Saturday, 25 October 2014

Reasons to be cheerful-Parts 1-2 & 3

Part 1

Friday 17th October 2014

It's back. It's here with all the whistles and bells, the balloons adorning hidden corners otherwise left in their own mysterious shadows , and the programmes, of course, the lovely programmes, those publications, lightweight tomes, if you like, excitedly proclaiming the beauty of the wares being brought together for the next 17 days, from all over the world. T-shirted staff beavering away, supplying the expectant public, or those educated in the noble art of the hop and malt mix, with their chosen elixir, the liquor of their dreams. That curiously intriguing collection of art on the pumps, almost seducing and acting so, so innocently. They know what they are doing. “Aaarghh” I scream as I awake from my nightmare. Yes, it is October 17th and the Wetherspoon's Autumn Beer Festival starts today.........& I am at work tomorrow. 04-30 start. Bugger. Well seeing as JDW's will be doing the usual festival thirds, a couple of pints mid afternoon, no more, could see me sampling 6 different ales. “Whooo hoo” This season's offerings, 50 in all, includes beers from Australia, New Zealand, USA, The Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. 10 International brews alongside the Home Nations' carefully nurtured cask gems, the stuff of dreams. The only problem I find with the festivals at Wetherspoon's is that with them being spread over such a length of time, unless you pop in every day, you always seem to miss “The One” you most wanted to try. Although this option is beyond me, I do have a few days off so I can try to get a full house this time. We'll see!.I started out at The Ice Barque for my first tasting, and I was a little disappointed that only 2 of the festival ales were on. The pumps were displaying another 3 or 4 of the chosen ales, but, unfortunately,they were “Available Soon” Oh well I will struggle on. I sampled a half of the Italian brew “Ligera” from Birrifico Lambrate first. A 4.8% Bitter, which was, in my opinion, quite biscuity in taste, but not unpleasant. Slight citrus tones lead to a dry malt finish. This was followed by a half of Sixpoint's “Bklyn Bitter”. A regular supplier to Wetherspoon, in the form of its imported cans, this 5.5% brew was very floral in taste, citrus in aroma and malty in the finish. Complex, but very satisfying. Time was ticking so I decided to pop across to “The Yarborough” to see their selection. A bigger array was displayed here so I opted to use the sampling glasses. A wise choice.My threesome consisted of Banks's “Botanical Beer” a 4.2% mock medieval brew, which I found quite bland and tasteless ( although, if tasted by the Baldrick, and complimenting a plain turnip salad and thin gruel dressing,in the comfort of an insalubrious none up, one down hovel, his opinion may differ- am I losing the plot??), Innis and Gunn's “Edinburgh Pale Ale” a wonderfully flavoursome beer with a good floral aroma and a richness to the malt flavour followed by a sharp kick of bitterness in the finish, and, my favourite of the trio,
Give your taste buds a tickle.
“The Colonel's Whiskers”, Bateman's 4.3% Mild.This tastes more velvety and creamy than most milds, and the tasting notes suggest it is somewhere between a mild and a stout. I would suggest the latter, but I am not an expert, just entranced by the rounded flavour of this beer.
A stroll to the back bar revealed another selection of wares, so, checking my trusty timepiece, only 17-30 'o clock (yeah, not a Rolex) and awaiting T'other' arf's appearance after work, I decided on another trio, and a half for those who had been toiling.My choices? Moorhouse's “Black Cat Reserve” 4.6%, Butcombe “Crimson King” 4.3% and Wadworth's “Heather and Honey” at 5%. The half pint was “Chinook Gold” a 4.7% Golden Ale from the Hook Norton Brewery. A more traditional mild, the “Black Cat” was a complex mix of choco-coffee flavours with a fruitiness to the finish, whilst the “Crimson King” was dry, slightly spiced and very hoppy in the finish, but my favourite of those three was the “Heather and Honey”.A lovely golden colour meets the eye, and the aroma and flavour is strongly floral but tempered by the honeyed sweetness. It reminded me, in some ways, to those Retsina wines tasted in the Med on our jollies, but more a subtle hit than the pine taste the wine punches you with. Curious and very refreshing, I found. T'other 'arf enjoyed the “Chinook Gold” with the citrus notes of this brew carrying through from start to finish. I would imagine this beer would well suit the beer garden, sunshine and sandals. As it was, when we left, it was cold, breezy, damp, dank and darkening. Never mind.

Tuesday 21st October

I'd just completed my last early shift at work, throwing in a couple of extra shifts in the mix too, so a couple of pints was the order of the day. I would have 8 days off now, which meant I could try to get a few more ticks in the book of plenty (JDW's festival news and tasting notes) I started off at The Ice Barque, and I noticed “Freak of Nature” a 7.5% Strong Ale from USA was “Available Soon” .Shame, I am looking forward to this one, but it never seems to be “on”, just available soon. In its absence, I chose a pint of (Are you ready ? Sure? Here we go!!) Brouwerij't IJ 's “India Session Ale”. The Dutch one (my convenient name for it!) . This Premium Bitter is smooth, slightly fruity, with a floral aroma leading to a dry and malty finish. Very nice too. After savouring this lovely beer, and no more “new” ales to tick off the list, it was time to head to the Yarborough Hotel. Oh, sweet joy. A bigger selection was on in here, I might need a new ticking tool (biro, to the general public). As three is the magic number, I hit the festival thirds and chose “Village Elder” a New Zealand brew from Ian Ramsay. At 3.8% this bitter tasted smooth and balanced, with a pronounced caramel taste in the finish. I also tried the very refreshing Vale Brewery “Metamorphosis” at 4.5%, with its blend of new world hops giving it a zesty taste. To offset this, I also went for the “American Brown Ale” offered up by Liberation Brewery on the Channel Islands. A sweet, almost nutty, taste greets you on tasting this well balanced 4.2% brew. Quite a traditional taste, just like the Brown Ales my Dad used to bring home when I was a kid. My second selection of 3 included Thwaite's “Hobnobber” a 4.7% Premium Bitter, O'Kell's IPA ,4.5%, and Black Sheep's 4.1% “Reaper” a best bitter. The first “Hobnobber”, was dark, malty and quite biscuity in taste, with a nutty finish, whilst the O'Kell's offering was light in colour and quite rounded with lemony or grapefruit finish. The Reaper was rather red in colour, with the smoothness of the malt giving way to the citrus and sharp aftertaste. A pleasant drink, but not that outstanding, I thought. To finish, I had a pint of Long Man “Golden Tipple” a nice, refreshingly citrus Golden Ale. The finish was full of flavour and not too dry. This 5% ale promised a lot and delivered it in each mouthful.

Wednesday 22nd October.

T'other 'arf was borrowing the car today, (Lord preserve us!!) to do a spot of visiting. This, my first of eight days off, was to leave me stranded, lonely and somewhat at a loose end. There was a bit of decorating to finish, which could wait, and a threatening cloud had warned me off going to the allotment today. Hmm, what to do. I had prepared dinner, lamb in a spicy marinade. Following the recipe, and implementing a few culinary changes myself, I realised that the dish lacked the (optional) addition of the juice of half an orange, and the spring onions to garnish. My experiences in the past in domesticity had lead me to believe that these ingredients could be either a) omitted altogether or b) substituted. I decided that neither option was viable in this instance, so off to town I walked, doggedly in search of my missing non-essentials. The Great Adventurer tracked down, secured and put in to captivity said prey, in M&S, and found himself wandering back to the Ice Barque. Anyone out there not thinking this tale was to offer a beery encounter really have let yourselves down! Entering, I headed straight to the bar, and, again, noticed “Freak of Nature” was “Available Soon”. Having already tasted the rest of their festival ales, I opted for a pint of Milestone's “Black Pearl”. 4.5% , a stout that is so flavoursome it has to rate as one of my favourite stouts ever tasted. But not a festival brew.Disappointed, but also strangely fulfilled, I dragged my quarry to The Yarborough. Here I hunted down two beers not ticked on The List. The opener was “Antler” a 4% btter from Exmoor Ales. This malty brew boasted popcorn, toffee and nuts in the mix. I didn't get those at all. Caramel, yes, but all that other stuff, the dreams of fairground adventures, to me, were absent. Maybe it was the start of my “Man Flu” which I am bravely bearing with such strength of will, or the beer was not quite ready, I would not like to say. It wasn't a bad brew, it just lacked what it said on the pump clip.
As clear as mud,
as nice as it gets!
To finish this mini session I had the very unusual “Hazy Hoedown” Brewed by a JDW's duty manager (a fully qualified Brewster) in collaboration with Tring Brewery, this 4.4% US styled wheat beer is full on in flavours. Dry, citrus and complex throughout, the sight of this brew, sat in the glass almost like ditch water, certainly befuddles the mind. First appearances count? Not in this instance. This has to be one of THE beers of the Festival for me. Drinks done, I wended my way home, bearing gifts, and completed my dish. If only my trials and tribulations of hunting, gathering and cooking were more appreciated.!!!

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