A beer festival held in a marquee, hosted by a brewery, within the grounds of a larger brewery; Craft Beer Rising. This Russian doll of beer took place over the weekend at the Drygate facility in Glasgow, having moved north for the first time since its London inception. I ventured across from Waverly to Queen Street on the Friday to check out the trade day and then hopefully blunder into the public session that followed. Last Craft Beer Rising, at the Truman Brewery in East London, us freebooting ‘trade’ types were clinically ushered out in the interval,* so it was a welcome surprise when, as the Drygate trade session clock ticked down, rather than squawking ‘YOU WILL HAVE TO PAY FOR BEER IN THREE…TWO…ONE’, a PA announcement suddenly yelped into life that those of us already there would be subsumed into the public session that was about to begin. Hoorah! The white exhibitors’ wristband I had slyly acquired to avoid being turfed out would not be needed, after all.
* But…but…I’m a beer blogger!! [sniff]
There was quite a strange atmosphere on the Friday at Craft Beer Rising – somewhat inevitably, maybe. The morning after the night before; Thursday’s vote on the Independence referendum still fresh in everyone’s minds. The trade session itself was particularly muted, brewers staring out from behind their palleted bars, or talking to a couple of people at a time, at most. For a blogger like myself, this was great, as I could buzz from one stall to the next, repeatedly asking questions, like the last wasp of summer. Brewers, being as amenable as they usually are, were only too happy (at least on the outside) to chat away, and in the process I learned a fair bit of fascinating future plans from several of them. All of it, naturally, off the record (such is life). However, let’s just say I had thought I’d seen in all in the world of beer labelling; so watch out in that regard.
Talking to a few of the beer drinkers who arrived for the public session – or ‘bluebanders’ as us white-banded types could have piously referred to them, the number one item of feedback they had about Craft Beer Rising was the cost. Twenty-odd pounds to get in (although a net fifteen, as that included a fivers’ worth of tokens) it sounded, to many, to be on the high side of average for a beer festival, even one appended by the word ‘craft’. Maybe that had combined with the post-indyref atmosphere to keep numbers down; the Friday evening session was as quiet a beerfest as I think I’ve ever seen (although it must be said the Saturday sessions apparently sold out). Still, that meant a better chance of sounding out some interesting beer; and so it proved.
Beer of the festival for me was Harbour’s 8.7% Chocolate and Vanilla Imperial Stout; a nigh-on perfect joining of these two most complementary of flavours for strong, dark beers. Right from the off, a wow beer. Not far behind that was Stewart’s Lemon Grass-hopper Saison, created on the Craft Beer Kitchen kit by a couple of competition winners, the blend of kaffir lime leaves, ginger and lemongrass again worked beautifully. In fact, such was the buzz around this one, don’t be surprised to see this beer upscaled to the big Stewart kit and released to a wider audience. Still on the ‘things in a saison’ trend, the collaboration between Williams Bros and Stillwater – Stravaigin (6.7%) – was another humdinger. Interestingly, I’d had this before, at the Edinburgh Beer Bloggers’ Conference, but with a few more months in the keg has made it much more vibrant, clean and zesty.
It was tough at this point to avoid the barrel-aged Even More Jesus being poured from an open bottle on the Siren bar, but I’d wanted to try Undercurrent again ever since managing to get a quick half at the Hanging Bat, many moons ago. It didn’t disappoint; the oatmeal pale ale was as great as I remembered. Once again, it reminded me of a grapefruit power bar, should such a thing exist. Finally, the fifth beer of five that really made the pages of my notebook tingle was another collab – Camden’s jaunt with Beavertown, One Hells of a Beaver. Sold underneath a sign proclaiming where ‘The Home of Hells’ was (as if you were in any doubt), this mashup of Gamma Ray and Camden Hells was really quite something. Proof, if any were required, that whatever and however you want to quantify it, ‘craft beer’ is still on the rise…
Thanks to the organisers of Craft Beer Rising for the trade ticket, and the staff at Drygate who had to put in extra shifts to get it all working. The atmosphere reduced somewhat towards the end of the night, unfortunately, as news filtered through as to what was occurring on George Square (past which those of us from Edinburgh would have to go to get the train). A real shame, but as the mood in the city was better at the weekend, hopefully that pervaded to the festival as well.