As those of you following my Twitter feed recently may have noticed, I've spent most of the last two weeks travelling. Nowhere especially exotic: a few days in Shropshire and finishing up in Paris this week, arriving home on Tuesday. The middle bit, however: the reason for the trip happening when and how it did, was the 2010 Great British Beer festival. Last week saw my third visit to the trade session, and it was great to catch up with -- or at least smile and wave distantly to -- the great and the good of beer blogging on these isles.
We rolled into Euston on the Monday evening and, since we were leaving on the Eurostar from just down the street on Wednesday afternoon, we based ourselves just opposite the neo-gothic splendour of St Pancras International station. Which put me right in line for the first tick of the London leg. With the bags left in the hotel, we were straight across to St Pancras and enjoying the evening sun on the terrace of the Betjeman Arms: the station's bar. I'm a huge fan of John Betjeman (poet, broadcaster, historian, spy) and when I heard some years ago that not only had they named the bar after him, but commissioned Sharp's to brew a house beer in his honour and that they were serving it in dimple mugs, I was champing at the bit.
Betjeman Ale is a rock-solid amber session bitter, offering sweet and smooth toffee flavours, balanced nicely by orange blossom hops. Tasteful, tasty and very good cause for its inspiration to feel "a filthy swine / For loathing beer and liking wine". For the evening that was in it, Mrs Beer Nut opted for a Titanic Sundeck. I wasn't a fan of this -- the flavours didn't quite gel for me, pitting harsh bitterness against chewy grain, overlaid with some lightly soapy phenols. I never seem to know what I'm going to get with Titanic.
To Earls Court the following afternoon and the usual mind-boggling array of beers from all over the world wherever quality beer is brewed (except, for some reason this year, Ireland). Star of the show for the locals was Thornbridge's fantastic Craven Silk: palest yellow with all the sweetness emanating from gently perfumed floral notes, derived from a generous infusion of elderflower. An immensely thirst-quenching beer and the second hit in a row from Thornbridge.
The big fuss of the day was the public launch of Fuller's Brewer's Reserve No. 2 on cask. I wasn't a huge fan of the first outing but was still at the top of the queue when the new one -- aged in cognac barrels -- began pouring (though Mrs Beer Nut actually took the first serving). I liked it. It's surprisingly light and drinkable at 8.2% ABV. Woody phenols, of course, but also a very tasty cherry liqueur sweetness from the brandy. Doubtless something will be lost in the bottled version: I suspect that any amount of fizz will have a deleterious effect on the flavours, but I'd still say it'll be worth picking up a bottle when it eventually appears.
I noticed around the bars of London that another Fuller's beer -- Gale's Seafarers -- is quite common. I'd never noticed this before and decided I may as well give it a punt while in possession of a third-pint glass. It's a rather plain 3.6% ABV bitter with (perhaps my imagination at work here) a bit of a salty edge to it. I think I'd need a pint to give it a proper assessment. Worth doing, since it's all in a good cause.
Other less-than-stunning English beers on the roster were Magus, a pale and slightly peppery number from Durham Brewery; and Ginger Bear by Beartown (swiped from Impy Malting): powerful, raw and harsh ginger, making the cardinal ginger beer sin of not leaving any room for the actual beer element. Ms. Malting was also unimpressed by St Austell's Black Prince mild, though I rather enjoyed it. She likened it to toffee popcorn, and I definitely got that from it, tempered by a mineral dryness. What's not to like?
As I mentioned above, there was the odd non-British beer available at GBBF, and I had a taste of some of them which I'll cover in the next posts. Before leaving England thematically, however, Wedneday morning saw Mrs Beer Nut and I chasing an early lunch in Borough Market. Before going for our train, we stopped in at the new-look BrewWharf, now home to the Saints & Sinners Brewery. I chanced a pint of Hopfather, their strong US-style IPA. It was a wake-up call for the senses to be sure: I loved the huge, fresh jaffa oranges at first, but the novelty wore off a little as my palate adjusted and by the second half of my pint it was coming through a bit harsh and even a little cheesey. A beer to have in small doses to start your day's drinking, I guess, as long as you don't really mind missing out on the taste of everything that follows.