Friday, 17 October 2014

Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival Autumn 2014

Yes it is that time of year again.  Ten brewers from all corners of the world come over to the UK and brew a beer for Wetherspoons at one of our regional brewers and we get to drink them along with 40 other beers from all over the country.  I'm sure it will be the usual mixed bag with some experimental beers not quite hitting the spot whilst others prove to be an instant hit.  As usual I will add to this post over the next couple of weeks although as of now I have no idea how often I will get to a 'spoons so the number of beers that get reviewed is unknown.  I will however endeavour to get through as many as possible before the festival ends on November 2nd.  After all, somebody has to do it!    

Friday October 31st (lunchtime)

Today I had to make a quick lunchtime trip in to Bognor Regis so I thought I would take a quick peek in The Hatters, a GBG-listed 'spoons.  It was good to be in here again as it is my favourite 'spoons in the area by some distance.  Good service, an excellent manager who knows about beer and beer that is always on top form.  If this is my last visit to the festival then I have gone out on a high.  There were only two beers available that I am yet to try so my beer choices were made for me.       

No.2 - Prophecy (3.9% ABV) from Bath Ales, Bristol 
I have always been a little disappointed by the beers from Bath Ales if I am honest.  However, this the best I have tried from them by some distance I think.  With Chinook and Colombus hops from the US the hoppy aroma was no surprise and very pleasant.  Very crisp, refreshing and quite flavoursome made for a lovely session strength pale ale.  All of this led in to a long dry bitter finish so it is well worth a score of 8/10.

No.35 - Great Gustav (4.8% ABV) from Oakham Brewery, Lincolnshire 
I was absolutely delighted to discover the availability of this beer today.  It looks a bit like their magnificent Citra although the aroma was not too strong with hints of fruity citrussy hops.  I was surprised to see the hop list of Herkules and Magnum here because there are some quite citrussy flavours with notes of zingy lemon and grapefruit along with some pine and this was all balanced by a little sweetness.  The beer was very smooth, highly drinkable with a refreshingly dry bitter finish that I thoroughly enjoyed.  This is one of my festival favourites and gets a score of 9/10 so perhaps I should probably end here.     

Thursday October 30th (lunchtime)

Well I thought yesterday was enough but I had to pop in to Littlehampton to visit the library so I decided to check in and see if there were any beers I had yet to try and there were a couple so I thought I would give them a go.  I need not have bothered really as I was served by the same surly barperson as yesterday and the beers were just as bad.   

No.3 - Whitstable Bay Pale Ale (3.9% ABV) from Shepherd Name, Kent 
Iinitially I had high hopes for this beer as it did have a pleasant citrussy aroma.  However, the flavour of the hops was very weak and were kept well hidden by a rather sweet malty base that grew in intensity so that by the time I finished the half I was left with a cloying sweetness that was not very pleasant.  To be fair I don't think it was on top form as it was a bit hazy but I don't think it would have made much difference in the great scheme of things.  This one gets a score of 4/10.       

No.8 - Botanical Beer (4.2% ABV) from Banks's Brewery, West Midlands 
I drink Banks's beers so rarely and I could not tell you a single beer that they brew regularly other than their Bitter and Mild but this one is obviously experimental as it goes back to the time when ale was brewed without hops.  This beer does have hops but it also contains something termed as gruit, a herb and spice blend.  This beer is actually not too bad to be honest.  It is quite spicy with citrus and floral notes too with the finish predominantly spicy and a little fruity.  Hallertau and Endeavour hops are used in addition to the gruit and overall this is a perfectly acceptable beer which gets a score of 6/10.

Wednesday October 29th (lunchtime)

It is days like today that make me wonder why I bother with these festivals and that make me decide that this might be my last day of beer sampling at this particular one.  It is yet another lunchtime excursion to The George in Littlehampton and both beers were extremely disappointing.  Added to that I had to contend with the surliest barperson I have witnessed for quite some time.   

No.9 - Edinburgh Pale Ale (4.2% ABV) from Innis & Gunn, Edinburgh 
The brewer behind the oak aged bottled beers bring you this particular pale ale and perhaps they should stick to what they are good at.  Initially I thought the beer was off but I came to the conclusion it was just not very nice flavours.  Quite fragrant initially with a harsh tang of satsuma which clashed with the sweet malty biscuity base.  There was very little finish and it all tasted quite watery and lacking any kind of body.  The scented floral flavours never went away and overall it was a beer I would not rush to try again.  This one gets a 4/10.   

No.21 - Two Birds Golden Ale (4.4% ABV) from Two Birds Brewing/Banks's Brewery from Australia/West Midlands 
Two Australian brewsters travelled all the way to the delights of Banks's brewery in the West Midlands to produce this golden ale.  This beer though was particularly disappointing.  There was little aroma and initially I thought it was quite bland but a fruity tang came through which I found a little unpleasant.  It did improve in the finish with a decent spicy hoppiness but by then the damage had been done.  The malts used are ale, wheat and Vienna and the hops are Motueka and Summer.  A combination I won't rush to try again.  5/10.  

Tuesday October 28th (lunchtime)

Another lunchtime excursion to The George in Littlehampton and time for another couple of half pints along with some deliciously hot and spicy buffalo wings which render my taste buds useless so thankfully I tried the beers before the food arrived.  

No.11 - American Brown Ale (4.2% ABV) from Liberation Brewery, Jersey 
I enjoyed a beer from this brewery earlier this year at my local Spoons and this particular ale looked very inviting.  A clear chestnut coloured beer with a nice head and a subtle hoppy aroma.  Amber and brown malts are used and there is a blend of the American hop varieties of Amarillo, Cascade, Simcoe and Summit.  My wife thought this beer was a bit tasteless and lacking body and although it did appear a little bland and weak tasting initially, there was a decent nutty malt character that eventually came through and this was well balanced by a spicy, citrussy hop bitterness that was particularly pleasing in the bitter finish.  This beer picks up a score of 6/10.    

No.17 - Union Gap (4.3% ABV) from Roosters Brewery, North Yorkshire 
My wife thought this one was a bit tasteless too but I thought it was an excellent pale ale.  Roosters are a particular favourite of mine and whilst this particular beer doesn't have the strength of some of the others I have enjoyed from them it is a refreshing pale ale with a good citrussy hoppiness from the American hop varieties of Amarillo, Simcoe and Sterling imparting subtle flavours of both orange and lemon.  The long dry bitter finish isn't overpowering.  It is simply a refreshing pale ale which is easily drinkable.  A very good beer that picks up a score of 8/10.    

Monday October 27th (lunchtime)

I seem to be sticking to The George in Littlehampton for this festival and here I am again for a quick lunchtime drink.  

No.23 - The Simcoe Kid (4.5% ABV) from Maxim, County Durham 
I don't know much about this brewer to be honest.  This particular beer contains the lovely Citra hop along with Simcoe (obviously) and Falconers Flight 7 Cs (a blend of all those wonderful American hop varieties that begin with the letter 'C').  This beer is not as hoppy as I was expecting from the pleasant aroma of citrus and tropical fruits.  The tropical notes don't really appear in the flavour.  Instead there are soft lemony notes which lead to a pleasing dry refreshing finish that is not overly bitter.  Not a bad beer and I would give it a 7/10.    

No.22 - Old Engine Oil (4.5% ABV) from Harviestoun, Clackmannanshire 
In bottles this beer is one of my favourite porters where it comes in at a strength of 6.0% ABV so I was wondering what this reduced strength version would be like.  I need not have worried really.  It is still quite rich with a perfect balance between sweet and bitter.  Plum, liquorice, raisin and cherry notes all combine and there are hints of coffee bitterness in the finish.  It is a really nice beer and one of the best of the festival and I will award it a score of 9/10.    

Friday October 24th (lunchtime)

Back at The George in Littlehampton today for a quick lunchtime drink.  Two more of the international brewers to try today as well as a strangely hopped beer from Titanic.

No.41 - Hop Abroad (5.0% ABV) from Titanic Brewery, Staffordshire 
I'm not quite sure what to make of this one.  Containing hop varieties from every corner of the globe it produces a beer that made me immediately think of sherbet lemons.  From England we have the Admiral hop.  From the US we have Columbus.  Other European hops include Aramis (France), Aurora (slovenia), Marynka (Poland) and Hersbrucker (Germany).  The result is a copper-coloured beer that has a decent hoppy aroma.  The taste is a bit weird.  Quite sharp and tangy initially with lemony notes but there was an underlying sweetness that wasn't quite so pleasant.  To be honest this did not really work for me overall and I give it a 5/10.    

No.40 - OG IPA (5.0% ABV) from 10 Barrel / Wadworths, Oregon / Devizes 
After the complexity of the last one this was a much more straightforward beer.  Tonya Cornett from 10 Barrel Brewing Co in Oreogn travelled to Devizes in Wiltshire to produce this one.  A couple of American hops (Nugget and Horizon) combine with the Australian Galaxy to produce a fine beer with a sharp, citrussy flavour and a pleasing dry finish.  The aroma is floral and citrussy and this comes through nicely in the flavour.  There are also some tropical fruit notes in there too.  Certainly one of the better beers so far and it gets an 8/10.    

No.1 - Village Elder (3.8% ABV) from Ian Ramsay / Everards, New Zealand / Leicester 
It's a long way from New Zealand but I was pleasantly surprised by this session bitter that resulted from the journey that Ian Ramsay made half-way around the world to Leicester.  This is a real collaboration as it contains the UK Challenger hop and the New Zealand Pacifico.  There is little aroma to be fair and initially the beer was slightly on the sweet with only a slight bitterness but as I got into it there was a nice spicy hoppiness kicking in over the caramel and biscuity malty base.  This beer therefore picks up a 6/10. 

Tuesday October 21st (lunchtime)

This is hopefully the first of two visits today.  The lunchtime session was just a couple of halves in what is now my nearest Spoons following my house move in July.  The George in Littlehampton is ok I guess.  The bit around the bar is fairly typical but there is a large room adjoining it that has high ceilings and totally lacks any atmosphere or character.  The ceilings themselves are quite ornate but that is where the character begins and ends.  Thankfully no stupid chunky glasses in this Spoons.                                                                                                                                                                             
No.6 - Reaper (4.1% ABV) from Black Sheep Brewery, Masham 
The first beer today is from the Black Sheep brewery in Masham.  Reaper is a triple hopped beer with rye malt and it had an appealing rich copper colour to it.  I don't see Black Sheep beers down here often and I am rarely disappointed when I do.  This beer certainly had a hoppy aroma coming from the trio of American hops (Amarillo, Chinook and Summit).  The initial flavours combined notes of cinder toffee and roasted malts and these gave way to a quite intense dry bitter finish with orange citrussy notes coming from the Amarillo.  This was a very satisfying beer and I would give it a score of 8/10.   

No.14 - Colonel's Whiskers (4.3% ABV) from Batemans Brewery, Lincolnshire 

Batemans from Lincolnshire are another family brewer that rarely disappoint.  They always produce something a little bit different for the Wetherspoons festivals and the Colonel's Whiskers carries on this tradition.  Some of their past festival efforts have been a bit like marmite.  Some raved about them whilst others were far from impressed.  This one is definitely a hit with me.  Described as a variation on their traditional mild, which I love, this beer has an underlying bitterness along with sweeter notes of raisin and berry.  The bitterness comes from the traditional English hops of Challenger and Goldings along with the Slovenian hop Styrian.  Overall it is a lovely smooth beer with a good body and I will give it a score of 8/10.    

Tuesday October 21st (evening)

The second destination of the day was the Royal Oak in Dorchester.  At lunchtime in Littlehampton I was paying £2.15 for a festival pint and here it was £2.70 so even more expensive than Chichester and you don't even get a cathedral view.  Me and my mate had come from a very busy Brewhouse & Kitchen to discover that this Spoons was quite deserted.  I have never been in such an empty Spoons.  Perhaps it's the higher prices.  We were only paying slightly more in the aforementioned B&K and the drinking environment there was much more pleasant.  Having said that this particular Spoons is quite good with plenty of nooks and crannies on various levels.  With five festival beers available to me that I was yet to try it was time to get cracking.                                                                                                                                                                             
No. 34 - Ligera (4.8% ABV) from Birrificio Lambrate / Marstons, Italy / Burton upon Trent 

This American Pale Ale was brewed at Marstons by Italian pair Fabio Brocca and Mattia Bonardi and as you can see I was in a hurry to taste this one.  It looked a bit insipid to be honest with a washed out dull gold colour.  The aroma was nice and hoppy though and there were some nice sweet orange notes to it before leading in to a nice dry bitter finish.  Five hop varieties went into this one - Amarillo, Cascade, Chinook and Willamette from the US and German variety Herkules.  Not a bad beer and worthy of a score of 7/10.        

No. 49 - Night Owl Pumpkin Ale (6.5% ABV) from Elysian / Wychwood, Washington State / Witney 

This copper coloured ale is spiced with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.  None of these ingredients should ever go into beer in my opinion.  On top of all that there's pumpkin to.  Hells bells.  Definitely not for me but I had to try it.  It wasn't overly spiced to be fair and it was quite smooth and I did manage to drink half of it and if I didn't have a few more to try I may have managed it all.  A score of 4/10 is all I can award it though.  For my mate one sip was enough.  

No.4 - Antipodean Ale (4.0% ABV) from Brew Moon / Hook Norton, New Zealand / Oxfordshire

This beer was brewed by Belinda Gould who travelled all the way from New Zealand to the sleepy Oxfordshire village of Hook Norton.  There is the addition of wheat malt to this one which gives a sweet biscuity base but the New Zealand hops of Motueka and Wakatu give this beer a light and refreshing lemony citrussy flavour.  It all combines quite well to give a beer that had a reasonable bitterness and I will give it a score of 7/10.  

No.37 - Tiger Triple Gold (5.0% ABV) from Everards, Leicestershire 

Whilst trying this beer someone came over and raved about this one to us.  'It doesn't have any of that horrible citra stuff in it' was his comment.  Each to their own.  To be fair I have never really enjoyed an Everards beer and I found this one to be lacking body for a beer of this strength.  There was a bit of spiciness in there but generally it was a fruity and overly sweet beer with very little bitterness from the traditional English hops of Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings.  My mate wasn't a fan and it wasn't a beer for me either and it collects a 5/10.   

No.31 - Chinook Gold (4.7% ABV) from Hook Norton Brewery, Oxfordshire 

We both finished off with a half of this one.  Hook Norton brew some pretty good malty beers so how do they get on with hops?  This beer is not a single hop variety though.  It has traditional English hop varieties Challenger, Fuggles, and Golding with what must be a light sprinkling of the American hop Chinook.  It has a sweet malty biscuity base and although there is a hoppy aroma it doesn't quite come through in the taste with very little bitterness evident.  Citrus and pine notes are present but not enough for me although it is quite refreshing.  A score of 6/10 for this one from both of us.  

Friday October 17th

The festival began today and a lunchtime beer in Chichester made the Dolphin & Anchor my first port of call.  Not my favourite 'spoons to be honest with a 30p premium on the price of a pint (£2.55 here) over the other 'spoons in the area but you do get a view of the elegant Chichester cathedral if you sit by a front window.  However, the quality of their beers and their service has been on the up this year and I was impressed to see a row of 6 beers available from the off.  I asked for three halves and they were served in old style tankards which I hate but other than that it was a pretty good start.   

No.28 - India Session Ale (4.6% ABV) from Brouwerij'T IJ / Caledonian, Holland / Edinburgh

Roel Wagemans from the Brouwerij't IJ in Amsterdam travelled over to the Caledonian brewery in Edinburgh to brew this beer.  It is an interesting golden ale with a dominant spicy hop character which was no doubt coming from the Waimea hop.  The other hop used is Citra which was not so obvious although the addition of lime did give a light citrussy finish.  So in summary it is spicy with a sweet middle and a bit of citrus in the finish.  Not a bad beer and a 7/10 score here.  My wife found it interesting and thought the lime stood out too in this one. 

No.47 - Phoenix IPA (5.5% ABV) from Woodfordes Brewery, Norfolk

This one turned out to be my wife's favourite but I found it to be a little too sweet.  This golden ale did have quite a sweet malty base to it from the local Maris Otter malt which tended to dominate throughout.  The hops are Challenger and Goldings with the late addition of Amarillo.  I did not detect much from this American hop though and there was not enough bitterness for my liking.  However, I was tasting this one after I had enjoyed the lovely dry bitterness of the next one reviewed here so that may be why I thought it was lacking.  A score of 7/10 here is probably justified with a 6 from me and an 8 from the wife.                

No.46 - Bklyn Bitter (5.5% ABV) from Sixpoint / Adnams, New York / Southwold

Heather McReynolds of Brooklyn's Sixpoint Brewing travelled to Adnams of Southwold to create this strong, hoppy American bitter.  Deep golden in colour it is packed with American hops with varieties Amarillo, Cascade, Citra and Colombus.  It has a good spice character with a orange citrussy middle before it gives way to a lovely dry bitter finish that I wanted more of.  A pint or two of this would have gone down very well indeed.  Too bitter for my wife but it gets a 9/10 from me.  A cracking start to the beer festival. 

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