Mr David J with a blog of the same name is our host this month of the session. His example of a something that was too over hyped was Westvleteren 12 which funnily enough was my topic two months ago in another session. Since it was so similar, I decided not to talk about a beer that has been hyped but rather a beer festival. One of the problems, before I even got there was something I was told. It seems that unlike previous years, CAMRA members were not asked to nominate what beers would be available. Instead, one person went off and ordered everything and ignored the opinion of others. This resulted in a somewhat boring beer list it seems.
November saw the return of the Northern Ireland beer festival. Again it was in the Ulster hall, a beautiful building in Belfast city centre.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself last year and I expected this year to be the same, but there were problems from the start.
First and foremost is that it ran from Thursday the 22nd of November until Saturday the 24th.... hang on a second, the last day is a Saturday? What happened to Sunday?
Last year I went up on the train on Saturday, got there around opening time and had a great day. I then went back Sunday for a relaxed few hours before heading back on the train late afternoon.
This year I was forced to drive up on Friday evening after work, check in to my hotel, walk to the festival and drink as much of the good stuff as I could in the few remaining hours. Then I spent all day Saturday there before driving home on Sunday. This meant a less relaxed atmosphere as well as extra expense because I had to spend two nights in Belfast instead of one and I was forced to drive instead of taking public transport up from Dublin.
The Friday evening was jam packed, so much so that I did not enjoy myself very much. This is partially because I was on my own no doubt. The others who had come up for Friday left when it got busy.
I found it very difficult to actually get a beer on Friday night.
I was further dumbfounded by the lack of food. Last year there were at least pies and other treats available. This year my choice seemed to be a gourmet food stand that did have some pies but when I went up(this was my dinner) they only had a tiny fish pie available. There was also a boojum stand but they only seemed to have nachos. My momentary excitement of a lovely filling burrito were instantly quashed. Jonesing for one, I headed to Boojum after 10 to find they close at 8pm in Belfast? Seriously? And Boojum is the only burrito place I know of in Belfast so I could not find an alternative. In fact almost everything seemed to be closed in Belfast, very unlike Dublin.
I had another issue, and this one was quite serious at the time. The event is cash only. You exchange your cash for beer tokens. I stupidly went straight there instead of getting some food first, though I did grab two bottles of water (will get to that). I expected to eat at the event but I already mentioned that this a bad idea. The problem arose when I decided I needed food but had no cash. I was going to go out to an ATM but when I asked the bouncer, I was told it was a one in one out scenario so essentially I could not leave. This was disputed by the CAMRA members when I asked for a refund on some beer tokens so I could buy some food.
The problem is, last year there were two doors open. One was to let new people in and the other was to let people out and also let people with wristbands back in. This was not the case this time around and it led to confusion and pissed off people who needed more money but were essentially told they might not get back in. This is unacceptable if there is no ATM on site and doubly so if there is no proper food service available. I have to say that even though I had some great beer on Friday, I was completely put off by the whole experience.
Saturday was far more relaxed, I had lunch at boojum before I went and this made me happy. I also bought myself a Samsung galaxy note 10.1 and that continues to make me happy. This time I was joined by TheBeerNut and his wife as well as a reader both our blogs (Miles). I got to try beers that I could no even see on Friday and many of them were still available. My bottled water came in very handy because yet again, they did not have any sort of water stations for rinsing or hydration purposes. This was sorely lacking last year and to be honest was criminal not to have this year.
Here are my notes, I think it covers all the beers I had. I will not bother expanding on them. They might not make sense either, sorry if they don't.
Great western. Edwin's ruby porter. Nice porter.
Acorn Gorlovka stout. Lovey choc and liqourice. Little boozy. Dark fruit. ** Brilliant beer, maybe best on Friday!**
Kent black ipa. Citrus. Grapefruit. Slight lemon. Can barely tell it's black from tasting. Slight liqourice. Lovely. **Ties with Gorlovka for best beer on Friday**
B&T Edwin Taylor's extra stout.
Roast coffee. Little thin. Lots of sour coffee in taste. Little choc. Quite nice. I like.
Croseo - (Pontypridd) absolute citrus hop heaven. Orange, grapefruit, quite bitter. Lovely. Not on list? Otley?
For me, beer of the festival!
Milestone Harry porter. Not bad but boring. Taste only (mouthful).
Oak leaf piston porter. Fantastic bitter up front but also treacle and American Hops? Slightly oily. Absolutely love it.
Purple moose. Dark side of the moose. Slight dark fruits. Blackberry. Some grassy hops. Sort if liquorice. Not bad.
Yeovil star gazer
Tannic. Metallic finish. Slight fruit middle. Nice enough. Slight choc.
Hopback Heracles. Very low abv. Quite nice. Little tannic. Too sessionable at 2.8 though. Slightly metallic.
Hopback odyssey. Little dull. Tannic. Slight fruit and toffee. Not bad. Boring though.
Phoenix monkeytown mild.
Slightly smoky. Slight roast. Little molasses. Hint of tcp but not ruining the beer. Overall it's nice.
Stewart Edinburgh #3
Slightly cherry. Pretty carbonated for cask. Quite malty caramel. Some dried sultana. Nice beer.
Angus driver dark
Lovely astringent stout. Lots of dark malts. Some toffee. Choc.
Dow bridge. Praetorian porter. Very chocolatey. Mild roast. Slight dark fruit. Lovely.
Not bad. Slightly alcoholic? Higher alcohols? Somewhat astringent.
Peerless dark arts. Nice porter like beer. Coffee. Astringent. Slightly cold coffee sour finish. Nice enough beer. Plenty of roast. Prefer trouble dark arts.
After dinner. (TBN gone home).
Sandstone. MIT bad. Standard pa.
not too bad.
Dusky maiden (nomadic bar) pint.
Strong roast. Slightly sour cold espresso. Some chocolate. Lovely beer.
Infected? Don't care. Last £1.60 for a half. Fuck it. For the last beer it's fine. Not too bad but is infected.
At 22:55 told we have drunk them dry. Get the fuck out!
So for next year.
- Possibly pick another venue, Ulster hall is lovely but too small at this stage.
- Provide water stations. Either with taps or at least jugs of water that people refill at the bars and perhaps at a stand away from the bar. We need to be able to rinse our glass and keep hydrated.
- Don't finish on a Saturday, Sunday is wasted then. Have the last day be Sunday!
- Listen to your fellow CAMRA members when it comes to what beer is ordered.