I was first at the annual Hilden beer festival in 2009 and I had a blast. I was pretty new to cask conditioned ale at the time and most of the beer at the Hilden festival was cask so I grew to appreciate it. I did not make it in 2010 so two years on I was back. The festival was last weekend by the way.
On the face of it, not a lot has changed. The format is still the same. There is a main stage in the courtyard along with picnic tables. The beer is all in the same place (behind me in this picture), all arrayed in a long line of hand pumps.
This time I was with different people. Grainne and Tim from the Metalman brewery were there to enjoy the day. Their beer was available of course but they had nothing to do except try and spot people coming away with a Metalman pale ale. Served on cask this time, usually it is from the keg.
Amazingly the sun did actually shine for a lot of the day, after the odd rain shower earlier in the day.
Ah, all those handpumps, about 30 beers in total waiting for me to sample. OK well not all of them, there is no point trying beers I can readily get in some form so I started at the left and ordered half pints of everything I have not had until I was finished and ready to have a few pints of what I really wanted.
Steve, author of Beers I've known and all around lovely guy had volunteered to work at the festival. It seems he still managed to get some drinking time in though. It's a pity I did not get to chat to him much. He was working and I was, well I suppose I was working too when you think about it. Anyway Steve, get your ass down here and we can have some beers in Dublin some time.
The fact I got there two hours before opening meant that we were the first the get beer and it was possible to get everything I wanted. This was good because we had to leave by about 7 in order to get the train back to Dublin.
And this is what it was all about of course. The beer. I would have been happier if it had been in glass the way they do it at Franciscan Well beer festivals, though you did have the option of renting a glass Hilden pint glass and rinsing it out between beers, which is what I did the last time.
There were two sides to the beer menu. I was mostly interested in the England and Wales side at first because quite simply, those beers will be harder for me to get without going to the UK. All the beers had tasting notes and also tick boxes so you can remember what you thought about them. A lot of these were English Bitters which can be wonderful, but also they can be just incredibly boring. I am not going to go in to all of the beers and what I thought but quickly, here is a list of everything I had in order. My plan of action was to double fist. I got ordered two half pints at a time.
- Dazed and confused from the Tripple FFF brewery
- Streaky from the Pot Belly Brewery
- Frothingham Best from Great Newsome
- Mt Snowdon pale ale from Newmans Brewery
- Hophead from Darkstar
- Sorachi Ale from Dawkins Brwery
- Lymestone Cowboy from the Lymestone Brewery
- Summer Ale from the Acorn Brewery
I am not going to list them all but here are some that stood out be it for the right or wrong reasons.
On the boring end of the scale we had Streaky from the Pot Belly Brewery, a beer that by name, I was hoping would go with my pork belly lunch (which was lovely). The reality turned out to be a depressingly boring and tasteless green tasting (not ready to drink) ale that's only redeeming feature was a bit of lemon citrus. It is just a summer seasonal ale however so I am curious to try some more from these guys because I do like the brewery name.
A complete and pleasant surprise was Frothingham Best from Great Newsome. No where in the tasting notes (and indeed the website) do they mention the fairly in your face smokiness that I got. This beer did in fact go perfectly with my lunch. It's a very fruity best bitter and I have no idea where the smoke came from. It literally tasted like a weak scotch but at the same time, still tasted like a very tasty, fruity best bitter. I loved it. Grainne and Tim agreed when they got their own half pint. I am not sure if this was an accident or if it is supposed to taste like this, either way guys, if it was an accident then try and recreate it.
Sorachi Ale from Dawkins Brwery wins hands down as the strangest beer at the festival. It is a real WTF beer from the first sniff. The aroma is like some sort of unpleasant lavender based perfume. After a while the floral perfume moves to the background and a nice citrus bite shines through. It's an ok beer overall but not something I would be interested in drinking again to be honest.
Lymestone Cowboy from the Lymestone Brewery deserves a quick mention for just being a lovely beer, very dry finish.
On the other side of the menu were Irish beers, most of which I have had before. Those that I have not (or don't recall), I continued my half pint tastings. One thing to note, at the bottom of the Irish list (image above), the Dungarvan beers are missing because a comment card or something was there to be torn off. I of course did not remember to leave it in the box so I guess I miss out on the competition.
Half pint tastings done it was time to just order pints of what I wanted to enjoy. I might have ordered a Frothingham best at some point before I left, I don't recall to be honest. I certainly ordered a pint of the lovely Barney's Brew (Hilden) and a pint of rare Cask Metalman Pale Ale, with Grainne and Tim eagerly waiting for my reaction. They know I love it in regular keg form. They were not to be disappointed, somehow, without even dry hopping the cask version, it maintains it's lovely south pacific hop character perfectly. A lovely beer on cask, they I think I prefer it from the keg simply because this beer is just better with a few bubbles.
Even though the England and Welsh beers were great, they were all the of the pale ale sort. It would have been nice to have some variety. There are some wonderful stouts and porters over there and I would have liked a mild as well as some non British styles. The Irish (both North and South) did have a better range of styles.
As they day progressed, so did the mass of people. I reckon it got very lively after we left considering 7pm is very early at a beer and music festival.
And the music was pretty good too, mostly local bands I believe but some great music I thought.
There is a whole other section on the other side of restaurant area which contains a tipi tent. I had no reason to go over in that direction this year, though I did make use of it last time when it rained a fair bit.
The image above sums up the day. Ed here was watching the Ireland V England rugby match before he arrived, a match I was forced to miss and perhaps a good thing because Ireland were beaten... again... This meant we have not won a single game during the summer series. Since the boys are on the way to New Zealand now, this does not bode well for us. Anyway Ed had the right idea, sod the result and just enjoy the beer.
So 10 half pints and two or three full pints later and a bit of cider in there somewhere, not to mention a few bottles of Hilden beers on the train home, I was deposited in Messrs Maguire and had a pint of Pale Ale. I realised I was starving at 11:30 and had a half hour to kill before the midnight bus so I wandered around to Charlies and had a Thai Green Curry. I realised at 11:55 I should get going and then realised when I got to the bus stop 5 minutes later that the midnight bus is actually the 11:55 bus. So almost a perfect day then... Still it was not so bad, I just got a taxi to my mothers house and we went to Sunday lunch with my grandmother the next day. I just had no toothbrush with me and I hate not being able to brush my teeth before bed. A lot of beer tends to overcome that though.