Category Archives: Beer Festivals

Beer Festivals Abroad – Porto Beer Fest

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.

Scottish Real Ale Festival 2017 Preview

Tomorrow at around this time the doors open at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange to the 2017 iteration of the Scottish Real Ale Festival, the annual CAMRA gathering in the west of the city with dozens of beers on offer. In putting this post together I realised this one is the tenth anniversary of the first one I went to, back in 2007 at the Assembly Rooms on George Street. It’s fair to say both the beer scene and my writing have moved on aplenty since then. Anyhow, this time around there will be beers from a mighty 60 different Scottish breweries.

From established playmakers such as Fyne Ales, Tempest, Caledonian and Swannay to relative newcomers like Redcastle, Hawk Hill, Two Thirsty Men and Hybrid Brewing, the beers run the vast range of styles from bitters and golden ales to altbiers, tea saisons and the inescapable New England IPAs. Check out the full beer list below, kindly sent through by the festival organisers, and reproduced online for the first time (the beer styles have been added by me as a guide, they are not intended to be totally exact, brewers of Scotland!).

The Scottish Real Ale Festival is being held at the Corn Exchange, New Market Road, Edinburgh from Thursday 6th July to Saturday 8th July. Opening hours are 12pm-10:30pm each day. Entry is £4 for CAMRA members, £6 for non-members, but keep hold of the glass given out and you can get free re-admission over the other days. As this is a preview, breweries and beers submitted may change – visit the SRAF Twitter Feed to keep up with any amendments.

ALECHEMY Livingston
Charisma (3.7%) Pale Ale
Helsinki Collaboration (4.0%) NK
Ten Storey Malt Bomb (4.5%) 80/-

AN TEALLACH Camasnagaul, Garve
An Teallach Ale (4.2%) 80/-
Golden Nessie (5.0%) India Pale Ale

ANDREWS Annan
Wee Willy Wonky (4.2%) Best Bitter
Into the Darkness (4.3%) Stout

ARRAN Brodick
Arran Dark (4.3%) Mild
Brewery Dug (5.5%) India Pale Ale

AYR Ayr
Complicated Maisie (4.3%) Pale Ale
Rabbie’s Porter (4.3%) Porter
Betty & The Gardens – B Side (5.2%) Golden Ale

BEATH Cowdenbeath
AreYouWithMe (4.0%) Bitter
SlowlySlippinUnder (4.5%) Lager.

BELHAVEN Dunbar
Black (4.2%) Stout
Herok & Howells Tantallon Sunrise (5.0%) India Pale Ale

BLACK ISLE Munlochy
Goldfinch (3.5%) Session IPA (Gluten-Free)
Hibernator (7.0%) Oatmeal Stout

BLACK METAL Loanhead
Yggdrasil (6.6%) Pale Ale
Blood Revenge (6.6%) Rye Stout
Gates of Valhalla (7.9%) Oatmeal Pale Ale

BON SCOTT / KIRRIE ALES Kirriemuir
Thrums Best (4.5%) Best Bitter
Big Mouth Stout (4.5%) Oatmeal Stout

BORN IN THE BORDERS Jedburgh
Foxy Blonde (3.8%) Golden Ale
Holy Cow (4.2%) Best Bitter

BROUGHTON Broughton
Hopopotamus (3.8%) Pale Ale
Merlin’s Ale (4.2%) Pale Ale
Exciseman’s 80/- (4.6%) 80/-
Elder Power (4.7%) Elderflower Pale Ale
Jeddart Justice (4.7%) Brown Ale
Old Jock Ale (6.7%) Scotch Ale

CAIRNGORM / LOCH NESS Aviemore
Black Gold (4.4%) Stout
Cairngorm Gold (4.5%) Blonde Ale
Hoppy Ness (5.0%) Pale Ale
Wildcat (5.1%) Premium Bitter

CALEDONIAN Edinburgh
Deuchar’s IPA (3.8%) Golden Ale
Edinburgh Castle (4.1%) 80/-
Kick Off (4.1%) Bitter
XPA (4.3%) Golden Ale
Lion’s Share (4.4%) Golden Ale

CAMPBELL’S Peebles
Gunner Blonde (4.5%) Golden Ale

CAMPERVAN Edinburgh
Leith Juice (4.7%) Citrus IPA
Wandering No. 1, (4.0%) Espresso Porter

CROMARTY Davidston, Cromarty
Hit the Lip (3.8%) Session Pale Ale
Happy Chappy (4.1%) Golden Ale
Brewed Awakening (4.7%) Coffee Stout
Red Rocker (5.0%) Red Rye Ale
Rogue Wave (5.7%) Extra Pale Ale

CROSS BORDERS Dalkeith
Pale (3.8%) Pale Ale
Heavy (4.1%) 80/-
Porter (4.2%) Porter
Summer (5.0%) Honeysuckle and Rose Saison

DEESIDE Banchory
APA (3.8%) American Pale Ale
80/- (4.5%) 80/-
Stout (5.0%) Stout

EDINBREW Livingston
Little Monster (3.7%) Golden IPA
85/- (4.6%) 80/-

FALLEN Kippen
Just the Ticket (4.0%) Pale Ale
New World Odyssey (4.1%) Pale Ale
Blackhouse (5.0%) Smoked Porter
Chew Chew (6.0%) Salted Caramel Stout

FERRY South Queensferry
40/- Fine (4.2%) 80/-
Ferry Crossing (4.5%) Golden Ale
Thomas Miller (5.5%) Porter

FINTRY Fintry
Meikle Bin (4.1%) 70/-
Dunmore Pale Ale (4.2%) Pale Ale

FIVE KINGDOMS Isle of Whithorn
Criminale (3.8%) Bitter
Dark Storm (6.9%) Stout

FYNE ALES Cairndow
Jarl (3.8%) Pale Ale
Vital Spark (4.4%) Best Bitter
Avalanche (4.5%) Golden Ale
Sublime Stout (6.8%) Stout

HARVIESTOUN Alva
Summer Legend (3.5%) Golden Ale
Schiehallion (4.8%) Lager

HAWK HILL Dundee
Lady Marmalade (4.0%) Pale Ale
Red Falcon (4.5%) Amber Ale

HYBRID Grangemouth
Hind Sight (3.9%) Session IPA
Apex (4.1%) Extra Pale Ale
Jar Nektar (5.7%) Saison

INNER BAY Inverkeithing
Amber (4.0%) Amber Ale
Citrine (4.8%) Golden Ale

INNIS & GUNN INVERALMOND Perth
Lia Fail (4.7%) Premium Bitter
Thai PA (5.2%) Pale Ale

ISLE OF SKYE Uig
Young Pretender (4.0%) Bitter
Cuillin Beast (7.0%) Old Ale

JOHN O’ GROATS John O’ Groats
Swelkie (4.0%) Golden Ale

KEITH Keith
Frank (4.0%) Raspberry Golden Ale
Herr Keith (4.5%) Wheat Beer

KELBURN Barrhead
Sunriser (3.4%) Golden Ale
Pivo Estivo (3.9%) Golden Ale
Jaguar (4.5%) Pale Ale
Dark Moor (4.5%) Old Ale

KINGDOM Rosyth
Peely Wally (4.8%) Pale Ale
Laird of Fife Heavy (4.9%) 80/-

KNOPS Dirleton, East Lothian
Musselburgh Broke (4.5%) 80/-
India Pale Ale (5.0%) India Pale Ale

LAW BREWING COMPANY Dundee
All-Nighter (4.5%) Golden ale
Weekender (5.0%) Pilsner

LAWMAN Cumbernauld
Pixel Bandit (4.0%) Pale Ale
Onyx (4.8%) Stout
Horizon APA (5.2%) Pale Ale
Weatherall IPA (6.4%) India Pale Ale

LERWICK Lerwick
Voar (4.7%) Amber Ale
Azure (4.8%) India Pale Ale
Tushkar (5.5%) Oatmeal Stout

LOCH LOMOND Alexandria
Southern Summit (4.0%) Golden Ale
Loch, Stock & Barrel (4.0%) Session IPA
Bonnie n’ Clyde (4.6%) Amber Ale
Silkie Stout (5.0%) Stout
Grizzly Bear (5.2%) NK
Kessog (5.2%) Brown Ale

LOLA ROSE Wanlockhead
1531 Red Ale (4.4%) Red Ale

LUCKIE ALES Leven
Extra Pale Ale (3.8%) Pale Ale
Eighty Shilling (4.9%) 80/-

NATURAL SELECTION Loanhead
Common Ancestor (5.2%) California Common

OLD WORTHY Broughton
Mr Lyan Lager (4.7%) Lager
Leither’s Cure for Scurvy (5.5%) Whisky Amber Ale

ORKNEY Quoyloo
Dragonhead Stout (4.0%) Stout
Red MacGregor (4.0%) Red Ale
(Atlas) Golden Amber (4.5%) Amber Ale
Skull Splitter (8.5%) Barley Wine

REDCASTLE Arbroath
Nobleman (4.2%) India Pale Ale
Golden Ale TBC (4.2%) Golden Ale
Tower IPA (4.8%) India Pale Ale

SPEY VALLEY Keith
Sunshine on Keith (3.5%) Golden Ale
David’s not so Bitter (4.4%) Best Bitter
Spey Stout (5.4%) Stout
Spey’s Hardware (6.4%) New England IPA

SPEYSIDE CRAFT BREWERY Forres
Bow Fiddle Blonde (3.8%) Golden Ale
Dava Way EPA (4.0%) Elderflower Pale Ale
Tropical Forres (4.9%) New England IPA

ST ANDREWS St Andrews
Fife Gold (4.2%) Golden Ale
Crail Ale (4.5%) Pale Ale

STEWART BREWING Loanhead
Ginger & Mint Saison (3.4%) Saison
Jack Back (3.7%) Session Pale Ale
No HAT V2 (3.7%) Tea-Infused Saison
Belgian Pale (5.2%) Pale Ale
Black IPA (6.2%) Black IPA

STRATHAVEN Strathaven
Craigmill Gold (3.7%) Golden Ale
Drookit Rabbit (4.0%) Golden Ale
Ebony (4.4%) Oatmeal Stout

STRATHBRAAN Dunkeld
Due South (3.8%) Pale Ale
Head East (4.2%) Best Bitter

SULWATH Castle Douglas
Cuil Hill (3.6%) Session Pale Ale
Tri-Ball Tribute (3.9%) Session Pale Ale
Black Galloway (4.4%) Porter

SWANNAY by Evie, Orkney
Running Beer (3.8%) Session Pale Ale
Dark Munro (4.0%) Dark Mild
Scapa Special (4.2%) Best Bitter
Orkney IPA (4.8%) India Pale Ale
Old Norway (9.0%) Barley Wine

TEMPEST Tweedbank
Short White Cloud (3.6%) Session Pale Ale
Armadillo (3.8%) Session IPA

TOP OUT Loanhead
Drei Hopped Rye Pale Ale (2.8%) Session Pale Ale
Mandarina Bavaria Pale Ale (3.6%) Pale Ale
Alt Bier (4.5%) Altbier
Staple (5.0%) Pale Ale
South Face (5.9%) Red IPA
The Cone (6.8%) India Pale Ale

TRAQUAIR HOUSE Innerleithen
Stuart Ale (4.5%) Best Bitter

TRYST Larbert
Peach Pale Ale (3.9%) Pale Ale with Peaches
Double Chocolate Porter (4.4%) Porter
Raj IPA (5.5%) India Pale Ale

TWO THIRSTY MEN Grantown on Spey
Spey IPA (3.5%) Session IPA
No. 74 (4.5%) Amber Ale

WINDSWEPT Lossiemouth
APA (5.0%) American Pale Ale
Weizen (5.2%) Hefeweizen
Tornado (6.7%) India Pale Ale

WOOHA Nairn
Wee IPA (4.1%) Session IPA
Porter (5.0%) Porter

What Makes or Breaks a Beer Festival? It’s Not Neccesarily the Beer…

When organising, hosting or curating a beer festival there are dozens of things that you need to take into account in order for it to be considered a success. The list is huge. From the logistics of getting all the drinks in, to how ticketing is going to work, to the level of wackiness you’re comfortable subjecting the volunteers to thanks to their dayglo orange staff t-shirt adorned with roller-skating hippo festival logo. But there is another thing to consider that can turn out to be the most crucial thing of all – and it something that on occasion is entirely out of the hands of the people doing the organising. I’m talking about temperature.

By this I mean the actual, ambient temperature – not the implied sliding scale of degrees we are all familiar with these days; that which runs from tooth-loosening frosty keg serves to white hot Instagram-sensation craft breweries. Nor am I referring to the more traditional, conservative festival scale involving volcanic pie crust moving to strangely tepid pie interior. Having a beer festival temperature that ensures everyone enjoys themselves is vital, whether they be note-taking patron, staff-member sneaking another ‘quality control’ sample backstage or yeast cell floating in SmashPow Brewing Co’s continually fermenting Vermont Tank IPA (beer name: Truble in Paradise).

Firstly, the most important thing of all is that the beer needs to be cool. Keeping the cellar area – usually not so much a cellar as a rickety gantry you’d not expect to bear the weight of a disply of pork scratchings, let alone forty casks – at the required below room-temp condition is a masterpiece of organisation (and power generation). We have all had the misfortune of attending beer festivals where everything served is too warm and listless, limply sitting in your branded half pint glass like the last puddle in the park on a hot day. Cooling pythons, chiller jackets, refrigeration – anything to maintain a beer’s flavour as it waits patiently in its plastic cask – this is paramount.

The other half of the hot/cold coin is the temperature for those who are paying the money and trying to attach sticky paper wristbands to themselves and not their clothes. If the beer is warm, then chances are the people will be too, and when standing in a church hall or re-purposed turn of the century mink abattoir the afternoon isn’t going to be fun if things are warm and sticky. I guess in theory the opposite end of the scale would also be true, but I’ve never been to a beer festival that is too cold (unless you count al fresco camping-based ones like FyneFest, which is kind of out of their hands).

Amnyway, that brings me to the Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival, held last weekend at Leith’s Biscuit Factory. The good people at LUX kindly chipped a ticket for my wife and myself so we headed along and I could have talked about the great beer (Cloudwater’s Mango Sour pictured at the top of the post, Wiper and True Bourbon Cream Imperial Milk Stout and Thornbridge’s corking Passion Fruit & Blueberry Sour), or how the building really suited the attendees and beers on offer – look at the brickwork and squint and you could have been in Williamsburg. But it was the temperature that sparked this blog post.

On a hot day – standard for Leith – the interior was cool thanks to our early arrival and some turbo-charged fans placed at each corner of the room, and the outside with bierhall tables warm enough to sit outside into the evening. With the beers all perfectly cool, every potential temperature-related pitfall was handled perfectly. When you don’t notice the things that tend to niggle at other festivals, it means you can get on with the job in hand, which at the ECBF was namely trying every beer that would have made my Dad splutter into his Moorhouses’ Bitter (all of them, in other words).

The Tempest Springfest: Festivals in Microcosm

Last weekend the good people of Tempest Brewing threw their doors open to several hundred people at their Tweedbank facility for a beer festival – the second they have held there, following on from last years’ Oktoberfest (which will take place again in a few month’s time). I went along with my wife and dog, the first time she had been on a train (the dog, that is) and very quickly realised why it is a perfect small-scale beer festival. Here are a few reasons why it ticks all of the boxes.

1) Getting there

For amazing, on-point beery shindigs like IndyMan or any of the half-billion events in London this is something that isn’t ever considered by the majority of attendees – who simply hop on a Tube or local light rail service and glide to the front gates, #trainbeer in hand. That’s not always the case further afield however and up here the incredible festivals (like FyneFest, say) require more logistics and packing than the guys that went up Everest in the 50’s. Tempest works because it is literally at the end of the train line from Edinburgh; the Borders Rail that admittedly trundles along at 10mph but once you arrive pretty much every single person making it to Tweedbank wanders the same direction for a few minutes to the brewery. This also means you can’t get lost. In theory.

2) The Open-ness

Festivals that take place in brewery courtyards have one major advantage behind them. What they lack in toilet luxury they more than make up for in the ability to wander around and see behind the scenes. Offering tours for the people who attended, or for those that didn’t simply the chance to stare at where it all happens with a cup of beer in hand, immediately puts the connection into place as to where the beer comes from. Also, the folk at Tempest are the most honest around that I know of – having met founder Gavin years ago he is the most approachable and open brewery owner I’ve ever met. Well, either that or he could be the best poker player in the Borders. I don’t know…

3) The Beers

Well, of course. Trying new things is the best thing about beer festivals so having new releases, specials and the like on offer are reason enough to find that platform at Waverley you’ve never been to before. Having the chance to try Old Fashioned on draught was incredible, as was – of course – the Old Parochial from the wood and all of the IPAs that Tempest knock out with abandon. The first beer of the day was remarkable too, Dawn of Justice Citra Session IPA, a fantastic zingy refresher after wrestling with a nervy dog for an hour on the train. You know you’ll get great beer with Tempest, but poured at the brewery and drunk outside, there was nothing better. And I didn’t even mention the Longer White Cloud, In The Dark We Live or Brave New World. Just amazing.

4) The Queues

Every beer festival needs something that is slightly unnerving. Not bad or disappointing or it can spoil the day of course, but having so many thirsty people drinking 2/3rd measures meant the small bar was five deep at a minimum. The bar staff did a good job and it moved fast though – plus there was the Imperial Bar inside the brewery with ten or so beers on hovering at 10% – but without a printed booklet of the beers on it took standing in line to give you the time to consider the beer blackboard and pick something to drink – and waiting makes the heart grow fonder (for beer), thus meaning the end reward tastes all the sweeter. Oh, also a small queue for one of the best burgers I’ve had for a long time from the Grind, Newcastle.

5) The Attendees

Finally the festival stood out for the number of different people there – families, people with free-running dogs (ahem), beer geeks and raters, regular people, groups of guys having stickfights in the small area of trees. I don’t know, maybe it takes a venue like the Borders, or the backdrop of a brewery, to vest the crowd of the 30-something bearded male domination that I’ve seen in other festivals (I only say that with jealousy as I recently graduated from that age-bracket). Anyway, it just made everything feel much more inclusive, I guess. And having those stand-up plastic urinals made things easier for 50% of those there too – although someone did ask me why the guys were peeing in the handwashers…

Thanks to everyone who worked hard to make the Springfest a success, it was a great festival. As a disclosure they supplied me with a free ticket but I’m guessing not with a blog post like this in mind.

Kelburn Jaguar; second best beer in Britain

Jaguar1

The winners of the annual Champion Beer of Britain (CBoB) were announced yesterday afternoon at the Great British Beer Festival at London’s Olympia – and there was something to cheer for Scottish beer drinkers, as Renfrewshire’s Kelburn Brewery were awarded Champion Golden Ale before going on to win the overall CBoB Silver medal for their 4.5% golden ale, Jaguar. It’s been quite a twelve months for Kelburn, after their Dark Moor won Champion Beer of Scotland at last year’s Scottish Real Ale Festival. Congratulations to all at the Barrhead brewery – it’s really well deserved.

Although, having said it’s well-deserved, I really have no idea. I’ve never actually tried Jaguar, and to be brutally honest, probably wouldn’t have been able to name it if you’d asked me to jot down a list of Kelburn’s beers on a piece of paper. And you know what? That’s absolutely fine. I can’t know all the beers, particularly from producers in parts of the country I don’t get to very often.* That’s just the way it is. You can’t – unless you have serious RateBeer addiction dedication – catch them all. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it, however.

* I used to go to meetings in Paisley now and again, but never tried any beers whilst over there – and although Kelburn do export this side of Harthill services (most notably to Edinburgh’s Cafe Royal, which always seems to have their beers on), I’ve just missed out on Jaguar, it seems.

But thinking about that gap in my internal beer drinking directory got me to thinking about the very nature of Beer Festival judging and awards. It’s something I’ve talked about a lot before, something I’ve done before, and of course, something I’ve experienced as a punter before. And in thinking about Kelburn’s Champion Beer of Britain silver medal, I realised that since all those moments, I have totally changed my opinion of these types of festival judging processes. The CAMRA judging (and this holds true for other festivals too) requires heats, rounds and plenty of time; the first line of the press release announcing this years’ winners states the process takes a year.

SRAF13p1

It’s a total crapshoot. All the hard work of the brewers, all the pains to maintain consistency whilst improving as beermakers, and it all comes down to how that beer was on that one particular moment in history, to those few individuals around that table. You could sail through the heats with beer in perfect nick, and then a duff cask or one that has been knocked around a little too much can ruin what is potentially the biggest day of your brewing career. I used to think this was unfair, that it attached too much emphasis to the moment and detracted from the consistency of the product. But after thinking about it today, I realise that’s completely wrong.

Judging beer for awards like the CBoB (and this holds true for non-CAMRA festivals just as much) may well be a crapshoot – but it’s borne out of authenticity. It is beer drinking in microcosm. Every time you go into a pub and pick a handpull, you do pretty much exactly the same thing. Both situations boil down to how a beer tastes on the day – whether you’re holding a pint glass in your local or a slightly shaking sample glass in the final judging round of the Champion Beer of Britain. Of course it should be the same – you know, I can’t really think why on earth I thought any different. It transfers the work and skill of our brewers into a single moment, and if they are found wanting then that’s just the way it is. Of course it’s subjective and opinion-based; but then that what makes drinking beer so interesting – and the challenges of brewing so utterly unique.



Congratulations to all the winners – particularly the overall Champion Beer of Britain, Tiny Rebel Cwtch – and the other Scottish breweries to win in their class; Williams Bros (Black – Gold, Milds), Highland (Scapa Special – Silver, Best Bitter), Fyne Ales (Superior IPA – Silver, Bottled Beers). The GBBF continues at London’s Olympia until Saturday. Oh, and if I ever see Kelburn Jaguar on in a pub I’m drinking at, I will very much order a pint and enjoy it.

Hit the Deck

Smash1

I last did it during a national anthem. Every beer drinker will have had a similar end result at one time or another – whether they were standing to attention during ‘Flower of Scotland’ or in their local pub, or at a beer festival. Letting it slip. Putting beer on the deck. Dropping your pint. The momentary lapse in concentration or submission to gravity as the glass inexorably plummets towards its floorboard-based demise. Is there anything more embarrassing and annoying that can happen in a single moment to the average beer drinker? The ill-timed fumble to save, the head-turning noise, the flush of the cheeks that necessitates a meek return to the bar.

I think, on balance, that is the worst part. Sure, you lose a beer you just bought – so the flavours of your chosen beverage are only enjoyed by the wood they are now seeping into. And having to buy another puts you out of pocket. But the low point of dropping your pint is having to own up to the barstaff (who undoubtedly all heard it) that you were the moron who couldn’t grip their thumb and fingers together for a few minutes at a time. The guilty toddler look as you accept to roll of blue bar-cleaning paper, or handful of towels. Or worse – being followed back to the scene of the crime by one of them, with a glass-sweeping pooper scooper.

In the pantheon of beer glassware – which as we all know must be exactly matched to each drink you consume, or the entire endeavour is worthless – the glass I would place at the very foot is the classic English nonic. Give me a straight-sided pint every time. Trouble is, the stackable nonics are designed to be easier to hold, and prevent the sudden downward disappearance of your precious. The one I lost during the anthem was a straight-sider – and even worse (in beer geekery) but better (in practicality) a plastic glass.

Pubs are extensions of our living rooms; our homes. We go to feel relaxed and in good company. Nothing gets you on edge more than that very British fear of ‘creating a scene’ – and nothing makes you look a tit in front of company than decorating their shoes with your porter. Maybe that’s why, to me, accidentally nerfing your beer towards a shattering finale is the equivalent of dropping your tray in the school canteen – it leads to the same loss of status that I never had to begin with.

I guess that could be why whenever someone drops a beer in a beer festival, everyone cheers. It’s the same reaction. Groups of men and women transplanted from the cliquery of the school mealtime to the adult cliquery of drinking time. SMASH *CHEER! * – repeat until closing. Nobody tells the crowd, it’s just a deep-seated memory of entrenched humiliation. Only, at least at a beer festival, you can just sidle away and blend into the crowd. Well, unless a reporter tells you to drop your beer to get on the news…

So the next time someone drops a pint? Unless they are doing it for the telly (and definitely unless you have to clear it up) – maybe consider a hug, rather than a braying cheer. After all, chances are it’ll happen to you at some point down the line…