Wednesday at the beer festival – what is always the quietest day for numbers through the door (Thurs will ramp it right back up today I’m sure), but it was personally a fantastic day.
I arrived at the beer festival venue about 10:50, to be greeted by local brewer, and for the new few hours, CAMRA judging session organiser, Steve Saldana. Or as I and many call him, Texas Steve.
I didn’t know any of my fellow 30 or so judges, but that doesn’t matter, as after about 24 beers (and some cheese n bread), everyone was getting on like a house on fire, or at least old tipsy friends! Steve explained to those who had never done the judging before (my third time) that you have to DRINK the beer when judging, no spitting out when you’re sampling ale.
Each table would sample and rate beers from four different styles, our table had bitters to start (nice n easy strength for 11.30 am), then had Stouts n Porters, new brewery, and then strong bitters (can be pushing 7-8% I think). The new brewery section had some great beers, and so did the stouts – I didn’t find a bitter/strong bigger which really jumped out at me this year.
At one point we thought a dark beer had got into the strong bitters – but now I can see that Fullers 1845 won the silver award, I realise it was that – I still marked it very highly, as it was such a great rich beer, even if it didn’t ‘feel’ like it should have been in the bitters – remember most STRONG bitters are now gold hoppy beers.
It turned out that our best dark beer went on to win the final judging (which I this year got picked to do), where the best of each 8 categories were judged against each other to find the best beer of all. So well done to Nene Valley brewery, a local maker of ale, who won with their Bible Black.
The judging was very well run, it probably overran due to us getting on so well in the end and probably chatting a little too much. But it’s not easy work tasting that many brews! We were treated to some grub in the staff canteen – top notch and just what was needed. It’s amazing how well all the volunteers do – it’s like a military camp how ordered they have everything.
So what do you do when you’ve had 30 beers from 11.30 – 3pm? Go into the main festival and have some more, that’s what! I managed to have a half of the Arbor ales lemon & lime IPA – an 8% IPA with a lot of lemon / lime in there. Quite a refreshing half pint that. I know I had a few more – for some reason my memory isn’t working so well… I watched the first session of the band, the Rocket Dogs, who were a good local rock band, banging out some sing along tunes to a filling music tent.
I’m heading back to the festival again today – probably mid afternoon to get in before 3pm when I’d have to pay (lunchtime session free to CAMRA members). A couple of interesting looking bands on tonight – quite different so I’m not sure how the crowd will find them.
Bitter (< 4%abv)
Best Bitter (4%abv to 4.5%abv)
Strong Bitter/Ale (4.6%abv to 6.4%abv)
Light and Dark Mild (< 4.3%abv)
Stout & Porter
Barley Wine and Strong Old Ales