Well, the Beer Festival itself was thoroughly excellent. By the session we were booked in for, the Champion Ale of Britain, Harviestoun's Bitter & Twisted, was all gone, but that still left 119 or so beers that were available. I started with light beers and ended up with dark, as is recommended to appreciate the flavours properly. Going by the notes I was making on the programme (and bearing in mind that these may, for obvious inebriation-related reasons, be incomplete), I appear to have sampled the following:
Fernandes' Empress of India. A deceptively pale but flavoursome ale. A good one to start off with, a reminder to the taste buds that yes, this is what real beer tastes like.
RCH's Pitchfork. Er. Quite fruity, I seem to remember.
Orkney's Red MacGregor. A very nice, mellow red ale, which I ended up voting for as the Beer of the Festival. It didn't win.
Stonehenge's Sign of Spring. A constrast to the Red MacGregor, in that it was a quite distinct green in colour. What they put in it, I don't know -- it would be nice to think it was wheatgrass or something authentic, but it may have just been food colouring. It wasn't just a gimmick, as the beer itself was rather nice, but I'm sure I saw more people drinking it than its rather niceness justified.
Smiles' Old Tosser. A darker, tasty beer from a local brewery.
Bath Ales' Rare Hare. Another seasonal special from one of our locals -- Smiles and Bath are my favourite brewers, so I did want a half of each of these before moving on to the stouts.
Young's Chocolate Stout. OK, I'm a complete tart for trying this one, as you can get it bottled all over the place. But mm, chocolate.
Wickwar's Mr Perrett's Stout. You know, I used to drink Guinness. I must have been barking mad.
Daleside's Morrocco Ale. A really worthwhile one, brewed (according to the Festival programme) "to an old Elizabethan recipe including a 'secret spice'". It tasted appropriately archaic, like a library full of old leatherbound books where someone's been smoking a pipeful of something aromatic. I voted for this second as the Beer of the Festival, and that's where it came. Hurrah.
Hambleton's Nightmare Porter. I'm sure this was very nice, but since all of the above were half-pints (and I do have the strong feeling I consumed a couple I didn't make a note of), I don't recall all that much about it.
Obviously I had many many sips of other people's beers as well (including one called Lemon and Ginger which damn near ruined my palate for the rest of the day). I was disappointed that two stouts I particularly wanted to try -- Robinson's Old Tom and Hobden's Russian Imperial Stoat [sic] -- were gone by the time I got to them. But never mind. Otherwise, the Festival was fantastic, with abundant pasties for sale (no chips, sadly, but pasties are pretty much the perfect beer-drinking food), pub games (Bea won a pint glass knocking skittles over with a miniature demolition ball) and the hilarious sight of a huge queue for the Gents' toilets, while the occasional woman flitted happily in and out of the almost empty Ladies'.
What's more, with 26 or so friends in attendance (and around a thousand other people, obviously) the company was fantastic as well. Lots of people we hadn't seen for ages, several local friends as well, and lots of increasingly incoherent conversation going on. Fantastic.