Twice a year Wetherspoons put on a festival of 50 beers over the course of a couple of weeks with brewers from all over the world popping over to some of our regional brewers to brew one of their beers over here for us to pass judgement over. This first festival of 2014 is no different with brewers from Australia, South Africa, Norway, USA, Canada, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Germany and New Zealand taking part this year alongside 40 beers from all over the UK. I'm sure I won't get to sample each beer but I'll give it a good go and I will be updating this post after each visit to a local 'Spoons to pass my verdict on each beer.
Update 6 - Wednesday 9th April
I have a sort of love / hate relationship with Wetherspoons. Familiarity breeds contempt and I must confess I am now sick of them and I am sick of drinking half pints following too many recent visits. Because of that this may well be my last update but if that is the case I at least went out on a high. I have a long list of things I want to write about and pubs I want to visit so it is time to bring this particular 'spoons fest to a close and move on.
Nogne O Brown Ale (4.5% ABV)
This is one beer I have been hoping to find and lo and behold here it is. Edvard Hortemo of Nogne travelled to Batemans for this one. I am a big fan of the bottled beers from this Norwegian brewer so have high hopes for this one especially as it has been recommended by my favourite beer blogger, BeersManchester, in his post which chronicled his visit to his local 'spoons last weekend. Read this here. The beer has a lovely deep chestnut hue to it and the malty caramel notes were quickly buried underneath an intense dry spicy bitterness which produced a lovely long finish. The malty sweetness does return as you proceed down the glass with hints of bonfire toffee coming through but it is the dry spicy bitterness that makes this one a winner and gives it a score of 8/10. A lovely beer.
Growler Hell Hound (4.9% ABV)
I think this beer has been badly named. There is nothing hellish about this one although it does have quite a bite to it after you get past the initial flavours which were quite floral and not without the odd hint of citrussy lemon. Once the malty biscuity base kicks in, the hops begin to provide a peppery middle before I got a somewhat woody bitterness which led straight in to a traditionally English smooth bitter finish with hints of spice. It is overall a lovely, quite complex bitter from a brewery I am rarely disappointed with. This one also scores a 8/10 from me. As a footnote to this I was disappointed to learn that the brewery is struggling currently and is up for sale. Let's hope a buyer is found.
Lancaster Raspberry Rose (4.2% ABV)
I've haven't tried too much from Lancaster brewery although I do remember having a nice pint of their blonde (4.1% ABV) last year. I wasn't keen to try this beer though as I am not a fan of sweet fruit beers although one or two have been ok. This one to me tasted like flat weak fizzy pop. Raspberry soda watered down with very little beery qualities to it at all really. Both the aroma and the taste was dominated by the inclusion of raspberries in the mix and this is one beer I would not wish to try again. It didn't taste awful or anything but to me it did not taste like beer and that is that so a score of 4/10. I'll never judge on a brewery on their fruit beers though so it certainly hasn't put me off Lancaster.
Fuller's Brit Hop (4.1% ABV)
This one comes as a bit of a bonus because I was mistakenly told this beer was off when I arrived at the pub but the manager came over and offered me this free sample afterwards so I'll include it. Some of my local CAMRA friends have a bit of a downer about Fullers but I think they produce a lot of good beers. I was interested to read that this 'hop fest' is a collaboration with a favourite Cumbrian micro of mine, Hardknott Brewery. It is a blend of no less than eight English hops and these combine to provide a pale refreshing bitter with floral, earthy, citrussy and grassy notes. The whole mix works surprisingly well and the finish is both refreshing and smooth. I would definitely enjoy a full pint of this one if it ever reappears. I scored it 8/10.
Update 5 - Monday 7th April
Back in my usual seat at the Hatters for another tasting session so here we go.
Caledonian Port of Leith IPA (5.0% ABV)
Caledonian are a regular brewer in these festivals and this time they also played host to the brewers from South Africa who produced the African Pale Ale I sampled on day one of the festival. This certainly beats that effort. It has a nice copper colour to it and a fruity aroma. The caramel from the malts and the fruity Styrian Golding and Super Styrian hops combine to give a bittersweet finish. There were earthy notes mixed in with some apricot and peach sweetness. Not a bad effort at all and I would give it a 6/10.
Cigar City Siren's Song Session IPA (5.0% ABV)
This next beer is from another international brewer. Wayne Wambles of Cigar City Brewing travelled all the way from sunny Florida to Wychwood Brewery and the Oxfordshire brewer has probably never seen so many hops go into a beer. Centennial, Citra, Colombus, Mosaic and Summit have all been chucked in to create a hoppy mix of grapefruit, pine and earthy notes. The blurb mentions orange and tropical fruit notes but these are difficult to decipher over the more citrussy, resinous and earthier flavours. I'd have liked a full pint of this one and I'm wavering between a 7 and an 8 here. The dry and bitter finish was excellent so I'll give it an 8/10.
Hildegard's Solange (6.0% ABV)
Finally today we have a strong saison-style beer brewed by Belgian brewster Hildegard Van Ostaden who visited Leciestershire brewer Everards. If all saisons tasted like this I'd probably drink more of them. It has a pleasing straw coloured appearance and an aroma that give hints of summer meadows. It is floral and mellow with a soft and gentle bitterness. The more bitter and grassier notes are to the fore before leading into a mellower dry refreshing finish. There is just a hint of tartness that I normally associate with saisons but very little and it is just enough to give it a pleasant edge and for a 6.0% beer it does slip down relatively easily. This one had me wavering on the scores too but I preferred the Cigar City so this one gets a score of a 7/10.
Update 4 - Friday 4th April
Today I was back in my favourite local 'Spoons, The Hatters, but they obviously charged me the wrong price for a half last time as they were now back up to a pound. Nothing else to say about the pub today except that it was busy as always on a Friday lunchtime. Without further ado let's get supping.
Brains White Out (4.0% ABV)
This was described as a naturally cloudy beer but it was actually pretty clear and very pale. Supposedly brewed in the style of a Belgian wit beer, it certainly bore little resemblance to a Hoegaarden White. It was much less aromatic although there were hints of coriander and sour oranges perhaps along with some subtle floral notes. What it did have was a lovely dry spicy bitter finish which gave it quite a pleasant bite at the end. This beer is certainly worthy of a score of 7/10.
Banks's Czech Mate (4.4% ABV)
I can't say I ever get excited about Banks's beers but this one was surprisingly smooth. This beer has been brewed with two new Czech varieties along with an established classic (Saaz). There are plenty of floral, lemony notes from the hops. These give way to a few woody, earthy notes which try to force their way in before it all subsides into a smooth beer that has quite a low bitterness in the finish. This is easily drinkable and not too bad at all so it gets a 6/10.
Beer Studio Dark Odyssey (4.4% ABV)
So here we have another established family brewer creating a 'craft' range. Hydes moved to new site in Salford in 2012 after brewing on their previous site for over 120 years. The Beer Studio name is a range of beers using rare hops and malts and which are marketed separately. This very dark beer is brewed using as yet unnamed hops and this was one beer I was looking forward to trying. This beer was full of interesting flavours with liquorice to the fore and a spicy middle of caramel and chocolate. In the finish there was bitterness with strong black treacle notes. It wasn't particularly smooth or overly rich but there was lots of complexity in the flavour. I think I'd have enjoyed a pint of this one and it scores a 7/10.
Klosterbrauerei Scheyern Klosterbock (6.5% ABV)
I have not been a particular fan of bock beers in the past so I approached this one cautiously. German brewer Tobias Huber travelled to Wadworth Brewery to create this one. It has a lovely reddish-brown colour and the blurb describes it as a complex beer with hints of ripe fruit, coffee and fine tobacco. I'm not sure what 'fine' tobacco would taste like but I could detect none of that really except for the ripe fruits. It had a lovely malt character to it with plenty of caramel and spicy complexity. I also had hints of bubble gum strangely but everything was finely balanced with nothing particularly dominating. This beer is certainly worthy of a 8/10 as it just about topped the other three in this session.
Update 3 - Tuesday 1st April
OK it is April Fools Day but surely the beers should not reflect the date. A CAMRA social took us to three pubs last night and although quite a few of us detest the 'Spoons in Chichester we included it as there is a beer festival on. It was fairly quiet and the younger crowd were easily getting served ahead of the older clientele at the bar although with just two bar staff running around it's a good job it wasn't really busy and I only had to wait five minutes to get served. At least us older people did not have to show our ID to get in so we could bypass the queue of students.
The Chichester premium was out in force again. The festival pints are £2.35 compared to £1.99 down the road in Bognor and the staff had no idea what to charge for a half so the two halves cost me £2.35 which is fair enough but a bit different to the price reduction I was getting in Bognor (see below). With a couple of halves in hand I joined the other CAMRA guys and it was immediately apparent the beers were not going down too well and they were already planning on moving on to the final pub where Dark Star Seville and Burning Sky Plateau was available. Here's my quick appraisal then of the two from last night.
Elgoods Plum Porter (4.5% ABV)
This beer was supposed to have an enticing fruit aroma according to the blurb but I wanted to run a mile from it. Medicinal would be more accurate. I generally like Elgoods beers and I was expecting this one to be quite interesting but it did not work for me. There was a coffee bitterness clashing with plum pudding in quite a harsh way and the finish was dry and confused. I don't think I could have finished a whole pint of this one and I would mark it 4/10.
Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta Tea Leaf IPA (6.5% ABV)
I had been forewarned about this one as none of my CAMRA friends had enjoyed it. Added to the fact that I don't drink tea this one was not looking good and indeed it wasn't smelling too pleasant either. It had quite a complex aroma in fact with a little hoppy sweetness, some citrus notes and I could smell the infusion of tea too. The boys from New Zealand had travelled all the way to Adnams in Southwold to produce this one. Adnams could well be described as my favourite brewer but next time someone suggests bringing tea leaves into the building perhaps they should politely decline. Very floral to the extent of it being overpowering and the underlying sweetness was never allowed to come to the fore and the citrussy notes from the aroma never showed at all in the taste. Another beer that did not work for me and I scored this one 5/10.
Update 2 - Monday 31st March
The beer festival pints are all just just £1.99 at the Hatters in Bognor Regis which is 30p per pint less than Chichester I think. You do however get the view of the cathedral while you sup your beer in Chichester so it must be worth the premium surely! The Hatters is such a better pub however so to get a cheaper pint is the icing on the cake. To make it even better, the cost of a half pint is just 90p so go figure that one out. Today I tried three halves and they were all pretty good to be honest.
Wharfe Bank Black Geld (4.5% ABV)
The session began with this inviting black IPA from this excellent West Yorkshire brewer. Not as strong as the black IPAs I've had before and it certainly wasn't as rich but there was a distinct fruity hoppy taste to it followed by a dry bitter finish with hints of toast. The hops in this beer are Cascade, Chinook and Polaris and they certainly provide a good balance to the roasted malts. This one scores 7/10 from me.
Wadworth Crimson Dawn (4.5% ABV)
I always find Wadworth's beers to have a distinct malty taste to them and this beer is no exception. This bock-style beer has a nice rich red colour to it and the sweet malty flavours are well balanced here by a very pleasant spicy hoppiness from the Saaz and Saphir varieties. The spicy bitterness is very long and dry in the finish and extremely pleasant. This is a very nice beer which picks up an 8/10 from me.
Mateo & Bernabe Fermin Red Ale (5.8% ABV)
Spanish brewer Alberto Pacheco travelled to Shepherd Neame in Kent to recreate this one. The blurb describes this beer as having an intense red colour. Well to me it is light brown. It has a sweetness in the aroma that comes through into the taste along with a rich spiciness that makes me think of mince pies and sherry. It comes in at 5.8% ABV and it certainly does pack a punch. There are some rich fruits here but it is not too sweet and it is a very pleasant beer that would go down well after a meal. I award it a 7/10 but it came very close to my bronze award.
The Dolphin and Anchor is a pretty dreadful pub but my wife was in Chichester so that's where we agreed to meet up so I could sample the first of my festival beers.
Driftwood Pale Ale (5.0% ABV)
Driftwood Brewing Company from Canada visited Thwaites Brewery to produce this beer and my half pint did look a bit cloudy. It was the first day of the festival and perhaps they hadn't let it settle long enough. Anyway, it tasted great and my wife thought so too. This light golden beer was floral, fruity (both citrussy and tropical) and a little woody with pine and elderflower notes evident with a nice dry hoppy finish. This one is definitely worth an 8/10.
Standeaven African Pale Ale (4.2% ABV)
The second beer enjoyed in this lunchtime session came from South African brewer Standeaven who visited Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh. My wife didn't like this one but was unsure of what it tasted like except to say it was something not very nice. It was OK but it had a bit of a spicy tang to it that dominated over some fruity hoppy notes and a malty base but I could not detect any grapefruit notes as described in the festival blurb. It looked more inviting than the Driftwood Pale as it was nice and clear with a rich copper colour to it but it failed in the taste for me and I give it a 5/10.