Has it really been three years since I was last at the Hilden Beer & Music Festival? Time flies when you're doing other things with the last weekend in August. But I was back this year and spent a jolly afternoon in the company of many fine friends exploring this year's offerings.
I noted in relation to the 2009 line-up that golden ales featured very strongly. This year, confining myself to the beers I'd never tasted before meant it was almost exclusively a golden line-up. The first one I went for was Bath Ales's Summer Hare, and it was a dud. I've noticed before the masses of buttery diacetyl in Bath beers and while it's acceptable, and sometimes even pleasant, in a darker amber beer, it was just wrong in this light and supposedly refreshing quaffer. Summer Hare opens quite dry and finishes with just a hint of hop tang, but the middle is pure liquid toffee and spoiled the show for me completely.
I got something similar from Bank Top's Pavilion: a heavy, sickly difficult beer, which just didn't fit with an idle afternoon in the beer garden. Still, both of these were better than the Penine Sunstone, which smelled like someone tried to use vinegar to mask the odour of a swimming pool recently vacated by over-excited toddlers. That got passed round the table and sent back to the bar.
Several of the blondes had more than a touch of pilsner about them, balancing grassy hop bitterness against sweet biscuit. Ghost by the Partners Brewery of West Yorkshire laid on the latter in a big way, heading towards golden syrup territory. Lymestone's Stone Cutter was a step better, properly bitter opening with the sweet grain coming out at the end. The most full-on of these, however, was Phoenix's Struggling Monkey, a 4.5%er packed with delicious sticky honey, studded with fresh citrus hops. Big flavours, yet balanced ones.
Barnsley Gold from Acorn was worryingly cloudy but tasted spot-on, with a lasting sharpness sitting on some fruity bubblegum. Very interestingly complex, yet extremely drinkable. The palest of the lot was Brigantia by Allgate's. This was light and breezy but had plenty of gorgeous lemon notes to keep the palate awake. Shading towards pale amber we have a beer with the unlikely name of Mr Chubbs Lunchtime Bitter. It begins on a slightly nasty gastric note but settles down to grapefruit then mellowing to strawberries. I liked it a lot.
Talk of the festival was Ossett's Hop Monster: a symphony in Nelson Sauvin, bursting with intense gooseberry and passionfruit. I'm glad I left it towards the end. Ossett also provided the only dark tick for me in the form of Dirty Rat, a dark mild which begins simply enough with lots of stouty dark roast but gets more complicated as it finishes, introducing fruit esters and a little bit of smoky phenol. Not everyone was a fan, but I enjoyed my half, and Steve liked it too.
There was just time for my customary pint of Hilden Barney's Brew: still in cracking form, and a beer I'm really looking forward to seeing bottled. Then a Tempted? Special Reserve cider and a Mac's Armagh Scrumpy saw me merrily to the train home.
Kudos once again to all at Hilden for putting on a great show. The beers may not have all been stone cold classics, but anyone would be hard pressed not to find something nice to drink, golden or otherwise.