Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Carlisle Beer Festival - A Review


Last weekend, I was faced with a rather nice beery choice to make. I could jump on the train and head to the Ayrshire coast for the Troon Beer Festival or I could go further south, across the border, to Solway CAMRA's Carlisle Beer Festival.

Decisions, decisions.

I had a quick look at the respective beer lists and while Troon's had merit and some great beers on show, Carlisle's list just swung it for me due to there being a number of beers and breweries that I hadn't had yet and the temptation of trying something new was just too hard to resist.

Carlisle, It was then.

It's only just over an hour from Glasgow on train which meant I could finish work, get the train and be at Carlisle just in time for the start of the Friday evening session. I didn't have to travel very far when hitting Carlisle as the venue was the Landmark Hotel right next to the station. Result.

This is the twenty first time the event has been held and it appears to be going from strength to strength. Last year's was drunk dry early on the Saturday night and in anticipation of increased demand this year, the organisers have upped the beers available from 35 to 50.

The beers are mostly from  Cumbria, the Scottish Borders and North East England and there is an eclectic mix of styles available encompassing standard bitters, milds, pale ales, heavily hopped red ales and even some German style pilsners, dunkels and alts.

Vouchers bought and friends met, I settled down to have a look at the programme and choose my first beer.

I opted for a beer from a rather elusive brewery. Abraham Thompson's Brewery from Barrow-in-Furness. Founded in 2004, John Mulholland brews only occassionally from his half barrelled plant and always dark and roasty beers. Their 3.8% Lickerish Stout is available at the festival and my friends, who arrived before me and have tried the stout already, are raving about it and twist my arm to make it my first beer.

a very generous half pint of Abraham Thompson

I'm glad that they did because it is a well made and very enjoyable beer. It drinks well above it's ABV with a full bodied mouthfeel well balanced with heavy roast flavours and a bitter bite. The liqourice is subtle and fairly well hidden but brings a nice level of sweetness to the beer. I like it and make a mental note to locate and try more of Abraham Thompson's beers.

I like Hardknott beers. They make some great beers, particularly Aether Blaec, Infra Red and Dark Energy, and I've been impressed by Mr Hardknott, Dave Bailey's crusade to increase the profile of beer in the media, particularly cookery shows, as a perfect match for food.

there is always one cider drinker

I hadn't tried their Cool Fusion beer before and I was looking forward to it. It's described as having a 'hint of sweet ginger' with a 'thirst quenching gentle finish' that's 'perfect with sushi'. In for a penny in for a pound, I asked the CAMRA volunteers if any sushi was available. Alas, it had all been sold and was instead offered some hand massaged Kobe beef but I declined and instead settled for a half of Hardknott's Cool Fusion.

 It had a gorgeous, aromatic nose that profiled the ginger notes of the beer superbly well. The smell promised so much but the rest of the beer failed to deliver on the expectations created by the great aroma. It was thin, hollow and not much else other than a slight ginger taste and some alcohol burn at the back of the throat. It was inoffensive, disappointing and quite bland. I didn't finish it. I remain unconvinced and unconverted by ginger beer or should that be beer with ginger? The only beer in this style that has floated my boat has been Marble Brewery's Ginger.

Time for pale and hoppy.

Of which, there were many at the festival. I particularly liked Hawkshead's Windermere Pale. It's hoptastic and beautifully balanced beer with loads of lively, zingy citrus fruits that refresh and slide down effortlessly. It's a perfect 3.5% session beer that's not unlike one of my all times fave beers, Fyne Ales' fantastic Jarl. Incidentally, both of Hawkshead's two brews on show at the festival, the Windermere and their NZPA, were among the first to be finished at festival. Clearly, the punters have got very good taste as these are both superb beers.

Another pale and hoppy that was on great form was North Riding Brew Pub's, Neilson Sauvin. As the name suggests, it's got lovely Nelson Sauvin hops that give it a lovely fresh gooseberry and floral notes and a big, bold bitterness that lingers long after the last drops of the beer have been drained from the glass.

Stringers Beer's, Big Clock was also noteworthy. It's a seasonal beer from the Ulverston brewery and it was full of easy drinking goodness that marries delicate floral flavours and a biscuity backbone to create a lovely, little beer.

It was nearing time for my train back north and with three tokens left, I had some difficult decisions to make. What was to be my final trio of beers?

I settled on Oakwell Brewery's, Barnsley Bitter, Steel City Brewing's, Sheffield Hop Infusion Team and Tyne Bank Brewery's, Alt Bier.

I was very impressed by the Barnsley Bitter. It was beautifully conditioned and had a super smooth and sweet malt mouthfeel and a good level of bitterness from the Fuggles and Goldings hops. It's on a par with Acorn Brewery's Barnsley Bitter. It also had the prettiest pumpclip of the festival. If pretty pumpclips are your thing.

a pretty pump clip

Tyne Bank's, Alt Bier was rather nice too. It was full of rich, resinous fruit on the nose and some caramel and chocolate in the mouth. It's been lagered for two months and this has created a smooth, superb beer. It tasted the way a proper brown ale should. Lovely.

a not so pretty yet informative pump clip

Last beer before home was Steel City Brewing's, Sheffield Hop Infusion Team. It's a big old beer. A 5.7%  aromatic hop cocktail of Galena, Chinook, Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin. It was similar to a robust, aggressive American IPA but without the crackle of crystal malt. It was a very fine beer indeed.

I would have liked to have stayed a bit longer and tried more of Steel City's S.H.I.T. beer but time waits for no one and I had a train to catch to take me home.

Good beers, Good festival, Good night.


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