Monday, 3 May 2010

Paisley Beer festival I

I always start with a weak beer at festivals, partly as a thirst quencher and mostly because you hardly ever see them otherwise. Thornbridge Light Ale went down quickly, so quickly I didn't make a note of what it tasted like. Staying with weak beer, 60/– light beer is almost extinct in cask form and I'm pretty much convinced that some of the surviving ones are only ever brewed for beer festivals. I have gone for Belhaven 60/– as my first beer often; tonight it was Fyne Cairn Dhu; thin in body, with molasses, toffee and roast malt.

Thus fortified, onto the urgent ticks. Have you ever had a beetroot beer? It's much nicer than you'd think, if the brewer knows what he's doing. Tin Pot Beetroot and Black Pepper Pot tastes, amazingly enough, of both. It's pretty good but I don't think it's going to catch on. From the same brewer, Tin Pot Gold Pot 70/– is buttery and spicy, with noble-tasting hops and slightly peppery sweetness. Very nice indeed but more reminiscent of witbier than any 70/– I've ever encountered before. Tin Pot is a cuckoo brewer, currently brewing occasionally at the old Bridge of Allan plant and I hope he will keep it up, as these beers are more impressive than any of the other new Scottish micros of the last year or so have yet produced.

A real 70/– next, from Belhaven. Grainy, husky, sugary, winey and malty all at the same time. Much better than Belhaven 80/– is these days and I'd happily drink several of these if you could ever actually find it. Belhaven is a big pub operator in Scotland but the hand pumps in their pubs are inevitably dominated by the tedious bilge from the Bury St Edmunds mothership.

Onto Thornbridge Seaforth. I've wanted to try this for nine months. Basically Jaipur made with English hops, its gravity gives it sweetness. It's very like Jaipur, rather more so than I expected but with more orangey and minty flavours; the finish is grassy and bitter. A stunning beer.

Every beer festival I go to there seems to be a new micro that I haven't heard of before. Angus Ales Mashie Niblich is rather astringent, which is a refreshing change when so many 4.2% beers are boring and toffeeish. But it's not ready to drink; loads of green apple and it's still cloudy. Sorry Angus, it went down the sink. Elland Bargee next has a malt-forward nose, perfumey hops and a little too much crystal malt. It's a straight-ahead bitter, quite austere in its way and would possibly be at its best in the pub and not at a beer festival. Disappointing, but not because it's all that bad, just because I expect Elland's beer to be life-changingly good.

Time for a visit to the foreign beer bar. I've heard lots about De Ranke XX Bitter and was keen to try it. The beer list blurb says "Essentially a Dutch take on an English Bitter." My arse. You only have to look at this to realise it's not a Dutch Bitter, just a bog standard blonde beer. Smells of apricots and yeast; tastes of yeast. Most of the bitterness also comes from yeast. Still, at least it's not warm and flat like an alarming amount of the beer here.

Sadly the promised Thornbridge Murmansk never arrived; it seems that I am fated to spend my life hunting for their more elusive beers. Fortunately there was Halcyon: syrupy, honeyish beer, nearly 8%, with an odd note of sauerkraut to it (not in a bad way), a splendid strong IPA, and yet even a half at that gravity became too much for me. I was starting to long for some lager so went for Bernard Světlý Ležák which poured with a huge amount of foam, almost too much as the beer underneath seemed to have lost a little condition. Sweet, just enough hops for a bitter finish, creamy butter and cowpat aromas. I missed the promised kvasnicové. Cry.

We were going to have another but it was closing time. Paisley is really a great festival and it's grown too big now for just one session.

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