Yesterday I headed down to Troon for the Ayrshire Beer Festival, having finally managed to convince my pals that there was no point waiting till the evening as there would be nothing left.
It's a nice scenic train ride down the Ayrshire coast, once you've passed through the chunk of Renfrewshire where it always seems to rain, and Troon isn't big. Once I'd passed the high school and the church, there was only one large building left to try.
Belhaven 60/– seems to be the beer I always go for first at Scottish beer festivals. This is mainly because I have never seen it anywhere else than at beer festivals for at least ten years, though a friend claims to have drunk it in a pub once. Its days may well be numbered, seeing as the brewery apparently couldn't even find a pump clip to send along with it and resorted to bunging a sticky label on the front of an 80/– clip (see picture). It's light and watery in body, with slight fruity aromas of berries and apple. Slight treacly aftertaste with a bit of yeast and just a little sulphur.
Next up was Thornbridge Lord Marples. It's got fruit and sugar, just enough malty backbone to support the hops. It's chewy and tongue-suckingly bitter which is what I like most about it. The chap serving me said Thornbridge was his favourite brewery. I hope that their recent expansion will enable them to send a bit more beer up north in future.
Someone behind me ordered Deuchars IPA. I glanced round and it was a chap from the Caledonian Brewery pipe band (soon to be the Heineken Pipe Band), so I suppose it's excusable.
I went for Acorn Barnsley Bitter. I've been wanting to try this for some time, but for some reason I imagined it would be a pale, hoppy beer in the same vein as Pale Rider or Beyond the Pale. It isn't — it's brown, but a perfect ordinary bitter. Almost no body, but an incredible amount of flavour comes from the hard water and the bittering hops. Not much aroma but intensely bitter. Yum.
Hop Back Entire Stout had a nose of chocolate, coffee and acid. It might have been good had it been in decent condition, but unfortunately it just tasted of apples and had to be poured away. Milton Minotaur Mild to replace it had a strong farmyard aroma and tasted of caramel, sugar and camembert rind.
About this time I bumped into Hopjuice and his lovely companion, home for a holiday from Japan, and spent a while trying to convince him that we still don't really do extremely hoppy beers in the UK. He then proved me wrong by fetching the hoppiest beer at the festival, Brewster's Rutterkin, while I sipped a Fuller's Chiswick Bitter. This is a rare sight up here, yet much nicer than London Pride.
Highgate Davenport's IPA was another hard-water, reasonably hoppy weak-IPA. Slightly appley, it could have done with more body. Bath Ales Gem Bitter, on the other hand, was a fine example of the popular style Boring Brown Bitter: treacle and yeast on the nose, lots of esters, and hops contribute less bitterness than the hard water does. A shame because I've enjoyed Bath's bottled beer in the past.
There wasn't much else left by this time and I had an evening engagement, so I called it a day after that. I wouldn't always take a 45 minute train journey for a festival this size, but Troon is a nice wee place and it's good to see there's enough local interest to support a beer festival.