Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Physical Impossibility of Drunkenness In The Mind of Someone at a Beer Festival*

The thing about beer festivals generally, and the GBBF by extrapolation, is that there is only so much beer that you can drink. I don't mean that there is a limit on the number of beers you can taste, but ultimately, there is a finite number of units of alcohol you can take on board before you think "I'm hot, tired, and want to go home". In short, before you get too drunk for it to be fun any more.

This was admirably demonstrated to me very early on - my first beer, in fact. Hopshackle Hop and Spicy (4.5%abv) was the only beer from them that was on cask. Fulsome praise from the Reluctant Scooper made me think that anything by them would be fun. Sadly, Hop and Spicy was a dark brown ginger beer - a bit thick, muddy, and definitely not what I wanted as my first GBBF beer. I had a sip, and realising that this was taking up valuable units that might otherwise be expended on things that were more in my target drinking zone, asked the doughty volunteer barstaff to dispose of it.

Fyne Jarl (4%abv) proved to be exactly what I was after. My notebook says "Brilliant gold, lively, with persistent lacing. Softly spicy Saaz-like lemony aroma, soft on palate, with persistent pithy bitterness in the finish. Great" Wonderful beer, in great condition. Inveralmond Ossian (4.1%abv) was of a similar style, but "caramel, honey and vanilla on the nose. More honey in the swallow. Finishes with snappy biscuity malt. Nice". At this point, I lost patience with the layout of the British bars - breweries are listed alphabetically according to county of location, with no map of the bars in the festival programme [edit - I'm totally wrong about this - see Ed's comment below] - and hit Bieres Sans Frontieres.

Toccalmatto Zona Cesarini IPA (6.6%abv) will get a blog post all of its own in the next few days. Mindful of a time-specific invite, I joined a happy few in front of the Fuller's bar, and was led away to a tasting of Fuller's Vintage and Brewer's Reserve beers. I've blogged about Fuller's before, but this tasting served to demonstrate what Fuller's do well (produce classic English ales that are suitable for ageing), and cemented John Keeling's place as the brewer that consistently delivers, both in terms of beer and of entertainment. The picture of him and Derek Prentice I've used here is intentionally misleading - they are great company, and don't hate each other as much as the photo implies. And the pretend leaking of their heritage porter project was a nice bit of theatre - to summarise, Fuller's will be releasing a traditional porter later this year, from an 1891 recipe, that's a blend of stock (aged) and running (fresh) ales. If my notes are to be believed, they will also be using porter that has been aged in casks that have previously held Brewer's Reserve.

But (perhaps sadly), one can't spend the whole day at GBBF in an anteroom being fed rare beers. Plunging back into the fray, my notes tell a tale of a man reaching the end of his capacity. Beck Brau Zoigl (5.8%abv) was possibly my beer of the festival. As I mentioned earlier, there are only so many units of alcohol that you can take on board, and I remember having three thirds of a pint of this. My notes say "yeasty, unfiltered liveliness, full of vanilla grain character, splendidly bitter finish".

Looking at my notes, and from memory, I also had a few American beers from cask, including Oskar Blues Pale Ale (6.5%abv) and Ballast Point Big Eye IPA (7%abv). Ballast Point was full of marmalade and tangerines, and in my opinion, needed to be chilled and force carbonated to show at its best. Oskar Blues was surprisingly good from cask, although from memory, it was better from can when I last tried it (in New York, 2007, with Cajun food).

Finally, a couple of beers that I only had sips of. American Flatbread Solstice Gruit (5.4%abv, beer of the festival for Impy Malting) was an interesting unhoppped curiosity - the way herbs had been deployed in place of hops reminded me of the Stone - Victory - Dogfish Head collaboration Saison du BUFF - eccentric and intriguing, but not necessarily something that I'd drink a lot of. The only other beer that was noteworthy (and not in a good way) was the dry-hopped Revelation Cat lambic, a beer that not only missed that mark in terms of flavour, but also had the texture of liquid that had been retrieved from a saloon bar spittoon.

*with apologies to Damien Hirst


  1. The Zoigl got pretty good reviews on the German bar, though perhaps the name is a bit of a misnomer.The Jarl was gone before I could try it though and I missed Impy's recommendation too.

    Must do better, but I am working.

  2. The Jarl was excellent. With you on the Rev Cat lambic: the most harshly bitter and sour beer I think I've ever had, and where were those dry hops?

  3. Tandleman - I was vaguely hoping that there was a tank full of the stuff in the cellar at Earl's Court - that would be quite something.

    Mark - I guess that sort of goes back to my post about brewers selling beer that is clearly faulty. It's odd - last year I tried a couple of their woodwork series, and thought they were very good. Why they would besmirch their reputation with that slimy dross is beyond me.

  4. Could it be down to poor treatment once it left the brewery? Unlikley I know, but comforting in a way to hope it is down to that.

    I had their Milk Mild (bottled) and that was pretty good. I also had a West Coast IPA which wasn't labelled fully but I think was Rev Cat too ... again, excellent. Put it down to a bad day?

  5. There's a fold out map in the centre of the program.

  6. Ed - ah, that would account for why the centre pages felt a bit thicker. Almost as thick as I feel now, in fact.

  7. It was lovely to see you at the festival. Even with the map in the middle of the program, I found the new layout, alphabetical by county, confounding. I had just gotten the hang of the old organization, too.

  8. I'm still getting nauseous at the thought of trying to turn my GBBF scrawls into a blog post. I just wanted to say: I love the title of this post. So very, very true.

  9. Mark - not a bad day, maybe just a bad idea from a good brewery. But I stand by my point - you can't just judge a brewery on their best beer - maybe it's fairer to judge them on their worst?

    Impymalting - good to see you too, and nice to see your blog spring into life again.

    Beer Nut - I'm pleased you like it, thanks. I feel that the post barely lives up to the expectations that the title creates.

  10. Learn how to use commas, then revisit your first sentence. Then take that thing out of your ear. Makes you look foolish. Cheers.

  11. derek123 - I've got one in each ear - twice as foolish, by your reckoning.

  12. A dry hopped lambic sounds like an increadibly bad idea , do you really think the beer was faulty or just a daft proposition to start with?


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