last night I dragged my sorry self down to Gibraltar street to sample some of the delights on offer at the Shakespeares beer festival.
Ironically I had contrived to forget that it was on at all. Me and my friend Middlemarch were out to find somewhere for a sit down and a catch up - but on arriving about 18.30 it looked like we might be standing in a crowd for the evening. Luckily, we spotted a table in the left hand room (we'd already been offered the chance to sit upstairs in the Bards bar where the stillage was) and grabbed ourselves a programme and a drink.
Middlemarch is firmly a fruit beer and cider lass so it was Timmermans for her and for me a tasty pint of Blue Bee Two Bee or not Two Bee. It was light bodied, and served almost like it was lively but had been drawn from gravity. That siad it was very fresh and there was a very pleasing flavour in the aftertaste that made it refreshing, and in the end I dispatched this rather more quickly than I had intended.
Next up was another Timmermans for Middlemarch and I tried a beer I sort of expected to be a stout but wasn't. The Brew Company Xiberia was a light pale beer with an interesting texture, and for them no face pulling hops to fight through, which made a nice change. I had of course contrived to pick a beer on the downstairs list that wasn't on, so this was a table service pint. Mind you, not all of the beer programme leaflet details were accurate - the front proclaims the festival took place in 2010....
By this time we had made the corner our own, nicely ensconced in relative peace and quiet whilst the tide of incoming and outgoing groups of festival goers ebbed around us, with some quite large groups in attendance. Our next round was another Timmermans and a pint of the Copthorne Black Beauty porter. I was a little reticent to try this because I have tried 3 of their beers now and not really liked any of them. However, the rather in your face malt, light bitterness and cereal flavours that let their beers down seemed to work well with dark and roast malts and this was a very rounded and enjoyable beer - even fruit fancier Middlemarch gave it the thumbs up.
At this point it was me who was setting the pace so the next round was just mine. I tried the excellent Steel City Brewing Black Hops 6.9%. This proved to be an interesting exercise in understanding high alpha dark beers, or Black IPA's. Back in January it was suggested to me that a firkin of a strong Steel City beer might be put aside and as far as I know this was it. If its not this is going to make my review a bit stupid, so I'll stick my neck out on this one!
The extra alcohol compared with their dark funeral, and probably not detectable from ageing, helped to take some of the edge off the hops. They were more sharp and citrussy rather than dry, and blended into the overall beer far better than in some of their other offerings (which makes Xiberia all the more impressive in terms of balance). Interestingly though, the feature that stood out for me was the battle between the aged flavours and alcoholic notes, and the bitterness of, even though perhaps subdued, the high alpha hops. One of the joys of an aged beer is how rounded it becomes, how much the malts and alcohol are mixed and come to the forefront with hints of butterscotch and other added sweetness. Its the job of carefully chosen hops to then work with these flavours and in the aftertaste come through to remind the drinker that the beer still has bite. A classic example would be Burton Bridge Empire Pale Ale or, maybe with less hops, Lees Harvest Ale.
This beer was delicious, and very enjoyable, in fact very easy drinking for its strength, but the power of the hops was at the forefront of the flavour, with the rounded sweeter attributes afforded by ageing fighting through at the back. So arguably it was very different to your average cellar matured beer, but none the worse for it. Its also possible that the ageing made for a much more palatable product than the original, however this was my first taste of Black hops so am unsure about that. A great beer nonetheless.
Middlemarch had to depart at this point so I decamped upstairs to try some of the gravity offerings in the upstairs bar. On the advice of the barman that the Arbor Citra was on its way out I had a half of that, and was struck by how dry and citrus hopped it was for a 4.0% beer - perhaps this explained its shortened tenure on the stillage.
I also tried but turned down the chance to have a half of the Harwich Town Bathside which wasn't really in possession of the strength of flavour I desired. I also had a belated taste of the Elland Robust Porter, but by now I had a half of the Tynebank Piccolo porter, a 5.1% dark beer with bags of flavour. This proved to be my last beer as I fancied a return to the cranes and some Deception up at Harrisons.
Its a shame am so short on funds this month as there were beers from many breweries that I wanted to try. The only real duff offering I think was from the dreadful Landlords Friend brewery and their Stupid Cupid offering. My friend JB was at the bar ordering when I heard him order it but by the time I had cautioned how awful it would be, he's already had it poured. Suffice to say we both tasted it and it was grim. Much like my review of one of their beers "its not off but its not a good beer" was JB's review!
So after this, I did get to the Cranes and saw both Luke and Rick (not Rich as erroneously suggested last time), so it seems the same people are in charge after all. I had the Hartleys Cumbria Way this time which made a nice change.
I also got up to Harrisons 1854 but maybe my imploration to folks to sup the Deception had backfired since it had run out. In its place was an equally decent pint of Farmers Blonde, which was a really enjoyable final beer. Alas I had only a brief stop here as my body was making it quite clear that I needed to go home.
Overall this was really impressive festival, just the right size, with plenty of seating (winner!), a good mix of breweries, and a decent range of ciders to tempt the drinker. Well worth a visit if you find chance, I understand its still on until Sunday.