Sunday 1 December 2013

Caterham Beer Festival

I'm not sure why I decided I should update my blog every Sunday. My life really isn't exciting enough to sustain a riveting, informative and witty blog post every week. I was at the point where I wouldn't have any content for today's update as absolutely nothing of note was happening in my life which was pub or beer related. I was starting to worry that I may have to do a post on what my definition of craft beer is, or complain about how evil pubcos are ruining the industry. Just as all hope seemed lost The Lovely Jemma's dad got in touch. He had won two wristbands to the Caterham Beer Festival but he couldn't go due to a previous engagement. Well I had no choice but to make use of the wristbands and I spent last Saturday afternoon sampling some tasty ales.

This was my first visit to Caterham and as I exited the train station I was disappointed by just how nondescript the town centre is. Most market towns seem to be working from the same identikit template these days, packed with the same stores and brands. However I did appreciate that Waitrose and Morrison's were across the street from each other so you could quickly tell a residents social standing in Caterham depending on which one they ventured in too.

The festival was taking place in Soper Hall, which was a very pleasant venue for a beer festival. There were two rooms serving around 40 ales plus a few ciders, and all the ones I tried were in good condition. Highlights included Black Cherry Mild from Kissingate Brewery, a delicious fruity and chocolate stout which hit the the perfect middle ground of sweetness and malt. Jarl from Fyne Ales was also on offer, and I enjoyed a half of this accomplished, crisp and hoppy ale which I think is deserving of the many awards it has won.

I remembered to take pictures! Here's Soper Hall
Things took a turn for the bizarre when me and The Lovely Jemma decided to venture out for some lunch. Although the beer festival had some interesting looking food options including a wood fire pizza van and another stall selling tapas, it was all outside and I didn't fancy standing out in the cold shoving food down my gullet. I consulted the mobile version of the Good Beer Guide and found a pub nearby that sold food. Using Google Maps we set forth. Google Maps is a great tool but I really wish it would warn you of any steep gradients when giving directions. We ended up walking up an incredibly steep hill and by the time we reached the top I was wheezing and sweating like a demented puffin.

Still at least there was food on the horizon and we walked into the pub, The King and Queen. Walking in I noticed a distinct lack of menus. No matter, we found a comfy table by the log fire and I went up to ask the barmaid for a food menu. "We don't do food any more" was the apologetic response. Apparently the landlord had recently changed and the new landlord doesn't have a license to serve food. By this point we were both ravenous so we rather shamefully left the pub having purchased nothing and went on a quest for food.

This is where things went a bit weird. We found a pub down the road called the Royal Oak, and a menu outside the pub proclaimed there was food, although oddly they claimed food was served in the Royal Oak "Cafe." We walked into the pub and this was a real locals pub/mortuary. As we walked in the customer chatter went a bit quieter and we got strange looks as we were under the age of 50. I ignored it and headed to the back of the pub where a cafe sign was displayed. As we headed into the back room we must have went through some kind of time travel portal as we appeared to be in a Northern greasy spoon caff from the 70's. Except it was in the back room of a pub. "It's like we're in Blackpool!" exclaimed TLJ as we took a seat. All the caff clich├ęs were there - we got offered tea or coffee, served in big sturdy mugs, asked if we wanted a newspaper, the menu was made up of mostly pork products and chips, and we got offered bread and butter with our meals. It was as greasy spoon as you can get. But we were in a pub. Utterly bizarre but the server was very friendly and the food was pretty good. I really wish I took pictures of the place but I was worried if I got my camera out I may end up getting burned alive by the regulars due to using the devils tools. I didn't sample an ale, this didn't really seem the type of place to cater to real ale drinkers, but I did see a lonely Harveys handpump on the bar. In fact the landlord seems rather proud of their lager selection according to their Google page:

Landlord, Alan Lander, says that the pub prides itself on the quality of its beers and lagers.He said: "We are owned by Enterprise Inns which means we can serve a bigger range of beers and lagers. For example you would not normally expect to see both Carling and Fosters available under the same roof."

Lots of happy drinkers inside the hall.
Back at the beer festival, I was pleased to see that breweries from the South East area were well represented. I sampled Nektar from Cronx Brewery, a new startup based in Croydon who are starting to make a name for themselves. The ale was incredibly bitter, maybe too much, and I could start to feel my mouth turning in on itself. There were some sweet notes but this was a bit to much of a bitter thud for me. Still there was promise there and I look forward to trying more of their beers. The Westerham Brewery Double Stout was a more skilful, robust beer, but as they've been going for a lot longer than the Cronx boys maybe that isn't surprising. A rich, tasty stout, this was the perfect beer to have before heading home in the cold winter air.

Overall this was a well organised, friendly and very enjoyable beer festival. The only downside was that there was no seating area, but space was at a premium so I can understand that they wanted to pack in as many punters as possible. I look forward to going back next year. I may even pay for admission!

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