ale at the International Brewing Awards 2013.

Green Man Grantchester Beer Festival

There’ll be bands playing throughout the weekend, including a Friday evening gig by Split Whiskers, one of the finest blues bands I’ve seen – Johnny ‘Magic Boy’ Wright’s guitar playing is jaw-droppingly good.

Even getting to the Green Man is a pleasure, a mile long riverside footpath crossing the ‘lazy water meadow’ to the ‘lovely hamlet of Grantchester’

Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there

…and very good beer.

Grantchester

Next beer festivals at the Green Man:
May 3-6
July 19-21
August 23-27
September 27-29

Green Man. 59 High St, Grantchester, Cambridge CB3 9NF

Cambridge Octoberfest 2012

The 6th Cambridge Camra Octoberfest was held over Friday 12th and Saturday 13th October. Within an hour of opening on Friday evening it was packed with thirsty drinkers – the Saturday lunchtime session offered a more relaxed atmosphere.

German Beers

Eighteen German breweries were represented, including the ‘Big Six’ Munich breweries. Highlights included:

Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel 7.1% – Despite attending both days, I somehow missed this as it sold out very shortly after it was put on, but it’s a particularly fine beer from a Benedictine monastery that has brewed beer for centuries – I’ll console myself with the bottle of it I have in the cupboard.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen 5.1% – A beer so full of smoked sausage flavours I have to remind myself that it’s “brewed according to the Bavarian Beer Purity Law of 1516″ and is vegan friendly. Nevertheless, it is a strangely appealing beer that would be well paired with hot dogs on Bonfire Night.

Fässla Zwergla 6% – A dark lager that wasn’t here last year, it was the best of the German beers I tried this year. Smooth, medium-bodied with a good malty bite of chocolate digestive biscuits, went down really easy for it’s strength.

The Trunk Dunkel 5.2% was a bit over carbonated for me with only faint bitter chocolate and metallic flavours emerging – okay.

British Beers

Amongst the British beers are several with German influences, including:

Blackbar Märzen – Brewed back in March especially for this Octoberfest, some of it made an appearance at the Cambridge Beer Festival in May. Since then the beer has developed even richer sweet, malty flavours. An interesting and enjoyable beer – I hope that come March another batch is brewed ready for next year’s Octoberfest.

Blackbar Märzen

Milton Schwarzwälderkirschesdunkelbier 5.5% – A Black Forest cherry dark beer? Tasted more like a fruity stout with some creeping sour cherry and bitter almond flavours in the finish. Very drinkable and the first beer to sell out.

Milestone Taeberry Bock 4.6% – Supposedly a German style bock beer although that wasn’t really evident in the taste. Plenty of fresh raspberry flavours from the tayberries though, nice enough.

Brewshed Cloudy Summer 4.3% – A really great wheat beer, some initial orange zest and pineapple flavours developing into strong banana flavours reminiscent of those banana mallows from a pick & mix.

There were around thirty other British beers available, including:

Hopshackle – Three beers from this consistently superb brewery. The strongest, 7% Double Momentum, was rich in sweet, resinous and fruity hops with hints of oak and all the flavours of a Battenburg cake, but pound for pound the Hoptane somehow packed the most punch, plenty of hop bitterness for a 3.8% golden ale.

Hopshackle

Moonshine – Again, three from this local brewery. The 6.7% Chocolate Orange Stout was in great nick, not particularly strong orange flavours, but with a big bittersweet chocolate finish.

Red Brewery All Saints Ale 4% – a brewery that only started producing beer this year, about 23 miles from the beer fest, this was my first taste of their beer and it was impressive. Roasted and hoppy, good condition, a really quaffable beer and my beer of the festival this year.

Red Brewery All Saints Ale

Next up, the Cambridge Winter Ale Festival from Thursday 19th — Saturday 21st January 2012.

Letchworth Beer & Cider Festival

Letchworth Garden City might not seem the most obvious place to find a beer festival, a town that had a ban on alcohol licenses until 1960 and no pub in the town centre until 1974, but it’s been held for over 20 years.

Letchworth CAMRA Beer Fest

This year was the first in a new venue, the Green House, a glass-roofed indoor market, and it may be the last here if the proposed ‘redevelopment’ of the building goes ahead. We visited on a sunny Saturday, the glass roof giving it the feel of an outdoor beer fest, the atmosphere relaxed and friendly. Perfect conditions for drinking beer.

Letchworth Beer Fest

Good choice of beer too. I thought the Moor Revival was the best on the day, and the Buxton Axe Edge was great as always, but there were some beers new to me that I found particularly interesting – Windsor & Eton Kohinoor spiced with ‘jasmine petals, cardamom and coriander’ and Harknott Cool Fusion with way more than a ‘hint of sweet ginger’, a splash of lemon and plenty of spicy, peppery notes too, but with an earthy hop flavour coming through it all – lovely stuff.

Tiny Rebel Dirty Stop Out (‘Colour – Slag Heap’) had the best tasting notes:

Tiny Rebel

All this and only half an hour from Cambridge by train? Turns out Letchworth is a great place for a beer festival.

Letchworth CAMRA Beer Fest 2012

Peterborough Beer Festival 2012

Peterborough Beer Festival is back

PBF is Back

A beer festival of this size, one of the largest in the country, usually warrants some preparation; a beer list – an attempt to narrow down the choice of over 350 beers. But after the recent GBBF, where my beer list was swiftly abandoned in favour of more impulsive choices, I thought I’d keep preparation to a minimum – have an idea for the first beer and then just let the empty glass decide on which bar to settle. It turns out that an unfettered pint glass can develop a devilish taste in beer and like the Spanish Inquisition, its chief weapon is surprise. Surprise and fear – Baz’z 12% ABV ‘Bonce Blower’? At this hour? Are you sure?

First beers always go down fast so something light and refreshing was in order, especially at noon on a warm, humid day in August. Hopshackle Simmarillo proved to be a perfect choice – a 3.8% ABV golden beer which turned out to be my favourite of the fest and which I supped calmly at the bar. It would be several hours later, well into the evening session, that I returned for another of Hopshackle’s beers, by which time my composure had gone astray and my beer glass had assumed the character of Withnail, recklessly demanding more booze.

Golden beers and blue skies

PBF 2012

Spot the difference: (clockwise from top left) Magic Rock Curious, Hawkshead Windermere Pale, Oakham Carioca, Salopian Blackwater Rat Race

The afternoon sesison was a relaxed affair, for me at least – Beer Talk had a rather more fast-paced afternoon at the official Champion Beer Tasting Session, supping 22 beers in a blind taste test. Most beer festivals I’ve attended have had welcoming atmospheres, but PBF surpasses them all. I never got round to opening the newsaper, engaged instead in conversations with all manner of bartenders and beer drinkers. At each bar, you can feel the volunteers willing you on to taste another beer, and encouragement like that is hard to resist.

Nevertheless, I was committed to writing tasting notes for at least some of the beers:

Hopshackle – Simmarillo 3.8% ABV: A lovely flush of bubbles when swirled around in the glass, went down silky smooth with gentle flavours of citrus and malt, a lovely starter

Magic Rock – Curious 3.9%: Powerful citrus aroma, full taste of tropical fruit and lemon zest, impressive for a session strength beer

Oakham – Carioca 5.2%: Carries a familiar Oakham hoppiness, flavours of passion fruit, corn syrup and something I just couldn’t put my finger on

Hawkshead – Windermere Pale 3.5%: Easy drinking pale ale. How easy? As easy as Big Daddy beat other wrestlers, accompanied by the chant “easy, easy”. That easy.

Perhaps it was the elderflower in Thornbridge Craven Silk that wasn’t to my taste and though Hackney APA wasn’t a bad beer, I found it a bit lacking in US hops, but they were evident in my last beer of the afternoon session, the Blackjack Aces High IPA I quaffed quickly before time at the bar.

I drank a few of these beers in the company of Roger, whose retirement seemed to consist of driving his camper van to beer festivals and parking up nearby for the duration. After 5 full days at the GBBF in London, he was here for all 5 days of PBF, aiming to try “ten or eleven beers per session”. He always appeared to have two beers on the go at once, so I could well believe he met his target. He also told me in hushed tones that Nottingham CAMRA were planning to be the first to host a festival with over a thousand draught real ales. I found that a little harder to believe, but it seems this years Robin Hood beer fest will indeed attempt to set that record.

Come the evening session I was less committed to making tasting notes and by the end of the evening had reduced the strongest draught beer at the festival, Baz’s Bonce Blower, down to two words – treacle toffee.

Salopian Blackwater Rat Race 4%: Having just been judged the Champion Beer of PBF 2012, this seemed like a good beer to start the evening session with, and the tasting notes enticed with their description of the beer as “a field of hops, a breeze with hints of orange, citrus and lime”. I found the flavour to be more pineapple citrus, with a sweet, slightly sticky finish, but I can’t argue with it winning the blind taste test – a very enjoyable summer ale.

Then it poured down. Everyone moved quickly into the marquee and my beer glass abandoned the summer ales in favour of something darker to match the sky. Some of the darker, stronger beers were to be found at the ‘Singles Bar’, a selection of one off beers ‘found lurking in their cold stores… or unusual dark beers that no publican is brave enough to buy’ according to the programme.

Ever briefer notes followed:

Hopshackle – Restoration 10%: A Belgian strong ale that doesn’t hide the booze, warming as it goes down, hints of stewed fruits, banana and cloves.

Highland – Orkney Porter 9%: Overall, figgy, with some raw coffee beans and unadultered dark chocolate.

Baz’z Bonce Blower 12%: Treacle toffee

And that was that for the notes, and before long we left, casting long, late summer shadows and headed for the train home. Roger was somewhere nearby in his camper van, probably already tucked up in bed. That’s the way to do it – maybe next year…

More Peterborough Beer Festival 2012 coverage

Great British Beer Festival 2012

The Olympia is indeed a grand hall, the glass roof letting in tons of natural light – well, 85 tons of glass in 2,500 plates apparently. It felt welcoming and spacious over the two floors, at least on the opening afternoon we visited.

GBBF 2012 Olympia

It’s estimated over a quarter of a million pints would be consumed over the next few days, so we had to make an early start, roll up our sleeves and get stuck in.

Deschutes Doc WatsonThe main draw for me had been the foreign beers, in particular Deschutes, a brewery from the USA whose beers I became very fond of during a trip around Oregon, so my first beer was their Doc Watson, a brew with a solid body of caramel malt nicely balanced with cascade hops.

I followed that with the dark delights of Left Hand Black Jack Porter, a sweet and smooth beer full of rich, roasted malt flavours.

But by the end of the day, some of the most enjoyable beers I’d tried had come from much closer to home. Superb beers from Allgates, Brimstage, Brodies, Gadds, George Wright and Kinver to mention a few…

Allgates, Brimstage, Gadds, Kinver

GK 5X… even Greene King, whose 5X made a limited appearance and seemed to reveal much richer sherry flavours than when tried earlier this year at Bury St Edmunds beer fest.

It was pleasing to see some of my favourite beers from East Anglia win awards – a bronze in the Mild category for Son of Sid Muckcart Mild with Green Jack taking gold in the bitter category and silver overall for Trawlerboys bitter.

It could have been easier to view the beers on the website beforehand, but no complaints from me about the range of breweries and beers – I enjoyed every beer I tried, tried many and still left wishing I could’ve tried more. Maybe that’s looking at it through beer-tinted spectacles, but I drank plenty of good beer, met plenty of good people and appreciate how much hard work goes on behind the scenes. Cheers!

Beer tinted spectacles

Even the antics of Skinner’s Betty Stogs and the accompanying racket of the marching band were tempered by some tuneful singing from the Cornish choir.

Betty Stogs

She’s a Cornich lass. You can just tell.

Finally it was time to leave and head for home.

“The pack on my back is aching,
The straps seem to cut me like a knife”

Clearly, the Stone Roses had also raided the fridges at Bières Sans Frontières.

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Here’s a review of GBBF 2012 from Beer Talk

Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival at the Regal

Opened in 1937, The Regal on St. Andrews Street, Cambridge was originally a cinema and theatre with a compton organ before it closed in 1997, reopening in 2000 as a Wetherspoons pub, with the Arts Picturehouse above. A large pub (once claiming to be Europe’s largest) with some of the original art deco fixtures inside, it stands on part of the site of Ye Olde Castel Inn (the present Castle Inn is on the other part) which burnt down sometime in the early 1930s. The inn was originally a 13th century building called Rudd’s Hostel, which became a boarding house until the 16th century. The Beatles performed at The Regal twice in 1963 (19/03 & 26/11), the Rolling Stones in 1965 (15/10).

Wetherspoons Real Ale Fest

This week saw the return of the Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival with festival beers on 11 pumps. Some of the beers have been brewed especially for the festival and two of these were on:
Nøgne ø Bitter, a 4.5% best bitter brewed at Batemans – not as hoppy as expected, but a pleasant bitter, some sharp fruit in the finish, I suspect this beer in particular would have been much improved if it wasn’t served through a sparkler.
Otter Pilgrim, a 4.8% bitter – pale and creamy with plenty of hops and a goood body, very enjoyable.

Titanic Nine Tenths BelowOf the other beers tried, Wharfebank Wispa IPA was noteable for the flavour of ‘mature fruits’ mentioned in the tasting notes – plenty of over-ripe peaches and black bananas.

I appreciate being able to try 1/3 pints and so sample most of the beers in any session, but nothing beats a good pint so having sampled a few I got stuck into a pint of Titanic ‘Nine Tenths Below’, a superb 5.9% IPA, oily and sweet with a surge of citrus hops and a bitter finish – drinking it I was like a crowd at a firework display, all ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.

The beer festival continues until 1st April…

The Regal, Cambridge

The Maypole beer festival

The Castiglione family celebrate 30 years at the Maypole, Cambridge with the pub’s first beer festival this week. Since the pub became a freehouse in 2009 there are usually around 8 real ales on handpump and during the festival a total of over 40 ales are available.

Maypole, Cambridge

There’s been a beerhouse on this street since at least 1851. In the late 1800s there were two pubs here, the Maypole on Portugal Place and the Feathers (or Plume of Feathers) three doors down on the corner of Park Street. The Feathers has since been demolished, perhaps during the 1960s when the multistorey car park was built and the road widened. Part of the present Maypole building appears to be 20th century, probably rebuilt sometime between the wars. Some buildings in Portugal Place suffered bomb damage during WWII. Inside, the large picture of a maypole scene has been on the wall since at least 1975.

Milton ArchimedesFestival beers include one from Milton brewery that was co-brewed by Vincent from the Maypole. Based on Milton’s Nero but higher in strength, Archimedes is a rich, dark beer with a lingering taste of dark berries, unadulterated chocolate – despite the honey added to the brew, this is not a sweet beer – and warming alcohol.

Of the other beers tried, the two from Redemption – Hopspur and Fellowship Porter – were in cracking form and enticed me back to the bar for more of each. Green Jack Red Herring is another very drinkable beer that doesn’t overdo the smoked flavour, and I had my first taste of St Austell Black Prince, a dark mild, sweet and slightly fruity, like a Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut. Plenty more beers to try, so plenty more visits planned…
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Elysian Winter Beer Festival 2012

3rd Elysian Winter Beer Festival 17th – 18th February 2012

The Ely Winter Beer fest is held in the Maltings, a wonderful building dating from 1868, once used to provide malted barley for the Ely Brewery (brief history of Ely Ales & Forehill Brewery).

The Maltings, Ely

The beer selection was superb with around 60 real ales on. Here are my favourites of the ones I got to try:

1. Steel City Xiberia 4.8%
A beer brimming with hops, Citra and Galaxy to the fore, tropical tastes of tangerine and passionfruit, easy drinking and perfect for an afternoon session.
2. Stringers Hop Priest 6.5%
A juicy, hoppy beer with plenty of body that went down far easier than the strength would suggest. That its name is a reference to The Fall’s ‘Hip Priest’ only adds to the enjoyment – “Drink the long draught” indeed
3. Buntingford Imperial Black IPA 5.8%
Surprise appearance of a beer not listed, this could be a reduced strength version of the Imperial Baltic Stout (7.0%) which was also a heavily hopped black ale. Low on carbonation but plenty of roasted flavour, and it looked good in the festival glass
4. RAW Fletcher! Oat Stout 5.5%
One of those beers that brings a smile to your face. I’m not sure what it was about it that made it so, but if this beer is named after ‘Fletch’ and the comedy Porridge then it’s well named – cheerful and full of oats. Lovely stuff
5. Tring Death or Glory 7.2%
Another surprise appearance of a beer not listed, a strong beer that tastes strong, a proper winter warmer. Smooth, sweet and syrupy, I’ve enjoyed this from the bottle many times this winter and it was even better from the cask

Buntingford Imperial IPA and Stringers Hop Priest

Buntingford Imperial IPA and Stringers Hop Priest

Quay House, Ely
Another noteworthy beer was Cambridge Moonshine Ebenezer William Harlock, a 5% ‘dry hopped wheat porter’ brewed specially for the festival. Harlock was behind the building of the Maltings (there’s now a Harlock Bar inside) and lived just around the corner in Quay House.

Draycott Brewery from St Neots were also in attendance selling their bottled ale. Jon kindly offered a bottle of Buckden Pale Ale to try and although I found it a little too light and ‘effervescent’ for me, I really enjoyed the Buckden Black Porter – a lovely roasted beer with bags of flavour that belied the relatively low strength (3.8%). A fellow festival goer told me the Ruby Bitter was one of the best beers they tried at last years fest so I’ll be keen to try that next.

There was also a beer from the Norfolk Brewhouse, a new brewery – the Moon Gazer amber ale may be their first beer and is new in 2012.

This friendly festival ran out of beer by 4pm on Saturday. According to Ely CAMRA, last year almost 1400 people helped drink 56 casks of beer (plus 300 bottles of foreign beer, 140 bottles of Draycott beer alone and 500 pints of cider) with Dancing Duck ’22’ the first to sell out (I enjoyed their ‘Abduction’ IPA this year). It will be interesting to see how this year compared and what beer sold out first…

Cambridge Winter Ale Festival 16

The 16th Cambridge Winter Ale Festival 19-21 January 2012

16th Cambridge Winter Ale Fest

From around 100 real ales, there are two previous winners of the Beer of the Festival – Hopshackle Historic Porter and Milton Marcus Aurelius – and there are beers from the five Cambridgeshire breweries, all brewing within 10 miles of the festival:

Blackbar – Cambridgeshire’s newest brewery, established in 2011, got it’s first beer out just in time for the fest. Based in Harston, about 5 miles south of Cambridge.
Cambridge Moonshine – three times winner of the Cambridge Beer Festival. Established in 2004 and now based about 5 miles SE of Cambridge.
Fellows – established in 2009 in Cottenham, about 7 miles north of Cambridge
Lord Conrads – established in 2007 and now based in Dry Drayton, about 6 miles west of Cambridge.
Milton – as mentioned, Beer of the Fest winner in 2007 with Marcus Aurelius which makes another appearance this year, and winner in 2002 and 2001 with Caligula and Colossus. Founded in 1999 and the closest brewery to the Winter Ale fest, based 4 miles NE of Cambridge.

16th Cambridge Winter Ale Fest

This year there are three draught foreign beers for the first time at the Winter Ale Fest – De Molen Geboren & Getogen was put on Friday evening, and will be followed by two beers from the fantastic Rogue brewery based about 5,000 miles from Cambridge – Chatoe OREgasmic 7.0% American pale ale and Dad’s Little Helper 6.8% Black IPA.

There are also several real ciders, including the aptly named:
Filthy Tramp Juice

The fest is held at the University Social Club, Mill Lane, next to the Mill Pond.

Mill Pond, Cambridge

Previous winners of the beer of the festival