Glasgow pub, The Three Judges have been running their Mild, Stout and Porter festival every March now for the last couple of years. They tend to bypass the Camra Mild in May festival and opt to stage their dark beer fest a couple of months before it. Their logic is simple. They find that the beer choice in May for mild is limited due to sheer pressure of demand on breweries from pubs looking to buy some of the dark stuff. The Judges reckon, correctly, that by getting in first they can have the pick of some of the finest examples of Mild, Stouts and Porters from across the UK for their thirsty punters to enjoy and appreciate.
Their festival beer choice reads like a dark beer lovers wish list of some of the finest examples of these beer styles. There are beers from Summer Wine Brewery, Dark Star, Fyne Ales and many, many others. I popped in a couple of times during the first few days of the festival with the intention of hooking up with some beer friends and sampling some nice and tasty beer.
My usual beers of choice tend to be light and hoppy, so the Judges' festival is a good excuse to dip into the dark side and experience some rich, roasted and fruity flavours.
Five of the eight pumps are given over to the festival and, when I was in, I had the pleasure of trying beers that were good, well made examples of their styles. These included Ilkley Black Mild, Brewster's Stilton Porter, Purple Moose Dark Side of the Moose, Dark Star Espresso Stout and Otley Dark O.
Otley Dark O was full of roast malt taste with some delicate dark chocolate, coffee and traces of ripe berry fruit. It was a really nice, well made and well balanced Stout (or is it a Mild?) with a deliciously lingering bitter finish. It was decidely more-ish and possibly the nicest beer that I had over the weekend.
Another couple of beers worthy of mention were Brewster's Stilton Porter and Dark Star's Espresso Stout. The Stilton Porter poured ruby red with a foamy, cream head. It smelled faintly smokey with a tint of tobacco ash. It tasted of rich and fruity with a strong bitterness that gave way to a smooth mild finish. I was expecting a stilton hit but, apart from a slight cream tickle, there was no cheesiness to speak of.
I'm a big fan of Dark Star's beers with their Hophead being a beer that I actively seek out as it's a blast of hoppy loveliness. I've had the Espresso Stout in bottles and on cask before and it has consistently hit the spot so I it was an easy choice to make when it was added to the beer board. It smelled as I had remembered - dark, roasted malts with some spiced chocolate and a trace of coffee in the flavour. It had a sweet rewarding mouthfeel that gave way to a dry and slightly bitter finish. It was nice pint but the coffee was not as pronounced as I had remembered. It had been my fourth or fifth pint of the day, so it may have been my poor, battered tastebuds. In the interests of research, I popped in the following day and had another Espresso Stout and found the coffee profile to be more dominant and to the fore. It was a really enjoyable pint.
I dipped my toe into the Dark Side and was impressed by the standard, quality and range of beers on. The festival lasts until the 26th March and there are over 30 more Mild, Stouts and Porters still to be enjoyed.