Come the strike of twelve noon and we were given the green light to join the other punters in sampling some of the best beers from this country and from around the world. After sloping around in the strange waiting room with a half pint of again, un-named bitter and several small portions of party cake, I did just this, over-whelmed as I was by the sheer array that was on offer.
I will not pretend that we went about the place in such a categorical fashion as to divide our sampling country by country, rather we tried something when we saw it and when we fancied it. However, for the sake of an article that does have some semblance of order, I will categorise each section of beer by each nation that we tried, starting off with our old friend, British cask ale.
There was Goachers Brewery’s ‘Mild’ 3.4% that was precisely that, brown and light in colour with a light rocky head, it had a light malt scent on the nose that was still nicely fresh and had a sourness in taste that was reminiscent to the Victorian recipe of that beer.
Soon after this I decided to back my home team and try the delightfully garbled named ‘She Sells Sea Shells,’ 4.7% by Gadds Brewery of Ramsgate, neighbour to my native Broadstairs. Gadds’ beers were the first of its type that I ever tasted and I hadn’t tried this pale variety of theirs in a long time. It did not disappoint, a burst of multiple light, tropical fruits emanating from the glass that gave way to a dry but not stultifying bitterness that classified itself generally as a wonderfully sessionable beer, perfect for summer and with a reasonable percentage that will make you a bit light-headed after a few…very glad to be be writing kind words about this brewery.
Steve was insistent on acquiring a recommendation from Thwaites’ Ian Bearpark on one of his own brews, and I’m glad we did. After a brief deliberation within himself, Ian concluded on ’13 Guns,’ 5.5%, his ballsy homage to American I.P.As. Before I took a sip, I was smacked in the face by the sheer bolshiness of the hops, recognising this, Ian, with a wry smile listed the New World hop varieties within; Centennial, Citra, Amarillo and dry-hopped with Apollo. Furthermore, he listed the malt involved. Either way, it was all a very harmonious melange, smooth and delectable with a clear amber body, firm-white head and a lot of fruity sweetness, stewed like a good marmalade.
Being at a London-based beer festival, it would’ve felt odd not swinging past the Fullers stand to try anything new that they might have on offer. We ended up trying a couple. ‘Wild River’ 4.5% has been out for a short while now and I had not yet tried it, so I opted firstly for this. Another homage to American pales, it possessed a helluva lot of Cascade hops that again produced that intense boiled sweet, confectionary smell which carries through to the first taste and finishes with a very light bitterness. The rain may have been pattering on the beautiful, transparent ceiling but there was a real essence of summer in the beer. It was thoroughly sessionable, but with a slightly higher ABV than you might expect.
Next up was one of the talks of the whole event, Fullers’ newest ‘Brewer’s Reserve,’ 8.5%, stored in Armagnac barrels and released only half way through the afternoon.
Naturally, like many other punters, we pounced on it when it was released. It was well worth the wait, the scent foreseeing the taste in a perfect marriage between the British capital and the south of France. The booziness in the taste was powerful to the extent that it could be enjoyed in the same respect, after dinner as much as the liquor itself. It was though, not volatile. Whereas other Fullers reserves have been flavoured with whiskey, owing to a more bolshy flavour, this variety is smooth with prune notes and is utterly delectable.
Upon the recommendation of many people in the reception area, we found our way to the American beer stand where we were introduced to Norway-based American brewer, Mike Murphy of Lervig Aktiebryggeri (above). Mike and his beers were arguably the discovery of the day. The welcoming nature of Mike was such that he insisted on us trying a range of his bottled beers, an invitation that we were not going to pass up.
We started with his ‘Hoppy Joe,’ 4.7%, the most lenient of his range in regards to the ABV but nonetheless delicious. Described by Mike himself as a decent session beer, it is packed full of Nelson Sauvin hops that results in a dry, fruity scent that translates perfectly in to utter freshness in taste with a subtle malt taste at the end, a brilliant introduction to his beer and one that I would have more of.
No sooner had I finished my last drop of the ‘Joe’ when Mike eagerly poured me half of a bottle of his own ‘Brewer’s Reserve,’ 8.5% which was a different entity altogether but nonetheless sublime. With a firm white head, the scent was sweet and almost meaty, rich yet still fresh, like a good Boeuf Bourgogne, the taste reciprocating in a savoury, nutty taste of parmesan and earthy fruits. This fruitiness becomes more evident as the liquid goes down.
The next offering from Lervig lifted the bar that much more,with his own collaboration with brewer, wizz-kid, geek, Mikkeller. A 14% I.P.A, it’s a handsome beer with a debonair body and firm foamy head. There’s a real variety in there, Citra, Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe…(and then Mike loses count), all in all, 25 kilos of hops (that’s a lot!!!). Combined with this is pilsner malt and oats which most likely explains the excellent head retention and wonderful consistency of the beer. On the nose, it’s potent, grassy and mentholated, the taste, boozy and chocolaty with fruity notes of prune finding it’s resumption in a very powerful bitterness. Ultimately, it’s a very serious beer that means business. Do try it if given the chance.
For a little bit more information on Mike Murphy and his brewery, take a look at the website www.lervig.no He’s going places!!!
As my tenure at the festival reached its end, we were accompanied by Steve to the highly-reputed ‘Bieres sans Frontieres’ stand displaying a very interesting collection of Italian ales. Fancying something fresh and tasty, we found the right stuff in these truly exotic ales. I have mentioned before, the dominance that light lagers tend to have in Latin or Mediterranean areas but these are the guys that are having a good old go at making tasty ales within the confines of their own countries. I opted to take home with me, a bottle of ‘Spaceman,’ 6.5% by Brewfist brewery of Codogno having been already exposed to their terrific beers at the bar where I work.
Upon the recommendation of our new American friend, I tried firstly, ‘Tipopils,’ 5.8% by Birrificio Italiano of Lombardia. There was an orange marmalade on the nose that was stewed and zesty and indeed evident in the colour of the beer and in its taste. With this, there was a light, musky, rosewater like quality also that developed in to a subtle caramel. Completely refreshing and utterly moreish.
I had to divert my attentions elsewhere to another recommended beer, this time ‘BeerBera’ 8% by Loverbeer Brewery of Marentino. Brewed once a year with the inclusion of red bera grapes, it is what can be described as a ‘wow beer,’ i.e something you would never have tasted before. A dark red currant in colour on account of its key ingredient, its sharp and sour on the nose as much as it isin taste and man alive, it is so sharp. Geuze and lambics take a while to get in to but once they’ve got you, you’re hooked, and this is very much the case also for the ‘BeerBera.’ Fortunately for me, I’m now accustomed to sour, dry lambics so I enjoyed this ‘geuze away from home’ immensely. What with the sharpness of the Bera, I decided to finish my evening with a real treat for myself with something along the same lines.
I have only ever experienced the joy of the Cantillon Brewery’s Geuze in bottle before but had previously spotted that it was being served on cask a la the way they serve it in its native Brussels. Having been told the joys of it on cask by my friend, Joe, I couldn’t decline the chance and enjoyed every moment of the half pint that I had. Crisp, sour and dry, it is and forever will be an absolute class act.
All in all, the two days have been very curious indeed. Whilst at the same time sampling the stalwart beers from this country, we have also explored the more inventive and daring side of it, embracing truly the experimentalism of British brewers. Whilst this is true, the festival has showcased the more cosmopolitan side of the beer world with a large arm out to some of those countries that you may not associate with good