Bury St Edmunds Corn Exchange, home of the East Anglian Beer FestivalThe East Anglian Beer Festival
takes place in my hometown of Bury St Edmunds at the end of April. As it is on my doorstep, so to speak, it’s a must visit event. I normally pay a visit everyday, but this year was different. This year I’d planned to visit two different beer festivals in one week. Not only that but also several hundred miles apart to boot.
The East Anglian Beer Festival is what it says on the label “celebrating the best of East Anglian ale”. Now, apart from a singular trip to the Great British Beer Festival in London a couple of years ago, my beer festival attendances have been restricted purely to East Anglia. As a consequence I get to try a lot of local ales. Because of this there were few new beers to get me exited at this year’s EA festival. Not a problem as I had only a brief time to sample. Here’s what I sampled:
- Maldon Gold from Mighty Oak – 3.8% – A bitter golden ale floral and lemon undertones. Hoppy with strong hints of sweet vanilla.
- JHB (Jeffrey Hudson Bitter) from Oakham Ales – 3.8% – The colour of donkey wee, this ale tastes better than it looks. Light in colour, subtle in taste, hints of PLJ or lemon marmalade.
- Windswept from Oulton Ales – 4.5% – Sweet dark copper coloured ale. Mass of flavours including honey and prunes. A most excellent ale.
- Bitter from Winter’s Brewery – 3.8% – A bland could-have-been-anything sort of ale. A very boring beer. A distinct absence of the “advertised” fuggles taste. You can’t win them all!
The next day we set of for Bonnie Scotland. We planned to break our journey by a stop off in the Lake District. Keswick was our town of choice. I had hoped that staying at what was a traditional coaching inn would have given me the opportunity to at least have a decent ale-a-errific nightcap in pleasant surroundings. Not so. Three hand pumps but no real ale on. I was told that there might be some on later, “when it cleared.” What concerned me was how the bar steward tried to persuade me to have John Smith’s Creamflow, a disgustingly bland nitro-keg beer that I’d cross the street to avoid. When I said most certainly not, he looked totally bemused and went on to say that it was the most popular selling bitter in the country and that it’s always consistent. Well, in terms of quality I suspect suppositories are also consistent but I would recommend them as a substitute real ale either! He then went on to dis real ale because it sometimes went sour. They presumably don’t have a fast enough turnover, but with a salesman like that I’m not surprised. The man clearly knows fuck all about real ale.
In a situation like this there’s only one thing to do. Reach for one’s trusty Good Beer Guide. Bingo! A recommendation: The Dog and Gun also in Keswick. The Dog and Gun is a proper pub, four real ales, flag stones on the floor, a local’s pub with bags of atmosphere. Plus it serves good honest well cooked pub grub. I sampled two of their fine ales:
…Hullo Jimmy. I’d like to introduce Jimmy…
- Yates Bitter – 3.8% – Distinct bitterness, a really good session beer, with some maltiness and no hint of hops.
- Taste Ascent – Keswick Brewery – 4% – Very bitter golden ale. Too bitter for my taste. Hints of marmalade, again bereft of hoppiness.
The following day it was back on the road to the land of my Nana, north of the border. It was my first trip to a Scottish beer festival, nay my first visit to any beer festival north of The Wash and an interesting affair. Nosier, most certainly, and with a different demographic to the English beer festivals that I’m used to attending. East Anglian folk tend to be quite reserved, so the loudness and the extrovert nature of the locals I found needed a bit of adjusting to.
My raison d’etre for attending beer festivals is to try something new, as I intimated a little difficult in my hometown, but I suppose for those less dedicated or less travelled, that only attend their local beer festival, local beers are probably quite a novelty. Local beers for local people!
This was obviously the case at the 20th Paisley Beer Festival. The festival was spread over two rooms, one for Scottish ales and the other housing “foreign” ales – predominantly English ales. It came as no surprise to find that the hall containing the Scottish selection was more densely populated than the “foreign” hall.
The Caledonian Brewery Pipe band was at the festival, enjoying a few bevies and playing for the punters. There seemed to be an even greater mood of national pride at the time. It was just before the Scottish election so, as a consequence, the pipe band went down a storm with great cheers going up after each number. I was under the impression that this sort of thing was for tourists only, but clearly the local crowd loved it. Even more astonishing to a sasenach was the average age of the festival goers. It was a great deal lower than that of the festivals I normally attend in England. In my locale, youngsters would never be as enthusiastic about something as folksy as a pipe band. Not only was the average age a lot lower than in England, where beer festivals tend to be the domain of middle-aged bearded blokes in jumpers, but a large proportion of them were women. Young women in their late teens or early twenties, not wearing their vests and balancing precariously on frighteningly high heeled shoes, and seemingly able to out drink many of the men.
Here’s what I tasted at the festival:
- Arran Blonde from Arran Brewery – 5% – A pale golden beer with that distinct hamster bedding flavour we’ve all come to know and love.
- Piper’s Gold from Fyne Ales – 3.8% – A dark golden ale with an initial refreshing bitter taste and not a single hint of hops to be had.
- Avalanche from Fyne Ales – 4.5% – A very pale and hoppy seasonal beer, perfect for supping on the banks of Loch Fyne.
- Riptide from Brew Dog – 8% – A malty, smoky chocolately ale with traces of liquorice. Warming like liquid coal or a sharp intake of breath by someone with a 40 a day Capstan Full Strength habit.
- Lia Fail from Inveralmond – 4.7% – A dark beer with a well-balanced sweetness, malt and slight chocolate tones.
- Red Cuillin from Isle Of Skye Brewing Co – 4.2% – Smooth, well rounded dark copper malty ale. Also with burnt butterscotch musings.
- Kelburn Red Smiddy from Kelburn Brewing – 4.1% – A red ale, complex in character with a dry bitterness and a citrus finish.
- Cuil Hill from Sulwath Brewers – 3.6% – A light copper ale with bursts of malt and hints of honey.
- Stairway To Heaven from Triple fff Brewery – 4.6% – The only “foreign” beer that I tried and I’m ashamed to say the best that I tasted at the festival. A pale brown ale with lusciously ripe mouthfuls of raspberries and blackberries. All that glitters is gold!
A great festival with a friendly and lively crowd. A wonderful trip.