Buxton Brewery from Derbyshire were a newcomer to Borefts and I confess I was quite sceptical when I first saw their presence listed. Groundbreaking revolutionaries like Kernel and Thornbridge are one thing, but what is this run-of-t'mill northern micro doing there? How many Dutch beer geeks can you wow with a 1.038 brown bitter? How wrong I was: I don't know if it was their A-game that Buxton brought, but it had the beatings of many others there.
The highlight for me was Tsar Bomba, a 10% ABV imperial stout. Its origins lie in a bottle of 1978 Courage Imperial Russian Stout, sent to the lab for analysis which showed that the only thing still living in it was Courage's hungry and deathless strain of brettanomyces. Buxton cultured it up and fermented Tsar Bomba with it. My first thought on tasting it was "Oh, Orval has made a stout." The brett funk is right up at the front but it's not overpowering: there's enough chocolate smoothness to hold it in check, providing a residual dark sweetness that not even this beast of a yeast could chomp through. And just on the end that assertive tang of hops. A strange and challenging beer, but in a quite delicious way.
Beer name of the festival goes to Smokey and the Band-Aid, a dark ale that is apparently quite deliberate in its phenols: the name suggests to me an attempt to deal with customer expectations when something has gone wrong but I'm reliably informed that's it's an adaptation of a homebrew recipe of the head brewer. It's actually quite subtle in its smokiness, though the phenols are clear as a bell: Laphroaig or TCP coming in loud and clear while the underlying sweet 7.5% ABV stout is just about detectable beneath. It's quite a full-on experience, but still balanced and nothing to be afraid of.
Buxton also produce a terribly impressive black IPA in the form of 7.5% ABV Imperial Black.This tastes like it has been hopped every which way, being powerfully greenly bitter and also succulently fruity. Only a tiny, missable hint of roast at the end suggests dark grains, otherwise this just tastes like a really really good IPA. For those who think that the style is simply a kind of hoppy porter, this is the one to change your minds.
Two paler ones to finish off with Buxton: Wild Boar is a hazy gold blonde ale of 5.7% ABV featuring fantastically sharp and zingy hop aromas. It's more rounded on tasting, melding flowery hops with toffee malt to form delicious perfumed caramel. I'd place it broadly in the category of English IPAs which includes White Shield and Bengal Lancer, but it tastes more modern than either. For something a little stronger there's Axe Edge: leaning more heavily on the hop side of the scales, this has a heady spicy funk to it, mixing up the soft fruit and astringent medicinal character of different hop strains but providing enough of a malt base to carry them off without unbalancing the flavour altogether.
Overall a quality performance from Buxton and I'll be looking out for more of theirs.
The last British beer I had was operating covertly at the Emelisse stand. The Dutch brewery was a collaborator on Earl Grey IPA but it was brewed at the Marble Brewery in Manchester. It's a fizzy pale gold beer, just under 7% ABV but quite plain tasting. The added flavourings give it a pleasant summery honey and mandarin nose but on tasting it's more scented soap than posh tea, but barely even that.
While we're at the Emelisse bar we may as well see what else they've got. A Red IPA? How jolly! This is a nicely balanced chap, quite heavily textured but neither cloyingly sweet nor particularly hopped up. Taking a bit of a liberty with the IPA designation there, but they're hardly the first brewery to do so.
And just a quick sideways hop over to Belgium to round off this post, and a visit to the mental experimentalists of Alvinne. Some of this brewery's output can be hard to handle but I struck gold with the three I tried at Borefts, all wine-barrel-aged. Undressed is a dark ruby ale in the Flemish red vernacular and has that wonderful mouthwatering tartness that makes the style an ideal thirst-quencher. The barrel adds an even more quenching tannic quality so, despite the acetic tang on the finish, I could happily neck this in indecent quantities. But we move on to Wild West, a headless orange-amber beer with powerful lactic sourness reminding me of the most assertive lambics. Deep underneath this there's a trace of Lucozade sweetness trying to make itself heard. It has just enough of a sparkle to make it refreshing, though I couldn't say what effect the red wine barrels have had on it.
Lastly, Cuvée d'Erpigny was billed as a barley wine, but was a similar ruby-brown to the Undressed and possessed the same sort of sour Flemish red aroma. It's not sour on tasting, though, due in part I'm sure to the Montbazillac barrel it was aged in. This has imparted a distinct botrytised sweetness which, combined with the smooth and heavy texture and 13% ABV, immediately conjures Tokaji or eiswein. This combines effortlessly with the caramel malt and an unequivocal hop bite to make a beer that should be a complete mess but all works together in a fascinating way.
And just when I thought things couldn't get any more strangely delicious, we come to the last two breweries at the festival...