Every year the Bières Sans Frontières bar at the Great British Beer Festival seems to become more and more integrated into the main part of the festival. Last year saw the end of its own separate website, and this year there was no separately published programme: the beers being listed in the main CAMRA booklet for the whole event. A sign that CAMRA is taking more seriously the role that foreign beer plays in bringing drinkers to the festival; or just a way of making sure the corporate brand is appropriately applied to one of the Campaign's outlying vassals? I don't know. It doesn't matter. What matters is that, once again at the GBBF, there was a fantastic array of cask, keg and bottled beers from all over. The US is generally the centrepiece of this (for the serious beer geeks at least) and this post is about what came over from Stateside.
Memories of 2008 and the amazing Lost Abbey Angel's Share I had from BSF that day meant I had no qualms about going straight for another of their thumping barley wines as soon as the doors opened. This year it was the 2009 edition of Older Viscosity: 12.5% ABV and matured in bourbon barrels; dark dark amber and pancake flat; silky smooth and brimming with rich sherry aromas, tasting of cherries, chocolate and vanilla in equal proportions. Just my kind of beer, though not everyone around the table was into it. I blame the ridiculous received notion that beers over 12% ABV should only be consumed after 1pm. Pah!
To match it with something similarly strong dark and heavy for the wife, I picked Stone's Smoked Porter With Vanilla Bean. She liked it, but it wasn't to my taste at all: the vanilla tastes jarringly artificial and sticky, leaving next to no room for the lovely dark malt and smoke. I was much more impressed by Stone's Arrogant Bastard (can you believe I'd never tasted this?): it starts out with a caramel and treacle weight, but then lifts off suddenly on a cloud of fresh and juicy hops. Magic.
Last of the dark Americans was Rogue Mocha Porter, a surprisingly fizzy affair, but using it too good effect: pushing out lots of lovely sweet chocolate and dry roasty stout flavours.
IPAs were of course in abundance, though none really stood out for me. The St George IPA from Virginia, hopped entirely with Fuggles, was one of the best, believe it or not, with a lovely sherbet tang to the orange bitterness. Big Eye IPA ramps up the sherbet even more, and while I really liked it, there's just a little bit of a bum soapy note right where it leaves off. I expected better things from Opa Opa IPA (I'm not sure why), but it proved slightly harsh and not very interesting overall. Then, purely on name recognition, I had a Northern Lights pale ale from Starr Hill, a brewery I know through its blogging ambassador Mr Velky Al. I like the caramel sweetness with which this begins, but the hops were just too brash and brassy at the end, I'm afraid. Sorry Al.
Trophy beer for this post, however, was one Impy Malting pointed out to me, and upon which she has written lavishly here. American Flatbread is the brewery and Solstice Gruit the beer: an intense cocktail of sultry incense, tart berries and heady perfume. Madly tasty and one of the best unhopped beers I've had. That's the way to gruit.
Foreign beer from closer to home next...