Quick Tastings Special – GBBF Round-Up 2011

It’s summer, the Edinburgh festival has begun, everyone seems to be on holiday…that means I’ve not yet got round to writing up my visit to the Great British Beer Festival yet again. In an effort to get it off the todo list here is a special Quick Tastings post (I used to do these more often…) of the things what I done drinker there.

Before the boozes though a couple of comments about the festival. Firstly: well done – it was one of the better GBBFs I’ve been to in recent memory. I didn’t have an off beer, the bar staff were all friendly and helpful, and the beer was managed so that it would last well through the week. However, the thing I was most impressed with was the stuff that doesn’t necessarily fall into CAMRA’s remit – foreign ale and cider. Rather than lumping them as two big bars like usual they instead spread them around a bit this time, with a couple of cider bars and at least two Bieres San Frontieres stands. The range of foreign beer was impressive, with the US cask/keg bar limiting themselves to ‘only’ putting on 27 barrels a day so as to keep things running throughout the festival, and there was enough expertise behind the bars that even when nothing I wanted was available (mainly due to not having been put on yet) I was still able to pick up a round that met the palates of my companions and I.

The only downer was the fact that many of the stewards are still arseholes. I had one threaten to throw me out within the first hour or so for the crime of trying to take a phone call and popping into a fire escape to do so. Yes this was naughty, no it didn’t require a threat of violence or swearing at me, especially as I finished my call, moved out of the fire escape and apologised as soon as I saw him walking towards me. I remember working at the festival and speaking to a number of stewards who were dismayed at the arseholeage of some of their companions – the idiot who shouted at me is one that I’ve seen at a number of GBBFs in the past and one that I will happily avoid in the future. I know the GBBF is staffed by volunteers (I’ve been one on a number of occasions and only wasn’t this year due to running out of holiday) but it’s good to be selective, especially with your enforcement division.

Anyways, beer. Me and the gang were on halves, apart from one that is noted below, and did some sharing around so there are significantly more beers below than were bought specifically for me. That said, I was a bit fragile on Thursday morning…

GBBF

Bollington Best: A hoppy best bitter that was dangerously drinkable. Despite it being the first beer of the day (at about midday) it disappeared worryingly fast. (Winner of the Bronze medal in the Best Bitter category – discovered after purchase and well deserved)

Amber Chocolate Orange: Smelled of chocolate orange, tasted of soap and chocolate orange… I heard later in the day that the barrels of this were quite variable in oranginess – this one was quite orangey.

White Park Kellyhopter: My plan was to stick on the hoppy beers, this continued that plan – sticky and sweet without quite enough hops to stop it becoming floral and cloying.

B&T Edwin Taylor’s Extra Stout: Smells like chocolate, tastes like coffee…

Harvey’s Sussex XX Mild: My first darker beer of my own of the day and cheating because I already know I liked it. A chocolatey mild with an edge of astringency.

Clearwater Red Smiler: crunchy white unripe melon and honey.

De Molen Hot and Spicy: AKA ‘That Chilli Beer’. This is probably the most silly beer I tried all day – a 10%ABV smoked Imperial Stout with chilli. Big and dark, smoky and spiked with a strong green chilli flavour and burn. We discovered quite by accident that it matches very well with orange and chilli chocolate (if you like a lingering burning sensation). One to definitely try a sip of if you can – a half pint may be too much.

Mighty Oak Zephyr: An excellent combination of honey and citrusy hop. It was slightly too pine-laden for my taste, but definitely good for a half.

Cairngorm Trade Winds: One of my favourite beers of all time. Still pretty damn tasty.

Augustiner Edelstoff: A rather nicely balanced lager with a sweetness and hoppiness.

Wensleydale Semer Water: Tasted like a pond. And not in a good way. Very pondy.

Brampton Gold Bud: Sweetened grapefruit nose, sour grapefruit body. Made me yearn for St Peter’s Grapefruit, although this might be better.

Six Point Gemini: My first American beer of the day, recommended for me as the silliest IPA they had on. ‘Hop flavoured bubblegum’ say my notes. Sour oranges and big hops – silly and just what I needed. ‘A hop delivery mechanism’.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: Great when fizzy but even better from a cask like this was – fuller bodied and a little less bitter than usual.

Thornbridge Raven: My beer of the day – a perfectly balanced black IPA, with both big hops and dark flavours. How a black IPA should be in my book.

All Gates Mad Monk: Thick, deadly, tasty black beer.

Baird Kurofune Porter: One of the only Japanese beers I got to try (I forgot about them until I was leaving…). Big coffee flavours and exactly what I’d hoped a Japanese porter would be like – refined and elegant.

Raw Grey Ghost IPA: Sweet and grapefruity with a grapefruit finish. I like grapefruity beers a lot.

Windsor & Eton Knight of the Garter: A solid session beer but nothing lifechanging – malty with a nice hit of hop at the end.

Dorset Piddle Silent Slasher: My one punnily named beer of the day. Dusty hops and a buttery body.

O’Hanlon’s Stormystay: It tasted almost sherried with lots of fruit.

Franklin’s Dark: Not quite as sweet as it needed to be to be a good ruby mild.

Fuller's Brewers ReserveFuller’s Brewers Reserve #3: The beer that almost got me to go down on trade day – the third in Fuller’s series of barrel aged barley wines, this time finished in an Auchentoshan cask. I knew about it having met thev Morrison Bowmore (owner of Auchentoshan) master blender and former Auchentoshan distillery manager at an event a few weeks back and was looking forward to trying to grab some. They only had one cask a day at the GBBF and they wouldn’t tell me when it was going on, and when I wandered past and saw a massive queue I thought my luck was out. However, on a sortie to buy a round later I took my spare third glass just in case and found that they hadn’t sold out, which was nice. This was only served in thirds and was a rather pricy £1.80 a go but I, unlike everyone else on my table, loved it. I need to ping the Auchentoshan PR people and find out what sort of cask it was, as the beer had become almost entirely sherry-like and was very tasty – “Medium amontillado sherry with a hint of beer” say the notes. Random fact: the master blender in question, Jeremy Stephens, started off his career as a brewer at Fuller’s.

Newman’s Mammoth: Big malt and a sweet fruity finish.

Blythe StaffieBlythe Staffie: Excellently grapefruitiness.

Highland Dark Munro: Chocolate malt, cream and barley. A really easy drinking stout.

De Molen Rasputin: More from the mad Dutch lot who brought us Hot and Spicy – a rich Russian stout that is way too easy to drink considering it’s over 10% ABV. It was also not in the festival programme, which confused me a lot at the time. I had been drinking for a while.

Langham Hip Hop: Hoppy, golden. Boring, nice.

King’s Old Ale: My standard Christmas tipple, now being brewed in the same place but by a new brewer. Not quite as nutty as I remember, but I don’t think he’s done much recipe tweaking yet…

Hebden Wheat: A bit of a boring end, this was just a very solid wheat beer. Although as my palate was properly blown it could have been the best beer I’d ever tasted and I probably wouldn’t have noticed…

Anyways, I also swung by the Italian beer bar and have a number of interesting beers (including a chestnut ale called Bastarda Rossa – I really hope that means Red Bastard) to try over the up and coming months. Hopefully I’ll remember to write about them…

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