I lost my beer festival virginity in my hometown of Bury St Edmunds; I think it was in late spring of 1990. And my second beer festival was in September of that year in Ipswich. There was a hiatus for the Bury St Edmunds festival for a few years after that, which means that I've been to more Ipswich beer festivals than any other. This year was their 25th festival and I reckon I've been to at least 15 of them.
The best location for a beer festival is always a corn exchange; traditionally they are large airy buildings, often quite ornate architecturally. Ipswich corn exchange is a fine example of the genre. Unfortunately the main hall is quite dark as they always have the curtains closed and the lights down low, den of iniquity style. But hey who cares as there is enough light to see what you are drinking.
A couple of months back I had a few pints of 'Exmoor Gold', in what I consider to be my 'local' (it's not the nearest pub to me but it's the one I prefer to drink in). I couldn't believe how different it seemed from the Exmoor Gold I had oft imbibed on in the past. My friend, who I mostly drink with in pubs and at festivals, and who for the purposes of writing in this august blog I always refer to as John* agreed with me at the time. Perhaps they'd changed the recipe we thought. I posed the question on the Usenet Real ale user group - no one could offer me any helpful comments. Most suggestions were along the lines of my memory playing tricks on me. Now Exmoor Gold was my first love in terms of golden ales and the one that I judge all others by. I think I would have known if my memory were playing tricks. This previously considered fine ale was on the list for the beer festival, and noticing that it was actually on when I arrived, it just had to be the first beer that I sampled. I was so pleased that it turned out to be the same old Exmoor Gold that I had known and loved man and boy; light golden nectar with the characteristic hamster bedding taste that really makes a quality golden ale. I don't know what it was that I had at my local a few months ago but one thing is for sure, it most certainly was not the very delicious Exmoor Gold.
In many ways with the Exmoor Gold result under my belt I would have been happy to quit the festival there and then, but there was serious beer drinking to be done. Other serious beer drinking I did was as follows:
Sussex from Arundel Brewery 3.7% - a mild sweetish bitter, with a hint of blackberry. With an after-taste that is similar to the after-taste you get when smoking a joint, henceforth known as a dopey after-taste!
IPA from Cain's Brewery 3.5% - I have a lot of respect for the Cain's brewery and their IPA is a fantastic hoppy and flavoursome brew. A really good session ale. A bit weak to be a true IPA, but you can't fault it on a misnomer.
Chiswick from Fullers 3.5% - not quite as earth shatteringly perfect as it was at last year’s Norwich BF but a damned fine sup none the less. A clean hoppy session ale of distinction. I never tire of this beer.
Sussex Best from Harvey's 4.00% - a malty full-bodied hoppy bitter worth making a fuss about!
PG Steam from RCH 3.9% - I just had to try this beer (my initials are PG). It turned out to be my favourite of the festival. A nicely rounded malty, hoppy ale with lashings of hamster bedding. A most excellent and pleasing beverage.
Cornish Jack from Sharps 3.8% - a fruity slightly sweet non-bitter ale with a mild hop taste.
Tamar from Summerskills 3.7% - in isolation you would be happy to drink this in your hostelry of choice, but pitched against such formidable contemporaries this tawny ale with its hints of malt and toffee was okay. Damned with faint praise?
Now you often get foreign beers at British beer festivals, but they are usually of the bottled variety. Ipswich had really gone for it and had around a dozen German cask beers available, with the promise of more on the list. I thought I couldn't leave without at least trying one. I plumped for Andechs Dunkel Weissbier 5.2% a dark sultry beer, velvety non-bitter, wheat floury wheat beer. Yum yum!
With warm grins on our faces we toddled back to the station after a most successful afternoon/early evening's drinking. What a great way to spend an afternoon off work. I recommend it.
*John's real name is John!
This post was first published on A Good Beer Blog