Sunday 18 August 2013

Beer festivals a go go - CAMRA Great British Beer Festival 2013 and Woodies, New Malden

Last week was a good time for drinking copious amounts of ale. First up was a visit to the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival 2013. This is the second time I've visited the festival at Olympia, and it's a much more pleasant space than its former home at the dark, dank Earl Courts. The light airy building is very welcoming and the lay out this year was great, with the bars spaced out nicely and avoiding the cramped conditions that build up as the day goes on. The only downside is that there never seems to be enough seating, and as I get older and creakier this is getting more important for me. To be fair most of the patrons who did grab a seat were probably way past creaking territory and were approaching snapping and cracking, but it would have been nice to have more places to rest my tired feet and beery head.

The only picture I took at the festival and it's not even indoors. Useless.
The Championship beer of Britain, announced at the festival, was the 1872 Porter from the Elland brewery. I managed to grab a sample and although it's a very solid porter, with a great malt start and a fruity finish, it felt a bit of a safe bet for a championship beer. With so many exciting breweries and beers appearing over the past couple of years, it's surprising that CAMRA claim that the best ale of the year is something that feels decidedly old fashioned. Maybe CAMRA are rebelling against the craft ale scene with this choice or maybe there's no agenda at all. Who knows?! Certainly not me. Not going to stop me from blogging about it though.

As usual there was an excellent selection of ales on offer and I sampled a fair few of them. Highlights included the Chocolate and Vanilla Stout from Titanic which was an excellent ale, with a wonderful sweet aroma leading to a perfect balance of sweetness and burnt hops.The Triple Chocoholic from Saltaire was another winner, with wonderful, subtle chocolate flavours and a good, long dry finish. Fine stuff all round. The American section was very busy, as it has been at past festivals, and by the time I got there there wasn't a lot of choice left. I tried a half of the Snake Dog IPA from Flying Dog which was a very solid American pale with strong hoppy flavours, but like a lot of American beers it was very boozy (7.3%) - almost unnecessarily so.

There were a couple of duffers. Sharp's Own from Sharps was a rather insipid effort at a golden ale, with a rather limp and watery taste that all beers from InBev seem to suffer from these days. It was still passable, and nothing like the horror of A-pork-alypse from Brains. A porter with bacon flavour added, it tasted exactly like taking a sip of a sub standard porter and then shoving bacon fries into your gob while still swallowing your booze. It wasn't completely horrible and after one sip I didn't start vomiting all over the floor while CAMRA stewards desperately threw sand on the floor in an effort to soak up my technicolour stream, but it wasn't a very pleasurable ale. Much like casting Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs, it was a brave but ultimately stupid effort.

Despite a couple of iffy beers I had a great time at the festival and it's probably the best one I've been to in the last six years or so. The food on offer was tremendous and I managed to get through a pork pie, scotch egg, wild boar burger, pork scratchings and seafood medley. In case you're wondering I didn't eat it all at the same time, had I done so I think I would have tested the very limits of how much vomit one man can produce.

The crazy decor at Woodies.
On Saturday I paid a visit to another beer festival, this time at Woodies in New Malden in SW London. Woodies is a former sports hall turned into a pub. Walking in you're bombarded with sports memorabilia everywhere, plastered on the floor, walls and ceiling. There's also a lot of funeral programmes (presumably of patrons past) dotted about, which seemed a bit morbid. Overall though it's all very eclectic and there was a jolly atmosphere. There were plenty of tasty ales on offer. Park Life from Windsor and Eton was a good start, a light hoppy session beer that I would be quite happy to drink all day. 80 Shilling from Dark Star was a fine attempt at a dark Scottish ale, with a strong malty flavour and undertones of orange peel. Good stuff.

The American Pale Ale by Clarence & Fredericks is probably one of the best things to come out of Croydon, where the brewers are based. Good hoppy flavours and floral notes made this a solid attempt at a pale ale. Frankly I was amazed the beer made it to the festival at all and the delivery wasn't hijacked by a gang of Croydon's drug fuelled crazies, or some bored kids. Finally, Good Health from Goody Ales was a solid golden ale sporting a nice dry finish, and a slight hint of Tim Brooke-Taylor.

A petting zoo was there for the day so I got to laugh at some sheep, ducks and goats, the primary reason for the existence of any petting zoo. I gave a wide berth to the geese though as I didn't fancy running, screaming, beers in hand, being chased by the orange beaked, beady eyed, honking bastards as they try to nip my legs into pieces one peck at a time. The day was further sullied by the arrival of my least favourite amateur paganists, the hated and sinister Morris Dancers. Thankfully this troupe, although enthusiastic, weren't very good, so I was pretty sure their bizarre ritual wasn't going to resurrect any ancient Pagan Gods this time.

My camera spontaneously combusted shortly after this photo was taken.
I had a great time in Woodies despite the Morris Dancers and if it wasn't located in what appeared to be the Twilight Zone I'd make more regular visits there. If you happen to be in the New Malden area it's well worth stopping by the place for a drink or five.

Next update will be the conclusion of my jaunt around Preston. I've also made a recent visit to Bath which I'll no doubt be blabbering on about. See you soon!

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