Sunday, July 20, 2014

Best in show: Crufts and Craft


Last weekend I went to a beer festival and ended up in the middle of a dog show.
I was headed for the Rising Sun's beer tent in Nether Green, Sheffield when I was approached by someone in authority asking me if I wanted to enter a pooch in their contest.
I politely declined, not having a dog, and made my way across the parade ground to where the marquee with 110 ales on stillage stood.
I paid my dues for a glass and vouchers and found a seat between two big Labradors after being recommended a nice pale beer from Kinver, of Staffordshire, at 4.5%.
I guess every beer festival has its unique selling point, well the Rising Sun's is a dog contest on the final day.
It drew in a cross section of people from young families, students, couples, middle-aged beer drinkers like myself and a few retired people.
The contestants were remarkably well behaved despite being in close proximity and there was plenty of awww factor, particularly when the puppy contest kicked off.
But we are not here to talk pedigree but about beer.
I think I was pretty overwhelmed by the choice from 81 breweries, so much so that I went away from deliberately seeking out new breweries and decided to ask knowledgeable bar staff to suggest something.
I was told that Abbeydale's Absolution from the wood was one of the first to go, and there were quite a few turned round labels from other breweries too.
My next suggested ale was  Hopocrisy from 6 Degrees North in Aberdeen. The excellent colour-coded programme informed that the Stonehaven alemakers pride themselves as The Belgian Brewers of Scotland. The tasting notes claimed a "touch of Madeira cake sweetness mingle with apricot and apples". Now I'm not sure I ticked those off but I got what it was hinting at. The first taste was quite unlike any other I'd had and not in an unpleasant way, just quite startling.
Next I opted for something I thought was more tried and tested ground for me - a mix of US and Australian hops. Pacific Pale, which was a shade under 5%  was from 360 Degrees Brewing Co in East Sussex. It was listed as a "chestnut coloured, modern pale ale" and I'm not sure what Tim would have made of that description (see earlier post). 
I veered away from stillage momentarily to try Acorn's entry into kegging, simply called Number 1.
The 4.3% straw coloured beer, obviously, had more carbonation than the on gravity beers I had tried.
It was my pick of the outdoor ales and it wasn't ridiculously priced like some kegged beers, £1.70 a half was just about bearable.
The last beer I tried outside was Benjamin James from North Riding whose beers I always make a point of sampling when I see them.
The beer was hopped with Mosaic, Columbus Galaxy and Comet, which I'd heard brewer Stuart Neilson had used to great effect at the recent Monkey Fest with Comet Extra.
This one had been brewed to celebrate the birth of BJ, the son of Abbeydale's sales boss Dan Baxter.
I bumped into Dan in the beer tent and he gave me a helpful potted history of the festival, which is now in its eighth year.
As the dog show reached fever pitch I decided to adjourn to the interior of the pub and have a look at the full Abbeydale range on handpull. I saw lots of familiar ones like Brimstone and Daily Bread but I went for two lesser known ones.
Dr Morton's Survival Kit, 4.1%, is Abbeydale's Charity Beer for 2014 with 10p from every pint going to Cavendish Cancer Care. Apparently it's brewed with the new "Expirimental 30D hop". It didn't knock my socks off, it seemed to be quite a subtle beer. But the next beer did grab me, a collaboration between Abbeydale and Founders, of Michigan. Collaboration became the inadvertent theme of this year's festival, with half a dozen or so on show.
But the 7% Anglo-American kegged beer was the only joint venture I tried. It's called 3712 because of the distance between the two breweries.
It has been described as a "strong, full-bodied pale golden beer made with a combination of low colour Maris Otter pale ale malt and caramalt for residual sweetness and body. US Mosaic, Simcoe, Citra and Chinook hops have been added by the bucket load to the boil, the hop back and conditioning tanks to deliver a deadly dose of Founders' "complex, in-your-face" flavours. 
"Balanced to perfection in true Abbeydale fashion allows flavours of citrus, tropical fruits, pine and grapefruit to fight for the attention of your tastebuds while the residual sweetness complements the bitter finish."
It also goes very well with Yorkshire Crisps Roast Lamb and Mint flavour but I guess the brewers from Grand Rapids didn't come half-way around the world to discover that!

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