19 November 2008

The lighter side

In yesterday's post on CAMRA NI's festival in Belfast, I mentioned the collective decision by my cohort that a particular beer smelled of urine. It did -- Bateman's Valiant exuded a powerful odour of railway station toilets, as Adeptus has also already said. It's still enjoyable, though, having a full body and a sharp bitter flavour, with just a touch of burnt corn on the end. Holding my nose I could drink a pint of this no problem.

Sharply bitter pale ales were something of a recurring theme among the exhibits. Hopback's Crop Circle was one of the poorer examples, with the hops bitterness giving way to astringency and the flat body being a bit too grain-laden. Amber coloured Brecon Red Dragon avoided the worst of these pitfalls but finished up a little behind in the bitterness stakes. I much preferred Easy Rider from Kelham Island, with its very sharp and more-ish piquancy, and yet with only a tiny bit more alcohol, Bradford's own Salamander Brewery managed to create a beer with magnificent warmth in amongst the tangy bitterness in their Golden Salamander.

Inevitably with a festival of UK cask ales there was going to be a fair bit of tasteless dreck. Dullest Beer of the Day goes to Potton's Shannon IPA, a beer which lies somewhere far beyond the tastelessness event horizon, though dishononourable mentions go to the vaguely sulphurous Snowdonia by Purple Moose and the yawn-worthy Frog Island Natterjack, recommended to me by a complete stranger when I was trying to decide what to have next. Thanks a lot, mate.

Laura describes the pun-tastic hilarity surrounding an ale called Auntie Myrtle's from Mayfield. Sadly the beer wasn't anywhere near as entertaining, with its slightly sour and very understated flavours. Skinner's Ginger Tosser also came close to being interesting, with its low-lying sweet honey notes but very little else. My glass of Hidden Brewery Hidden Pleasure had a powerful disinfectant taste and big floaty bits -- thankfully bar manager Adrian was on hand when I was served it, so a replacement was swift and painless. There seems to be some interesting toffee underlying it, but really I couldn't say for sure.

However, shock of the day concerned one of my priority targets: reigning Champion Beer of Britain Alton's Pride by Triple fff. Evidentally once it leaves Britain all its tastiness drops away leaving a worty, cold-porridge concoction which manages to taste of special brew despite being only 3.8% ABV.

That just leaves three beers on the sweeter side of the spectrum, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Atlas Latitude is a cask pils bearing no resemblance to any continental pils I've had, being lemony and wonderfully cleansing on the palate. Farmers Blonde is probably not to everyone's taste, but definitely to mine: this is Bradfield's 4% ABV summer ale and it has a gorgeous bubblegum character to it, making it taste stronger than it is without tipping over into cloying. From bubblegum to toffee, and Spellbound from the wizards at Robinson's brewery. This was a little bit flat, though very easy drinking and deliciously sweet and caramelly.

Which almost brings me to the end of the festival, except for the two beers I've decided to separate out for special praise...


  1. "Inevitably with a festival of UK cask ales there was going to be a fair bit of tasteless dreck."

    And they say I can be a bit harsh at times! You are of course right though.

  2. nice shout out's for salamander and kelham's easy rider - i've found them both to be consistently good wether tried on draught or bottled. And i totally agree on Hopback's Crop Circle - a strange beer indeed, and not one that I wish to revisit!

  3. Why, Tandleman, one would nearly think that the Campaign for Real Ale is in some sort of denial over how dull an awful lot of the product it promotes actually is. To an outsider it would nearly appear that the serving method is more important to them than the taste.

  4. BN - As I said you are right. That's why I slag off brown boring beers and give micro brewers who brew some unpalatable shite, a roasting.

    But at its best, when properly done and presented, cask is just unbeatable.

    Get yourself over to Manchester - Winter Ales Fest maybe -and see what I mean!

  5. Dark Star Hophead - Snap!

  6. Heh-heh, yes I noticed you posting that on Sunday and thought "Maybe if I hold off writing the same thing for a few days no-one will notice..." Still: it shouldn't at all be surprising to anyone who drinks the stuff.

    So, you're attempting to prove the superiority of cask beer using a festival which doesn't serve any other kind? I sense that might not be quite scientific. Or fair.

    I recommend you get yourself over to Copenhagen for next year's festival.

  7. I was suggesting Manchester as a place you will get cask beer at its best and the Winter Ales Fest will have provide an excuse as well good cask and also good foreign beer.

    A couple of visits to the fest and the rest of the time in the pub wouldn't be a bad plan.

    As for Copenhagen, not while the pound is rubbing along the bottom.

  8. Sadly Frog Island Natterjack isn't as good as it should be at the moment from my experience. The normal brewer is out of action, and I think brewer number 2 is better at some of the other recipes in the range.