The world’s biggest beer festival is running at the moment, up and down the UK (until the 14th of April). How they quantify that, I don’t know, but the good folks at JD Wetherspoon are having a celebration of real ale that even the BeerCast felt compelled to attend. I say ‘even the BeerCast’ because our local Wetherspoon’s isn’t really the kind of place you’d normally find us. You won’t find it in our pub guide to Edinburgh, for example (there are actually five here, if you count the two at the airport).
That’s not us being real ale snobs, either – perish the thought. It’s just the large, cavernous interiors and be-shirted groups of lads on WKD don’t really spell out a decent beer experience. But they do serve real ale – and are so vast you can usually get a seat. My Dad used to have meetings in his local Wetherspoons, far up the back on the raised no-smoking area (this was a few years ago). It used to be so empty, while waiting for his colleagues, he’d read one of the books on the shelves – placed there purely for atmosphere and effect – and leave a bookmark in for next time.
Anyway, we were up the other week at the Standing Order on George Street, enjoying some seriously good pints of my personal favourite local beer – Stewart’s Edinburgh Gold, at £1.90 a pint no less, when we saw the advert for the upcoming beer festival. Returning last week, they had a mightily impressive range of beers on offer that particular night, from a festival programme of 50:-
– Young’s Bitter (3.7%) Wells & Young’s, Bedford.
– Chocolate Drop (3.8%) Caledonian Brewery, Edinburgh.
– Sunbright Ale (3.8%) Marston’s Brewery, Staffordshire.
– Oakham JHB (3.8%) Oakham Brewery, Peterborough.
– Elgood’s Old Wagg (4.0%) Elgood’s Brewery, Wisbech.
– Sunchaser (4.0%) Everards Brewery, Leicestershire.
– Hook Norton 303AD (4.0%) Hook Norton Brewery, Oxfordshire.
– Eden Pure Ale (4.3%) Sharp’s Brewery, Cornwall.
– Hopping Hare (4.5%) Hall & Woodhouse, Dorset.
– Pedigree Six (6.0%) Marston’s Brewery, Staffordshire.
– Abbot Reserve Ale (6.5%) Greene King, Suffolk.
So much to choose from on a cold Wednesday night. We started off on Everard’s Sunchaser, which was a pale lagery-style beer with German hops giving it a really moreish taste. Next we went for Elgood’s Old Wagg, which didn’t go down quite as well, lingering a bit too long in the finish, and with an odd maltiness to it. Finally we ended up with the Marston’s Pedigree Six, apparently brewed exclusively for Wetherspoon’s. The stronger alcohol taste really mixed well with the hops, and a spicy fruitiness made it very good indeed.
So if you’ve got the need for a beer and find yourself in a random UK high street over the next four days, you could do far worse than sounding out your nearest JDW. Certainly they have their issues – the people immediately in front of me at the bar bought a round of Tennants and Aftershock chasers – but they should certainly be applauded for sponsoring a real ale festival of this magnitude.