Fest of fun: Newark
Under the watchful cellarmanship of Steve Westby, the branch put together an enviable range of LocAle and unusual / debut casks inside a splendid tent or three.
In the shadow of the ruined castle with the Trent meandering past, I met up in the marquee with the usual suspects (John and Brian) for an afternoon with a difference. Well, different for me; such is the quality and range of beer on offer here that I decided to approach this fest in a different way. Instead of maximising new beers & breweries, or sticking with old favourites, I thought I'd try both approaches with one caveat - no more than one glass of any given style.
A porter isn't perhaps an obvious style to start with, but there's method to the madness. The porter in question was from a fairly new brewer - Malt B - and I wanted to make sure I got some before the ticker hoardes bottled it all. Smarties Night Porter had a slightly sweet aroma from its deep brown body, a frothy coffee flavour without any assured roastiness developing.
So what better way to follow that up than with a ..lager. Mallard Featherlight is an old favourite of mine. Good tang, superb malty edge, simple stuff. Cask lager in this country seems under-rated which is a damn shame when you think of how much nitro-swill gets necked every week.
Onto a pale one. Plenty to choose from but I plumped for a brewer I love and don't see too often around the north Midlands - Pictish Green Bullet. Just superb! Exploding floral nose, vanilla and cream and hints of fruit salad. Long lasting hop oil finish. So good I had to have another one. Brian and John made a quick trip to the bar to go get some. One guy was pouring it from height to get a good frothy head of it. The other managed to dribble it flat and over the sides. I had both approaches - yes, when beer is this good I'm prepared to throw the arbitary rule book to one side and have another.
A bit of bitter next- and lots of them to choose from, which is what put me off the new brewer hunt at festivals. Everyone does a 4-ish % bitter, they're all average. So I plumped for a brewer that again I don't often see, Grafters, and their Over The Moon. And a pleasant surprised; though I was prepared to be underwhelmed, this was a fruity, clean bitter with fair balance.
For my strong bitter I had fewer options and ended up reluctantly with one from Red Squirrel. Reluctant not as I've scooped it before but that I've often found their beeers lacking in character. No such issue with Prohibition Bitter, though; an earthy body, resinous fruits riven through it, well balanced finish; by far and away the best Red Squirrel beer I've tried.
Almost spoilt for choice for IPAs according to the list, but when I say IPA I mean a beer of at least 5%. That narrowed the range down to a handful of candidates with Keswick's Thirst Celebration getting my vote. Not too sure where I got the hint of tea from in the aroma but I got the sweetness, saturatingly so. And then it all kicked off; a mellow fruitiness that seeps into your ears, a warm pepper sauce nose. The first sip brought back memories of building Airfix kits on a hot day in a small bedroom, a warm fuzziness pervading. Somewhere, a sliver of pineapple was fighting its way across the palate. Almost too sweet but still a super drink for a halfpint.
It is May after all, so a mild was always on the cards. With a fair few of them on today, it was tempting to try something leftfield but I thought I'd stick with the knitting and go for a mild that was mild. Brewsters Cheval Mort ticked all the boxes; black to brown body, silky feel, washy coffee.
For my stout, I unreluctantly plumped for Bees Wobble, one that I first sampled at Leicester BF earlier this year. It's a solid stout, a wisp of smoke and roast. Uniform black, tan-ish head... you get the idea.
Then, cider time. Olivers Medium, a no messing about cider. A cider that actually smells of cider rather than wet straw or cow fart. There's a warm apple aroma, strudel not long out of the oven. Just enough carbonation to tickle a little. By far and away the easiest drinking, sublime flavour of a cider I've encountered this year.
Only one way to finish off such an experiment and that's with a perry, in this case Ross-On-Wye's Blakeney Red. Incredibly pale, shimmers white at the glasses base with a thin custard coloured body. It's a pear delivery system, a sweet wafting aroma betrayed by a whiff of glue. But glue in a good way (warm Airfix again) with the sweetness seeping into your very core.
Excellent beers, ciders and perrys then, it has to be said. And what of the fest as a whole? Well, beer quality and choice was also excellent. Not being one to trust portaloos given a choice, I didn't mind the couple of minutes walk down the the proper bogs (which at least had a cleaner in attendance). Food seemed pricy (three quid for a baguette) so I was glad for the pork pie from Porters that I took with me. Friday was a quietish day, service was generally swift and pleasant, the quiz session reminded me why I don't participate in pub quizzes any more (someone at the next table always takes it too seriously). And Brian and John's company was as fun as always, even though they were ever-distracted by any young woman in a strappy top...
And aroma of the day - pushing the freshness of Pictish Green Bullet into second place - was Brian's new German menthol snuff (that seemed to have been cut with fibreglass).
An excellent fest; well kept beers, good venue, easy to access via public transport and proof positive that fests are even more fun if you're prepared to be adventurous with your beer choices.