04 March 2007

All Beer and Skittles

Yesterday afternoon at the Bristol Beer Festival was thoroughly splendid, although I really need to learn that what I need after these things is a nice lie down and a cup of tea, rather than going on to a pub to drink more beer.

I didn't end up listening to Iain Banks in the end on account of being just too bloody tired, and left Silk to make his way home from Bath alone. Then I stayed awake all night anyway. Never mind.

The Festival itself was fantastic, though, with twelve of us (and about 1,500 to 2,000 other people) crammed into the Brunel Passenger Shed at Temple Meads Station. 130 beers were there, many of which I had at least a sip of and several of which I quaffed heartily.

I made some tasting notes, which -- my memory being what it is after a Beer Festival -- are my best clue now as to which ones I tried and how I thought they tasted. Based on these, I seem to have sampled at least 27 beers, and there were probably others I failed to write down.

I won't list all of them here, but these were a few of the more notable. (They're mostly stouts or porters because those are the beers whose flavours I find most interesting, though for actual drinking I generally favour the lighter stuff.)

Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout: I think I voted for this one as Beer of the Festival. My tasting notes read "Wow. Mm. Bacony. Refreshing," and it was indeed smoky yet surprisingly drinkable. I may have somewhat swayed by loyalty to a local brewery, but the beer was genuinely special.

Downton's Chimera I.P.A.: Interestingly, the CAMRA leaflet calls this "a proper I.P.A. at more like the strength that they were intended to be" -- that being, in this case, an imposing 6.8%. The flavour was gorgeous ("chewy & crunchy" according to my notes). We liked.

Fuller's Golden Pride: Rare in pubs, this was another strong golden beer, very complex in flavour, which we all agreed was "Really decent," and also "Brandyy". Good stuff.

Garton's Liquid Lobotomy Stout: A deep black stout apparently derived from a Victorian recipe (though presumably renamed). My notes read "Molasses & stuff", and I remember it being very smoky and treacly.

Hambleton Nightmare Porter: Rightly described in the leaflet as "One of the great dark beers of Britain", and by me as "Complex and confusing. Good with Maltesers."

Isle of Arran's Arran Sunset: A lovely fresh-tasting summer beer, for which my tasting notes read "Refreshing hoppy boing."

Orkney Skullsplitter: A barley wine which was so flavoursome and sweet I actually found it quite difficult to drink. Possibly because it was living up to its name, I failed to make any tasting notes about it at all.

Valhalla Sjolmet Stout: A Shetland stout, surly and sinister but with a surprising fruitiness which made it very drinkable. My verdict: "Smoky".

Others we were less keen on included Keynsham's Stockwood Stout, which was just too sweet for me, Farmer's Ales' A Drop of Nelson's Blood, which CAMRA seem to like but which had an unpleasant brussels-sprouty aftertaste, and Hidden Depths, which we thought must have been named ironically. (It was perfectly decent, but generic. The Hidden Brewery have recently taken over the Cornubia pub in central Bristol, though, saving it from closing, and therefore deserve support.)

Rather nice pasties and utterly bog-standard crisps were on sale as well, to soak up the beer. That Beer Festival comedy staple, the queue for the Gents', was much in evidence, and caused the usual hiliarity among the women popping in and out of the almost empty Ladies'. I enjoyed a startling freak success at the table skittles, and won a smart new Young's bar-towel to replace the ratty old Guinness towel the cats sit on.

B. and I also made a drunken clothing-buying decision, as a result of which I'm now wearing a T-shirt with an parody Intel logo reading "real ale inside". This seems inexplicably less hilarious and witty than it did yesterday afternoon.

A damn good day out, all told, and one I shall try to repeat next year, with appropriate variations.

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