The afternoon session was free for Camra members, and at £1 for a refundable glass, and £6 for a beer ticket, I was soon equipped to enter the fray.
The beers were, as usual at Camra festivals, on a mixture of handpull and stillage and arranged in 2 separate bars, one dedicated to Scottish beers. The other a mixture of old favourites and 'spotters' beers, along with a well stocked cider bar. I must admit the larger bar was a bit shambolic as trying to locate some of the beers I wanted was a problem, maybe a straight alphabetical system may have been better.
My first choice was obvious and I settled down, with my 3 companions, to sample the Sportsman 'Alpha'. It was 4.3% and the tasting notes promised 'a refreshing citrus aroma and and grapefruit finish'. What we all got from the beer was an overwhelming taste of paint, which was unpleasant in the extreme. However, it was the first beer from a new brewery so we thought it may have been an infection in the beer or something similar, how wrong we were !
We all had agendas of what to drink, and our second beers were all different, but again the taste of emulsion came through those of taken from the larger bar on handpull, but we were beginning to get a little suspicious when those on gravity and those from the Scottish bar did not have the flavour of Magicote. It was early in the day, and some of the beers we tried were the first beers out of the pumps, in halves, so may be this was the problem. Not the beer itself, but something had tainted the beer lines themselves.
Having discussed the problem, we thought maybe the best way forward was to concentrate, for a while on the Scottish beers, and the those on gravity. From this selection we managed to find untainted beers, and soon managed to get some new beers that tasted as the brewers intended; Cotswold Spring 'Old Sodbury Mild' was well received, Kelburn 'Pivo Estivo' was excellent, but my favourite was Highland 'Orkney IPA' which I could have gladly stayed on all day if there were not plenty of new beers yet to sample.
Soon, it was time to return to the handpulls though, and the choice of beer became a lottery, some tasted tainted, others not. I tried the new Copper Dragon beer ' Conqueror', Nook 'Summer Bitter' , and Bridgehouse 'Barnstormer' all had the underlying paint flavour, but St Georges 'Paragon Steam' did not. By this time one of our number had become so frustrated that he left. I tried another half of the Sportsman beer and this time it was as it should have been, and although not giving the hop hit I expected, was not a bad beer for a first effort.
We had all got fed up with the risk of getting tainted beer from the bar and selected our final couple of beers from stillage. The best of the lot was Black Sheep 'Imperial Russian Stout', at 8.5% it was everything I had hoped for in an Imperial Stout and more, a truly excellent example of its type.
Soon we had exhausted our list of new beers and decided to leave, but not before a long chat with one of the festival organisers about our findings. He was sympathetic and as equally baffled as us as to what may have caused the problem in the beers, but could offer no explanation beyond what we had already suggested.
So, all in all, a day of highs and lows. Some really excellent beers, and some less so, but whether that was the fault of the brewers it is hard to say. All I hope is that the problem can be eliminated for their next festival, and that those punters new to beer festivals were not so put off by some of their beer tasting of Dulux that they will never try real ale again. A shame for those who had obviously spent plenty of time and effort putting the festival together.