Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A Tale of Two Beer Festivals

October was a rather busy month for me on the Beer Festival front, with the JD Wetherspoons self proclaimed "Worlds biggest Real Ale & Cider Festival" running for over 3 weeks. As well two contrasting local festivals; Wallington and Wandsworth.

Wallington Beer Festival in full swing
The differences between the two were vast, first up was Croydon & Sutton CAMRA's 18th beer festival hosted in the slightly dilapidated Wallington Hall. With a emphasis on the LocALE campaign with over 50 real ales on offer from 27 different breweries coming within 30 miles of the venue! I first attended the Wallington festival year and had a great time despite being noticeably the youngest person in attendance and this year was no difference! The festival seemed quieter this year but that meant being served at one of the 3 bars was never going to be a problem.

Perched next to a Sambrooks Powerhouse Porter 4.9% ABV pump-clip and having missed out on this first of Sambrooks seasonal ales last year it seemed wrong not to try it. Sticking to the Porters next up was Botanist Night Porter 5.0% ABV, having never come across the Kew based microbrewery before I was delighted with this traditional porter. With a malty caramel nose and a lovely smokey roasted taste, I'll be sure to look out for more Botanist beers in the future.
Other highlights were Westerham's Little Scotney Green Hop 4.0% ABV brewed from hops from the National Trust's hop farm at Scotney Castle, But the beer that got my taste buds tingling was Brodies Kiwi 3.8% ABV. A wonderful golden ale laced with Nelson Sauvin hops giving a hoppy sweet long bitter after taste.
Although the festival is always friendly, I feel just feel something else is lacking, some entertainment to break things up a bit or maybe just a change of venues would breath more life into the festival.

On the other hand Wandsworth Common's Halloween Beer festival was a different experience. Set in the amazing Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, which has seen a number of uses over its 150 years including a field hospital for the soldiers of the First World War & as a base for the secret services during the Second World War, including the interment of the Nazi politician Rudolf Hess. Although not run by CAMRA, members did receive discount. Offering 90 ales including Darkstar, Thornbridge and Sarah Hughes. However despite the promotional posters listing Brew Dog, a note in the program detailed the organisers choice to not server their beers, due to the fact "Brew Dog in their infinite wisdom have decided to produce their portfolio of beers in bottle and in keg only". This is the downside to Brew Dogs choice but I'll leave that for another blog and another day.

Myself and Tom (again the other one) were pleased to see five Thornbridge beers on offer including the brilliant St. Petersberg Stout, however the new Sequoia American Amber Ale 4.5% ABV was my choice with a citrusy pine flavour and a lovely balanced bitter after-taste.
With two more friends joining us we returned to the bar this time I tried Art Brew - Blackberry Stout 4.6% ABV. I'm still not sure if I actually liked this beer, tasting somewhat like a Guinness and black. The blackcurrant's really over powered the expected smokey taste of stout leaving you with an unexpected sweet after-taste.

As the courtyard started to fill up with people it was clear that the festival had attracted a much more diverse crowd than Wallington, with several groups of younger people quaffing the ales and ciders the bars soon became a free for all and it became increasingly difficult to be served. Maybe it was the Green Jack- Baltic Trader Imperial Stout 10.5% ABV but I didn't seem to mind the wait. This beer packs a punch as you would expect for an Imperial Stout , with a slight mocha after-taste. I'll try to get hold of a bottle as it would be more sorted to a quiet night when it can be sipped leisurely.
The other highlight was Redemption Brewery - Big Chief 5.5% ABV a brilliant IPA packed full of New Zealand hops offering a unmistakable citrus flavour, I love beers like this but it slightly felt out of place on a dark, wet October night!

Overall October has been a great month for trying new beers, with three festivals showcasing some of the countries top breweries. The contrast in the attitude and environment environment of the two events I attended, suggest to me that CAMRA still needs to work on their image, while the beers are starting to speak for themselves.