"I didn't come to England to drink foreign beer" is my normal attitude to, er, going to England, and it's one I heard from Merideth (all the way from California) standing chatting by the Bières Sans Frontières bar at the Great British Beer Festival on Tuesday. However, the range of cask-conditioned American and continental rarities on offer meant I was making an exception this time round. Well, nearly.
A lot of the stuff I was interested in was in the upper ranges of beer ABVs, so I thought I'd take it easy to begin with and have a YoHo Tokyo Black, a mere 5.5% alcohol. It wasn't terribly exciting, the thick tarry texture being the most interesting aspect. On the flavour there were some caramel and coffee notes, making me think of an English mild. Very mild, in fact. It all had me needing something with a bit more flavour.
Fearing the supply wouldn't last long, I followed with a third of The Angel's Share from Port Brewing in California. Aye, not bad. Or rather, one of the best beers I've ever tasted. There's quite a light touch on the bourbon barrel, lending it a whisky-like character but without any of the cloying sweet or woody characteristics of Scottish whisky-aged ales. Amazingly, at 12.5% ABV it comes across no more boozy than a typical wine at this strength. I don't think I need go into a list of the flavours coming from this immensely complex ale (think vanilla, think raisins): I can't hope to do it all justice. Just be aware that the finish is incredibly long, and that anyone who has ideas about wine=good while beer=bad needs a glass of this. Phew.
The palate needed a bit of clearing after that, and I was thirsty having spent half an hour sipping my tiny glass, taking a wander around the cavernous venue as I savoured. So next up was a light and hoppy east coaster: Freshchester Pale Ale from Captain Lawrence in New York state. It's basically hops-and-water, a real beer for the maltophobe. The flavour is acidic and raw, and I can imagine this would be tempered when served from the keg. But on cask it's green green green all the way, with a light body ensuring it remains drinkable. Tasty, and just what I needed before tackling barrel number 2.
Tsarina Esra is an imperial stout from De Molen, the Dutch brewery I visited last year. This one was being served from the wood, and definitely had an oakier flavour than The Angel's Share, with the whisky and vanilla flavours one might expect. However there's also a very nice liquorice bitterness to it, as well as the perfect creamy silk texture. Utterly delicious.
I don't see De Molen Amarillos anywhere on my BSF beer list, but I was handed some by Maeib (thanks!). Were you guys sneaking beer into the country's largest festival? Anyway, it's gorgeous too: those wonderful manadarin notes of American hoppy beers with a sharp lip-smacking tang. Much less work than any American double IPA I've had.
(Late late edit: I just realised I had this at the brewery shortly after it was bottled. It was good back then too.)
My mention of goats-in-millinery a few weeks ago prompted a recommendation for HopDevil, from the Victory brewery in Pennsylvania. Cheers, lemasney, I enjoyed this. It's a wonderfully balanced IPA with all the bitter complexity of Goose Island IPA and the maltiness of Brooklyn's East India Pale Ale. A damned near perfect example of the style.
The last US beer of the day completed the barrel set. I'd missed Dogfish Head's 90 minute IPA, but their Palo Santo Marron was still on. This thick black ale is brimming with light fruit flavours: I got cherries and chestnuts in abundance with a hint of raspberries and a tasty smoky caramel finish. With the strong stuff out of the way, my palate was in need of a complete reset and I reckoned only a lambic would do it. I opted for Girardin Lambiek and was glad I did: a textbook mouth-waterer.
Up at the German and Czech end of the bar I chanced a dark beer from the middle of the Czech Republic: Bernard Černé. After all that had gone before I was a tad disappointed. This dark keg lager is quite dry and schwarzbier-like. Just a bit too charcoally for my liking. I won't be rushing back to Prague on the strength of this one. Before I headed off to nab some token English beers, Tandleman served me a Keesmann Herren Pils, the soft creamy flavour of which reminded me of why this style is still worth drinking. I don't think I've ever had a pils this good. It's not a style I thought it possible to enthuse over, but that's what I like about festivals: I learn stuff.
Next up, I go around the corner and into England.