23rd East Anglian Beer Festival

Last night I found myself at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds for the 23rd East Anglian Beer Festival.

The East Anglian Beer Festival runs until Saturday the 26th, with just over 90 ales and 15 ciders on offer over the four days. This is the third year on the trot I’ve made the festival and it’s quite a nice and relaxed affair, especially on opening night. The crowd ebbed and flowed a bit, but it never got particularly busy. We were able to get a seat at a table straight away and never had to queue to order a beer, which all made for a pretty stressless evening.

All the ales and ciders on offer are local, in that they’re all from East Anglian based producers. This can lead to a few that aren’t exactly that, erm, progressive, new wave, or interesting for a beer geek. I found asking for a taste of the beer I fancied indispensable, as it stopped me from having a couple that really weren’t to my liking at all.

Highlights had to be Crouch Vale Calypso, Adnams / Camden Town South Town, which slipped down very easily and of course Oakham Ales Green Devil IPA, which was a little less tropical and a bit more oniony on this occasion. I also tried Tydd Steam Golden Kiwi and Shortts Farm Indie Ale, both of which I’d probably pass over if in a pub, to my detriment it would appear. While both were pretty nice, I should probably have had them before the Green Jack Mahseer IPA, which I found to have an odd herbal tea kind of flavour running through it.

If you’re in the area, then it’s free entry for CAMRA members, so worth popping in for an evening. I’m not sure there’s really enough of interest to keep a committed beer geek there longer than a session though.

Yakima Gold and Granite 2010

Crouch Vale’s Yakima Gold is one of their seasonal beers for the year and as they have done in the past, they have bottled a limited amount, normally it would only be available from cask. It poured a crystal clear pale, pale golden colour. The rocky white head was one of those that doesn’t want to form, but once you get it going you have to be careful that it doesn’t spill out of the glass. The head dropped over a couple of minutes till it just covered the surface, where it remained. It smelt really light and fresh, with hints of pineapple cubes round the edges.

The mouth feel was nice and lively, with a crisp bitterness. I thought it was well balanced between the malt and the hops and it had a lingering bitter after taste. I’d have no qualms about describing it as being hop forward. My only complaint was the subtleness of the flavour. I had real trouble pinning it down, even my wife wasn’t sure and she’s miles better than me at identifying flavours. I thought there was hints of pear drops, or rhubarb and custard sweets, but nothing really jumped out.

It was a nice beer and while it it had a nice bitterness to it, I think it could have benefited from a few more flavour hops.

This is the second release of Hardknott Granite, the previous version having been produced on the plant they had at the Woolpack Inn. Since they now have a brewery with slightly more capacity than the plant at their old pub, this release didn’t require a thirty hour boil to concentrate the wort to get the desired gravity.

There wasn’t much of a phzt when the bottled opened and it was very hard to get a head going. What creamy tan coloured head I managed to form, sat on top of a beautiful deep red mahogany brown liquid. The beer was instantly recognisable as a Hardknott from the nose, to me at least. I’ve noticed it in a number of their beers, I’d go as far as to say it’s becoming the house style, It’s a sort of rich dried fruit, burnt caramel and crystal malt all melded together and assaulting the nasal passages.

I found that it took me a while to get into Granite 2009, there was some palate readjustment required to handle all those burnt flavours, I also found that it took a while to get into this version of the beer too. There was an initial waft of alcohol in the mouth and faded and reappeared before succumbing to a brutal sweetness that lingered and lingered long into the after taste. I was expecting more of the burnt flavours of the previous version, but all I got was the almost unbearable sweetness. I found that what burnt notes there were, were just obliterated, along with any other flavours.

I don’t think it felt like a 10% beer in the mouth, even with the waft of alcohol at the start and all that sweetness. However, unlike the previous version, which I found myself liking despite the burntness being a touch over done, I don’t feel the same about this version. It was too sweet, far too sweet, at least for me. Dare I say that it could have done with a few more hops…?

I was also disappointed that there wasn’t enough of the the burnt caramel toffee flavours that are supposed to be the hall mark of this beer. You could say that the 2009 version was over done in this respect and that this version was under done. Here’s hoping that the 2011 version is somewhere in the middle, as then it’ll be pretty tasty beer.

Summit

Crouch Vale SummitCrouch Vale released a limited edition bottled beer earlier this year, that was made with the US hop Apollo. I was slightly disappointed with the three bottles of Apollo that I had, it was only the final bottle that was really any good. This is another limited edition beer that they have released, but this time they’ve used the US hop Summit. I was hoping for better things from this one, as I’m sure I saw on-line somewhere that they claimed it would satisfy anyone who thought the Apollo wasn’t hoppy enough.

However, when I popped into The Bacchanalia to pick up a couple of bottles, I was warned that it wasn’t very good, mainly that there was a serious lack of life in the bottles, they are supposed to be bottled conditioned. So I only bought one bottle, figuring that if it was any good, I’d pop back for a few more. It wasn’t cheap and The Bacchanlia have so much other good beer for me to spend my hard earned money on, why take the chance on some bad bottles?

I finally got round to opening my bottle last night and it fully lived up to the warning I’d been given. It poured the colour of dehydrated urine and looked similar as there was a slight haze and no real signs of life. The head was really poor, it struggled to form and then dissipated to a blotchy scum. The smells was fantastic though, it literally reeked of grapefruit, you could smell it from miles away.

It took a few tastes before I could get my head round what was going on, at the time I noted down that it was like drinking a can of liquidised grapefruit segments. It reminded me of the first pint I had of Oakham Citra, there was this almost undrinkable pithiness to the bitterness, like they’d zested the fruit and not stopped once they’d got through the rind but just carried on through the white bit that they all tell you not to use.

The main problem though was the lack of condition, it just tasted flat and lifeless. If it had had a decent level of carbonation then it might have worked. The prickle from the bubbles might very well have complimented all the bitterness and made for a more enjoyable mouth feel. I felt that it was, dare I say it, unbalanced and one dimensional, which is a real shame.

Lincolnshire Best Bitter, Staffordshire IPA and Essex Summer Ale

M&S Lincolnshire Best BitterIt’s been a while since I bought any beers from Marks and Spencer’s new beer range, so I popped in one day last week and picked up a few that I haven’t had before. The selection available in the Cambridge Market Square store isn’t the largest, it seems to have shrunk over time, I’ve not been to their dedicated food store at the Beehive yet, it might have a better selection.

The Lincolnshire Best Bitter is brewed by Bateman’s and poured a cooper colour with a loose fluffy white head. It smelt of fruity malt, with something else that I can’t place. Having said that, it something that I generally detect in all Bateman’s beers, so it must be down to their yeast or water or some such. It tasted very fruity, bit with that edge that I find Bateman’s beers have. It had a bit of bitterness, but I didn’t think it had enough to balance the fruitiness of the malt.

  • RateBeer Marks & Spencer brewed by Batemans
  • Lincolnshire Best Bitter, 4.9%, 500 ml

M&S Staffordshire IPAThe Staffordshire IPA is brewed by Marston’s, and poured a gorgeous pale copper colour with a loose fluffy white head, the head dropped to a covering quite quickly. The initial small was all grassy hops with a hint of malt underneath and was really quite nice. I was expecting a bit of Burton snatch, but there wasn’t anything I could detect on the nose.

It started out fruity and then this almost fiery mineral taste came and want with quite a bit of effervescence. It was a bit perplexing to be honest, it just bulldozed all over the flavours and resulted in a not overly pleasant bitter fruity after taste. I found it to be quite off putting as every mouthful was the same and I found myself wishing it would go away.

M&S Essex Summer AleLast up was a seasonal special, Essex Summer Ale, which is brewed by Crouch Vale. I had high hopes for this as I really like some of their beers. It poured a pale straw colour, with a large loose fluffy white head that collapses quite quickly. Lots and lots of bubbles inside the glass, definitely giving the jacuzzi that was White Shield a run for its money. It smelt fresh with a hint of malt underneath, the expected tropical fruit aromas were no where to be found.

The mouth feel wasn’t as rough as I was expecting, but I could feel a definite prickle from the all the carbonation. I was really disappointed, because what taste there is was, was unfortunately swamped by the taste of carbon dioxide that rampaged across the mouth and lingered like an unwanted acquaintance who wont leave at the end of your house party.

I decided to leave the beer for a bit to try and get most of the carbonation out of it. After leaving it for a hour, the carbonation had dropped right down and the carbon dioxide taste had mostly gone, but there wasn’t much there to replace it. It was like you could tell the beer was flat, it needed a bit of sparkle to bring it to life, it just had way too much. It ended up just being a bit bland, like a bottle of soda stream that’s been fizzed and left to go flat.

None of these beers are bottle conditiond, the Essex Summer Ale is vegetarian and the Lincolnshire Best Bitter is vegan.

Pot Wallop and Apollo

Country Life Pot WallopAfter the disappointment of the D&B Porter the other night, I decided to try another of the beers I got from myBrewerytap.com as a prize for winning their first photo competition a couple of months ago.

Pot Wallop poured a pale straw colour with a vague hint of a haze, in other words, it wasn’t crystal clear. A loose white head formed easily and dropped relatively quickly to a scum on top. It smelled fresh, with a hint of something that I couldn’t quite place, not sure what it was.

There was a bit of fizz in the mouth, it’s was very well conditioned. The taste was quite fruity with a pleasant bitterness and a dry fruity bitter after taste. It slipped down really easily and I thought it was really quite nice, I certainly buy one if I saw it out and about.

Crouch Vale ApolloThis was the third and last bottle of Crouch Vale’s Apollo that I bought. I was really ambivalent to the other two bottles, they were missing some sort of spark, they just left me feeling underwhelmed. Not this bottle though, oh no, this bottle was worth waiting for.

It poured a pale straw colour that had a hint of copper about it. A good tightish white head formed that fell to a full covering and stayed. The nose was all grapefruit. Grapefruit, grapefruit and more grapefruit, I can’t remember the other two bottles smelling anywhere near like this.

The taste was no different to the smell, a big grapefruit hit at the start that slowly tailed off through the after taste. There’s not much else to tell really, it’s not overly bitter, just loads of grapefruit. If you were being critical, you could probably say it could do with a tadge more body, but it was oh so drinkable. The best of the three bottles I’ve had by a long way, I just wish I had another just like it though.

Cambridge Beer Festival

It’s the 37th Cambridge Beer Festival this week and so far I’ve managed to get to a couple of sessions, one on Monday evening and the other yesterday lunch. I’ll be working tonight, hopefully on the foreign beer bar and all day Saturday, so if you’re around, drop by and say hello.

  • RateBeer Thornbridge
  • Kipling, 5.2% (1/2 pint)
  • Not had this one before and it was a bit of a revelation, really, really nice.
  • RateBeer BrewDog
  • Punk IPA, 6.2% (1/2 pint)
  • This was really disapointing, it was the end of the cask and the hops were having a bit of a holiday.
  • RateBeer Potbelly
  • Eastfield IPA, 7.5% (1/2 pint)
  • another disapointing beer this one, it had a nasty green apple (Acetaldehyde) right in the middle of the taste. Not sure if a bit more conditioning would have got rid of it or not. It was a shame as it would probably have been quite nice otherwise.
  • RateBeer Cairngorm
  • Trade Winds, 4.3% (1/2 pint)
  • I didn’t think this one was as good as the bottles I’ve had in the past, which was a shame.
  • RateBeer Sambrooks
  • Wandle, 3.8% (1/2 pint)
  • I thought this was a nice and plesant session beer.
  • Royal Tunbridge Wells
  • Royal, 4.1% (1/2 pint)
  • Disapointing this one, I know they are a new brewery and everything, but… It didn’t have any condition and was all malt driven with hardly any hop character.
  • RateBeer Hopshackle
  • Double Momentum, 7% (1/2 pint)
  • Delicious, I serious considered throwing a sickie so I could stay and drink some more…

Hopshackle Double MomentumThornbridge JaipurCrouch Vale Amarillo

Beer Swap: What I Sent

I’ve made my selection and the courier has picked up the box, so it’s about time I revealed what I sent to my beer swap recipient. I had a hard time choosing these beers, mainly as a lot of the local breweries don’t bottle their beer. I also had a bit of a wobble when I found out that my recipient was the head brewer at the Coach House Brewing Company, nothing like a bit of pressure. I pretty much knew what two of the beers were going to be, the main issue was what the other two were going to be.

First up was a beer from my local brewery, Cambridge Moonshine, who are now based in Fulbourn, just outside Cambridge. They have quite a range of beer and there is always something in The Bacchanalia to pick up, but I have found the quality to be variable. I plumped for the Chocolate Orange Stout, mainly as it’s one of their best beers, but also due to the fact that it’s slightly different

Old Chimneys Good King Henry Special ReserveSecondly I picked Old Chimneys utterly excellent Good King Henry Special Reserve. This little monster is the highest rated British beer and in the top 50 overall on RateBeer and for good reason too, it’s sublime. I’ve had most of the Old Chimneys bottle range and this is by far and away the best beer they do.

You could argue that I should have sent a bottle from the City of Cambridge brewery, however, they now have their beer contract brewed by Wolf. I decided that Wolf were too far away to be called local so decided to discount them.

Iceni Men of NorfolkI’d picked up a couple of bottles of Iceni Men of Norfolk, one to evaluate and one to send if the first one was any good. It was good, but I thought it was lacking a bit of condition, hopefully an extra couple of weeks in the bottle will have resulted in a bit more condition.

When I bought the Men of Norfolk, I also bought two bottles of Humpty Dumpty’s EAPA. The first was really lacking in condition, it was a shame, so I felt I couldn’t really sent it as I couldn’t guarantee that the second bottle would be better. Furthermore, the Norfolk coast really isn’t that local to Cambridge, so with two things against it, I drank the second bottle myself, it was really quite nice.

Oakham JHBThis left me with one bottle to get and I was a bit stumped. I could have gone down the easy route and picked up another bottle of Cambridge Moonshine, but I didn’t want to risk a bad bottle. In the end I went into The Bacchanalia and picked up a bottle of Oakham JHB and Crouch Vale Amarillo to evaluate. Both were really, really nice, so I decided to go back and get a bottle of the JHB to send.

Horror of horrors, both The Bacchanalia and the local Tesco were out of stock, which threw me completely. It was back to the drawing board, as I thought that Crouch Vale were a bit too close to London to be local to Cambridge. I picked up a couple of bottles of White Park beer, they’re just the other side of Bedford, but both had far, far too much condition that ruined them somewhat.

It was getting desperate and I toyed with sending Elgoods Black Dog, but the other three beers were all dark and I wanted to send something pale. Luckily Waitrose came to the rescue as they had some JHB in stock, so I managed to get a bottle to send.

I hope my recipient likes and enjoys the selection I have sent, I certainly enjoyed picking them.