Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Linger on those pale (beers under) blue skies
It looks remoter than it is. In fact it's only just over an hour on the bus from Glasgow. A couple of people even cycle up. I'm not that hardcore and the hike of just under a mile from the bus stop to the brewery is enough for me. My timing is perfect and I have just enough time to put my tent up before the bar opens.
Jarl was launched at this festival last year and went on to become a minor cult, enough so that it was upgraded from a seasonal to a regular beer. It was one of the first Citra beers on the market and was followed by a rash of similar ales as brewers realised that Citra beers are pretty much guaranteed to succeed.
So everyone was waiting to taste this year's seasonal – well, I was, anyway. Outdoing Jarl is a formidable challenge to any brewer and I wasn't convinced it could be done.
The new beer is called Fiddler's Gold and is 4.3%. I like it, not everyone did, but even though both are pale'n'oppy it's a quite different drinking experience from Jarl. It has none of the citrussy notes. What it has is intense, medicinal bitterness. Clean and vaguely lagery, it uses a new hop, Delta (bred from Cascade and Fuggles) and Perle, which is possibly where the lageriness comes from.
My next scoop is one from the ultimate scooper brewing company, Steel City. Riot in Paradise has a lot of yeasty flavour and doesn't taste anything like the claimed 100 IBU. Good but not outstanding. Quick halves of Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout and Hawkshead Windermere Pale don't quite live up to my expectations of them, based on memory in the first case and other people's opinions in the second, though both are good.
Should I take the brewery tour? I'd already been round it last year, and it's not a big place. What's changed since then? Three new fermenters? OK, I'll go and look at fermenters then; that's always fun (I am quite serious, I do really like seeing fermenters, especially when they're full of beer).
Then it's into the cold room where the tall fermenters dominate. It smells lovely. All that beer … Yeast health is a priority here, explains Wil, since they are operating at capacity and if the beer isn't ready to cask he doesn't have a fermenter to put the next brew in.
There's a treat for visitors on the tour – a cask of two-year-old Benleva IPA (5.7%) is set up. It's smooth, mellow and oily. Actually, there are two treats, because there's also some Alchemy X111 from Thornbridge Hall, an American brown ale which is dry and roasty. So yes, the tour was a good idea.
Back outside the sun is shining and someone is playing Johnny B. Goode on the fiddle (it's better than it sounds). Some of the local lads have discovered Oakham Attila, because it's the strongest beer at the festival. Uh-oh. Me, I've moved on to Thornbridge Evenlode; like coffee liqueur chocolates in liquid form. Marble No 3 Pale Ale is GOOD and Thornbridge Sequoia isn't really, though not bad as such, just not to my taste, too oxo-cubey).