A work colleague asked me what I was doing on my day off. I said I was off to the International Beer Festival at the Town Hall. She then asked ‘what is a beer festival?’. I think you automatically assume that everyone knows what a beer festival is and it’s quite hard to put into words, but I gave it a go; ‘Imagine the biggest most amazing pub with hundreds of beers from all over the UK, Europe and America’. ‘Then imagine a selection of the most delicious street food you have ever tasted’. ‘Finally, add a really great atmosphere and a group of friendly beer lovers’.This year, the festival didn’t disappoint.
This was the third year of the festival and Leanne and me have been to each one. We’ve seen it grow in size and popularity each year. I remember the first year just being in the main room of the Town Hall with Friends of Ham taking the centre surrounded by bales of hay to use as seats. In the second year the bars had spread into other rooms and the outside area had come alive. This year there was definitely an emphasis on quality over quantity and we couldn’t wait to get started.
For our first drink Leanne and I decided to start with a lower abv beer.We both chose the same beer from Weird Beard – Little Things That Kill – Batch 8. Weird Beard Paul had described this beer perfectly in response to one of my tweets; ‘I call that baby SORACHI FACEPUNCH’. At 3.5% it was surprisingly high in flavour. With so many high percentage beers around its really nice to have a lower percentage option without compromising on flavour.
Next on the hit list was Pressure Drop – one of my favourite London Breweries. Although they hadn’t brought any Wu Gang Chops (a foraged herb hefeweizen and a personal favourite), I was excited to try one of their beers that I haven’t had before. This was Strictly Roots (5.1%); a dandelion and burdock porter. This was great. As you would expect from the name it was a really good porter entwined with dandelion and burdock flavours. I thought it was a nice take on a porter as most breweries seem to go down the coffee/chocolate route. This was a welcome variation on the norm.
There was a good mix of breweries from all over the UK but noticeably a big presence from the London brewers. Camden are fast becoming a favourite of ours, mainly because their beers taste so good! In our opinion they do simple beers well. We both had Gentleman’s Wit, a witbier at 4.6%. This never fails to disappoint – flavours of banana, cloves and lemon. It’s actually too easy to drink this and on a warm day it goes down an absolute treat. Later in the day I went back for a beer from their Versus Range; Black IPL (5.8%). This is a black larger brewed in collaboration with Mohawk brewery who are based in Sweden. It’s slightly hoppy but has a nice bitterness and a roasted undertone associated with those darker malts.
We wandered down to the European Bar which was almost empty. This came as no surprise – Friday afternoon seemed to be a quiet session and the weather was glorious. The majority of people were sat outside so we grabbed a quick beer and headed back out. Leanne chose Devil’s India Red Ale (6.5%) by Cervesa Marina, a Spanish brewery. She likened this to one of her favourites from Five Points Brewery – Hook Island Red. Deep red in colour with lovely rich flavours. As with the Hook Island she claims it smelt like cheese….in a good way apparently. I picked Geisterzug Gose Rhubarb (5.2%) from the German brewery Freigeist Bierkultur. This wasn’t as good as I had expected and the Rhubarb flavour didn’t really come through.
Back upstairs I wanted to try Oakhams Green Devil IPA (6.0%) – it’s not a beer I see that often. Oakhams brought both keg and cask. I opted for keg. This is a stronger version of their Citra beer, one of those go-to beers that you know will always be great. The Green Devil is an intensely hoppy beer, with flavours of pineapple and mango. The finish is crisp and dry. Leanne popped over to Marble for a Howgate & Kemp, a New Zealand style pale ale at (6.4%). This had a great big sweet and citrus aroma with a boozy punch to finish. We LOVE Marble Beers. Make sure to visit one of their pubs; Marble Arch if you are in Manchester.
Finally a quick note on the food, because you can’t drink all afternoon without getting a bite to eat. One of the great things about this festival is the choice of food, with an array of street food vendors. The choice ranged from curry, wood fired pizzas, Brazilian BBQ and fish and chips.We went for a hot dog from Piggie Smalls. Not the most dignified snack to eat (there were a few mustard spillages) but delicious all the same.
We enjoyed this years festival the most out of the three so far, mainly due to the quality beer on offer. Previously, we had been to the Saturday afternoon sessions but this year we decided to go on the Friday. If you enjoy your festival a bit less chaotic and enjoy the chance to chat to the volunteers and brewers then this is definitely the time to go.
The festival is fast becoming a staple in most peoples diaries, I suggest you add it in to yours. We are already looking forward to Leeds International Beer Festival 2015 and hope the idea of a WEEKEND PASS becomes a reality…!
Simon’s beer of the day: Weird Beard – Little things that Kill Batch 8 (3.5%)
Leanne’s beer of the day: Marble Brewery – Howgate & Kemp (6.4%)
A big thanks must go to the organisers and all the volunteers because without them this festival wouldn’t happen.