Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Our First Beer Festival

Several of the pubs in Berkhamsted host great beer festivals – The Rising Sun, The Crown and The George & Dragon – but our festival last Saturday was the first beer festival in a brewery in Berkhamsted for at least one hundred years and possibly ever.

Our theme was a Celebration of the Chilterns and, in addition to four of our own beers, we offered ales from eight other local breweries. Beer selection for beer festivals seems to be one of the dark arts. Should they be unusual and niche or known favourites? We enlisted Dave Culliton from Aston Clinton Beer Festival to offer advice, select the ales and, with his able team, manage the bar.
The final beer offering was:

(* last minute substitute)

The beers were laid up on Wednesday evening, vented on Friday morning and tapped Friday evening. Some were on the lively side and as I vented I was rewarded with a few beer showers. I had minor concerns, had the beer heated up, had it spoiled, would it drop? But come Saturday and having the privilege of tasting all the beers at 9:00, my concerns soon dissolved into a distant memory.

And so to my next worry – we’ve built it but will they come? At 12.05 there was a shared worried look amongst the team as we stood alone in an empty brewery with 12 freshly tapped casks. But at 12.10 our first customers appeared – a handful of faithful CAMRA members arrived to ensure they got to taste all the beers. They took the beer list, sipped ale and started scoring. These enlightened few were soon joned by some of our regulars and lots of new faces.  So, we had ourselves a beer festival, supplemented by a hog-roast, courtesy of The Oak, and music from three bands: BURP, Tony Goff and the Situators.

Like the early CAMRA members, I sampled each beer (halves of course) throughout the day. So which were my favourites? Ignoring our own beers for now, I would opt for the Vale Gravitas – a fragrant hoppy nose but not over the top (not an APA) nicely balanced with malt and subtle bitterness. I was also thoroughly impressed with the Black Buzzard. I’m not a massive fan of porters but I found this flavoursome beer kept drawing me back. We aim to produce our own porter this year and I think John at LBB has set the bar with this one. My third choice would be Beechwood Bitter, a long-standing favourite of mine – a traditional malty ale with the perfect balance of sweet-bitterness.

So the final big question, would we do it again? Well its hard work, I have learned there is a lot of preparation and it’s both physically and mentally tiring. But I’m up for it if you are, and all come along again.

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