Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Wetherspoons October Real Ale Festival 2013

I always enjoy a Wetherspoons Beer Festival.   With their increasing use of collaborations from foreign brewers visiting these shores to brew festival specials you are always guaranteed to try some interesting beers.  This festival is described as 'United States meets United Kingdom' with ten American craft brewers producing beers as part of an ongoing theme which began in August with Wetherspoons inviting selected American brewers to produce a beer at a UK brewery every month through to February 2014.  

For this festival I am not working away from home and therefore I am not spending every night in the pub and so I have taken advantage of the third pint samples to enable me to review as many beers as possible.  This post covers the first nine beers I have been able to find in my two local Wetherspoons, both of which I had not visited for a few years.    

The Hatters Inn in Bognor Regis was my first port of call.  I had heard it is much improved in recent times and I can confirm this to be the case.  There are cosy seating areas down the side, an open floor space with both high tables and low, all spaced apart with plenty of room.  Above all it is neatly kept with clean floors and tables.  In terms of service the staff are friendly and happy to serve you (yes I know this should be expected in a pub but it is not always the case in a Wetherspoons).            

My second session was at the Dolphin and Anchor in Chichester.  This is the complete opposite of the Hatters and is probably the worst Wetyherspoons I have ever been in.  It is a truly awful pub.  As soon as you enter the place all you see is a square room packed with tables far too close together.  I was visiting with my wife and we could not sit at the table properly because someone was sitting behind us and there was no room so I had to squat on a stool.  The whole place was untidy with lots of tables full of debris from finished meals that had not been cleared away.  Service came with a glum face and overall it was a very unpleasant experience.  Never again.         

The pubs are definitely a mixed bag then so what about the beers?  Time to get tasting.

Thwaites Half Nelson (4.4% ABV)

I've said recently that I have a soft spot for Thwaites and they have been producing some excellent beers from their 'craft' plant.  This pale golden beer is brewed with both American (Cascade, Chinook and Mount Hood) and New Zealand (Nelson Sauvin) hops.  There was an initial hit of superb citrus notes with plenty of grapefruit and lemon flavours.  It was extremely refreshing with a lovely smooth bitter finish.  This is an excellent start and it gets a score of 9/10.               

Terrapin Tree Hugger (5.0% ABV)

This is my first American collaboration.  The brewer from Terrapin Brewery, based in Athens Georgia, visited Shepherd Neame to recreate this copper coloured beer which is brewed in the style of a German Alt Bier.  The malty base to this beer was very pleasant with strong caramel notes coming through along with a distinctive peppery spiciness.  All of this gave way to a dry bitter finish.  I liked this beer a lot and I gave it a rating of 8/10.

Fat Head's Sunshine Daydream (5.0% ABV)

Fat Head's Brewery is based in Cleveland, Ohio and their brewer visited Batemans Brewery to recreate this golden coloured beer.  Sunshine Daydream is a complex beer with sweet tropical fruit flavours prominent initially.  This sweetness continues before giving way to a dry earthy bitter finish.  It is not an easy beer to drink but it has plenty of interesting flavours which I did enjoy and I gave it a score of 7/10.  This brought my first tasting session to a close.          

Everards Pumpkin Ale (3.8% ABV)

My wife joined me for this second session and it began with this Everards beer which had a nice rich ruby colour.  It had plenty of flavour for a sub 4% beer and it did surprise me a little.  I'm not a fan of Everards particularly but this beer had a nice combination of flavours.  There was some smokiness, a little spiciness as well as some lighter lemony notes in there too.  The finish was a little dry and bitter and I gave it a score of 7/10.  My wife enjoyed it too and it turned out to be our favourite one of the three..

Caledonian Poltergeist Porter (4.0% ABV)

This Caledonian beer is described as full-bodied but I found it to be well named as it had no body at all to speak of.  It was quite smoky with some nutty and coffee notes coming through but it was not particularly pleasant.  I'm a big fan of porters so this was disappointing and my wife was yet again in full agreement with me.  I am probably being a little generous in giving it a score of 4/10.  

Woodforde's Bure Gold (4.3% ABV)

I am a big fan of Woodforde's beers.  For me, they produce one of the best ever winter ales with their Norfolk Nog and I love their Headcracker too.  I am not a fan of mid-strength golden bitters though and this is a bit bog standard really.  It is a crisp, smooth, refreshing, well balanced, golden bitter but for me it is too well balanced.  There was a citrussy bitter finish to it but not powerful enough for me.  However, if you like that kind of beer then you will love this.  I give it a score of 6/10.  My wife found it to be a bit bland and lacking flavour.    

Cambridge Brewing Sgt Pepper (4.2% ABV)

The third tasting session begins with another US collaboration with the brewer of the Cambridge Brewing Company from Massachusetts visiting Everards to recreate this medal-winning beer at the World Beer Cup of 2012.  I tried a Belgian Tripel from this brewer on my recent visit to the States which I hated and this beer, which again uses a Belgian yeast, has a similar sourness.  However, this sourness quickly disappeared to be replaced by a massive spicy hit from the peppercorns which completely dominated after the first sip and became stronger and stronger.  I was glad I only had a third pint as I could not have finished a pint of this beer.  Score 2/10.      

Ninkasi Cream Ale (4.5% ABV)

Now this beer is seriously good.  My fourth US collaboration comes from the brewer of Ninkasi Brewery based in the state of Oregon.  He visited the Caledonian Brewery in Scotland to recreated this award winning beer.  I had to have a good gulp to eliminate the peppery taste still in my mouth from the previous beer but my second taste was excellent.  This pale coloured beer had a lovely refreshing fruity hoppiness to it with a fabulous crisp bitter finish.  There are some rich fruits in there like mango and there is a little bit of grassiness to it too.  Overall it is incredibly smooth giving that creamy texture in the mouth.  This beer is as good as the Half Nelson and it scores the same with me with a rating of 9/10.        

Batemans Hazelnut Brownie (6.3% ABV)

Batemans have been very experimental of late.  In the Sainsburys Great British Beer Hunt 2013, which they won, I enjoyed one of their entries whilst not really appreciating their winning beer.  For this particular festival they have produced a beer that is extremely rich and sweet.  Both the aroma and the flavour is totally reminiscent of a Starbucks hazelnut hot chocolate (which I love).  In a beer I am not totally convinced.  All the flavours are sweet with only a faint trace of bitter coffee notes coming through in the aftertaste.  It is certainly potent though and I awarded it a score of 6/10.  Perhaps I need to try it again on a cold winter evening.

Three interesting sessions have produced the usual assortment of hits and misses that I usually get at a Wetherspoons festival.  Watch this space for some more sampling.

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