I got involved in a little Twitter discussion a week or two ago about the way some local beer festivals are organised in terms of charging entry fees and what you get for your money as a punter. Plus the sometimes monotonous, “safe”, beer choices on offer.

It was a good-hearted affair with a good few folks including brewers themselves involved, valid points from all sides going this way and that, but in general agreeing that things could do with a shake up locally at least.

It was during this banter that I thought someone might have taken a little backhanded sideswipe at me, not directly, but on another feed implying that I was a beer snob. I’m pretty sure now that I was completely wrong and was just being paranoid, nevertheless it got me thinking “am I”?

In my view at least, the simple answer is NO. You may wish to challenge this, in fact please do, but I’ll try and explain why..

I like to think of myself as becoming a bit of a beer evangelist since starting to blog, preaching the gospel of good beer in what ever form that may take. This based on my own experiences, from places I’ve been, people I have spoken to and beers I’ve tasted.

My journey from my earliest memories of beer to where I am now has come a long way. From my sneaky earliest sips of Mann’s Brown Ale or Mackeson’s Stout from my Grandmas glass as she let me have a little drink on the QT, right through to my now obsession with as many of the best beers the world has to offer that I’m able to get my mitts on.

I used to be a dedicated drinker of Newcastle Brown Ale. Back then though choice was extremely limited, a few cask ales, bog standard keg bitter and mild or lager and maybe the odd bottle, or it was at least in my neck of the woods. If you’d have stuck an 11% Barley Wine or Imperial Triple IPA under my nose in those days, I’d more than likely have screwed my face up like I’d been licking lemons. These days I can see the merit, it’s not just about strength, it’s about intricate tastes and aromas, of balancing these in order to make that big abv unnoticeable.

My point being that tastes change with experiences had, because I’ve learned first hand how amazing good beer can taste, I now tend to find run of the mill “traditional’ standards distinctly unappetising. This doesn’t make them bad beers per-say, after all some people like them or they wouldn’t be brewed, more the case that I can only drink a couple before I’m scouring the bottle fridges for something more interesting. I’m on a journey of discovery and when I preach about beers I’ve had it’s not intent to be snobbish or to show off, I simply want the listener or reader of my warblings to experience what I have too, but for themselves.

Putting that another way, when I was a child SPAM was all the rage, it still sells well now and has done for 75 years apparently, (I’m not that old). Back in the day I used to love it, I had to as it tended to be a cheap option for families on a budget. We used to have it on sandwiches with ketchup or on a main meal dipped in batter then deep-fried as Spam fritters, a real cholesterol-fest. Would I choose to have that now, no would I heck. Is that because it’s now suddenly awful or because I’m a food snob, no again, why, because like most things in life I’ve moved on..

If you go into any supermarket these days the deli choice is immense and quite often even tinned meats are not always the cheapest option. Wiltshire cured marmalade ham sits alongside Pastrami, Salami and Pepperoni, yes they still sit in the company of Corned Beef etc but the only luncheon meat you generally see is shaped like a bears face. This proves the point that other folks have moved along with me, change is inevitable, embrace it or be left behind to die a slow lingering lonely death.

Bringing things back to the point my argument was that day based on a local fest (it wasn’t CAMRA organised before I’m accused of CAMRA bashing, I am a member). This fest had a quite limited beer list and in stark similarity to one I’d attended a few weeks earlier was charging entry with the only benefit being a glass and entertainment. I have no problem with an entry fee, but do feel every so slightly aggrieved at the point when I’ve handed over my fiver and am now captive, only to find the beers around me are exactly those I’m drinking in my local week after week on a free entry basis and at similar prices, but with a band bashing out covers.

Organisers would do well to look at how folks like Hawkshead Brewery approach things when they organise a fest.

  • Include large, innovative beer list that covers all bases and caters for all tastes which didn’t wholly focus on their own range.
  • Include a craft keg bar. Yes, they served beer from several kegs and nobody protested nor died to my knowledge…
  • Made it Free Entry, on a come and go as you please basis.

I travelled to one of these festivals and spent two wonderful days in the company of what I’m presuming must be fellow “beer snobs”, I ignored the other….

Hawkshead “Well Hopped” well done!

Several weeks ago I was lucky enough to be sent three sample bottles of Hawkshead Brewery‘s “Well Hopped”range. They look great, I love the simple, clean branding, it shouts HOPS!” to your subconscious, let’s see how they are on the inside.

Windermere Pale is the big brother of the regular session version of the same name only stronger at 6% abv compared to the cask quaffable 3.5%. The aroma is big on grass and nettles with hints of fennel. The taste is fresh, crisp and very bitter, a little like an under-ripe Galia melon crossed with a Bramley apple. Strangely though, although the bitterness is long-lasting the finish brings sweetness that makes this really drinkable, much like its sibling but far more dangerous.

Cumbrian Five Hop is as far as I know a completely new beer featuring a blend of 5 traditional and modern hops, Fuggles, Goldings, Bramling Cross, Citra and Amarillo. This one is a very different animal altogether, the nose is far more mellow for starters. Light lemon and grapefruit is the order of the day suspended in sweet caramel. It’s more of a savouring beer, being more full-bodied with less of a sharp bite, although that’s not to say it’s not an easy drinker as it also hides the 6% abv very well. Juicy citrus fruits, kiwi plus a little aniseed form the main taste sensation recipe with a soft chewy malted body drying nicely to a pithy bitter finish.

*Update: The brewery contacted me today to say that Cumbrian Five Hop was not a completely new brew although is so in it’s newly “well hopped” form. It was created roughly two years ago for release in J D Wetherspoons and was called Citrillo, from there on in it took the new name.

New Zealand Pale Ale (NZPA) is no stranger to my taste buds. I first came across it when visiting the Hawkshead beer hall last year, was lucky enough to drop in as Matt Clarke (Head Brewer) was just about to take a special guest on an impromptu tour, I joined them and had an NZPA as company for the duration. It remained one of my top beers last year and shows no change in 2012, I’m just so glad it’s part if this range now so that more people get to try it.

NZPA is a massive green incredible hulky hop beast of a beer and is an equally big mouthful as that description. Grapefruit, gooseberry, lime and grape form the basis of this flavour explosion, invading nose and palate with equal vigour, all blend together beautifully in a light biscuit and light pine resinous body that just screams DRINK ME. I really wondered if I’d feel the same about this beer after trying the others, I do and it still sits firmly atop the Hawkshead tree in my opinion. A true classic!

The beers are available at various fine beery outlets and at the Hawkshead Brewery Shop. Better still get yourself down to the Hawskhead Summer Beer Festival, I really can’t wait, if you are going be sure to say hello, see below for full details.

A big thanks to Gemma for sending me these, really appreciated.