Festivals. You know what you are getting, right? Either turn up at the church hall and pick up your pint glass before scanning the massed ranks of gantried casks or walk into the old mink abattoir and tie on the gold lamé wristband before handing your Teku to a guy pouring strawberry daiquiri IPA. But what about if you travelled hundreds of miles to a foreign city with an alien beer culture? Would the beer festival be the same? There’s only one way to find out…
Craft Beer has spread it’s marketing-led tentacles/independence-led passion (delete as applicable) far and wide these days. Take Portugal. The land of Vinho Verde and Tawny Port has another string to its bow. Last month during a trip to enjoy as much of those two aforementioned things as possible the sheer co-incidence of arriving into her second city on the opening day of Porto Beer Fest was too good an opportunity to pass up. Even before realising the entire thing was taking place outdoors in the botanic gardens in 30°C heat, all enjoyed on communal tables in the shadow of a 1950’s handball arena. Bring it on. So what did I learn on a hugely enjoyable few hours of Anglo-Porto relations?
1. Portuguese Craft Beer is Booming
Let’s get the confession out of the way first. Despite craft beer being a global phenomenon and the bottle shop five minute’s walk from my front door carrying beer from dozens of countries, I had never heard of a single Portuguese brewery. It’s shameful but it also meant I could pitch up with no preconceptions, and every single thing I tried would be new and exciting. And isn’t that the very best thing about beer festivals? Porto Beer Fest had around 22 producers from its home country and around half as many again from overseas (almost all of which were Spanish). Breweries like Oitava Colina, Sovina and Dois Corvos were all a fantastic mystery to me and made for a voyage of discovery.
2. Keep It Local
And pretty much all of these Portuguese and Spanish craft breweries’ stalls were mobbed throughout the entire time we were there, which was great to see. In fact, the only stall that didn’t get much traffic was the imports one that featured mostly Mikkeller and BrewDog and the Belgian offering selection with Gulden Draak and a few other abbey beers alongside a broader selection that included the likes of Sam Adams Boston Lager, Anchor Liberty Ale and…er…Bishop’s Finger.
3. The Location
I said in my most recent festival-related post that it’s not necessarily the beer that makes or breaks an event like this and yet again that proved to be true. I’ve never been to a beer festival that had peacocks walking around before – so that was definitely a bonus. The sun set as a drone buzzed softly overhead (another first – here’s what it was up to), the evening entertainment kicked into life and it all seemed perfect. I guess being on holiday helped (even if I wasn’t down the front jumping around to the Afrobeat of They Must Be A Crazy). Beer festival tourism – it has a future, I think.
4. The Beers
Ok so even if being on holiday skewed my enjoyment slightly – and hell, why would it not? The beers were just as good as the surroundings. Best of the event was without doubt Voragem Black IPA from Mean Sardine – 7% and massively roasty but with a huge hit of citrus hops. Also as good Vandoma Route 66 APA (pictured above) and D’Os Diablos Wee Heavy (yes, I know) and the last beer of the night, which you could take home with you in the glass as you walked out of the venue – another first – an 11% Italian Grape Ale from Luzia, a brewery based just north of Portugal’s third city Coimbra. Chalky, vinous and enormously strong – just a fantastic beer and a perfect way in which to end the festival.
5. The Styles
As you’ve picked up from that last paragraph, there were all sorts on offer in terms of beer styles. Checking the beer list, there was a fairly even split amongst US-themed styles, German and Belgian beers with some Portuguese and Spanish breweries seemingly specialising in one or another. From Helles to Quads to Double IPAs there were also a few gose, barley wines and beers featuring smoked plums, mango, lemon verbena, more than a few sours and such menu-busting offerings as an imperial coffee cocoa rye smoked stout.
6. The inescapable…
Oh yes, and six of the thirty-odd breweries in attendance had brought with them a New England IPA. There’s no getting away from it (literally, in my case), it really is the style of the moment. And sadly seeing as the one thing I wanted to try was a dark beer aged in port barrels, there was only a single one on the beer list – Vadia Old Ale Tawny Oak – and it wasn’t pouring the session I was at. I guess, at beer festivals, some things actually don’t change.