Peterborough Beer Festival 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
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…