A new event from a new player, Surrey Craft Beer, a new ‘beer events’ company. A sparkly new website suggests that they don’t quite understand the craft vs cask issues and are simply going to go for the craft beer = small breweries equation (and like every rule Hog’s Back are the exception to the small).
Held at the Friend’s Life social club, an easy walk from the Dorking stations, it was a nice venue on a lovely day. Thankfully so, the hall would have been nowhere near big enough if everyone was inside. Though it might have been fun if we’d spilled through to the bar where a hen party was in full swing.
Unsurprisingly this had all the feel of excited, well meaning people doing it for the first time and not being quite organised enough. Festival started late, bbq started late, a couple of beers weren’t quite right but the main bar was a) open and b) had Tillingbourne Evolution 4 on cask, it was a balmy evening, so all was fine. The best thing about thing about this beer festival was that it focused on the local beer of Surrey. Small breweries such as Hedgehog Brewery, Hoptimists Brewery, Thurston Horsell and Little Beer (who I expect to hear a lot more about) were all there alongside the better known names of Ascot Ales, Brightwater Brewery, Pilgrim Brewery, Tillingbourne Brewery and Dorking Brewery. London craft drinkers know and love Weird Beard and also Clarence & Fredericks which has had good reviews from me at the festivals where I’ve tried them. Hog’s Back are probably the daddy in this company.
Strangely there was no mention of Surrey Hills who brew only a few hundreds away from the venue, nor of Cronx who make some session ales and single hop IPA in New Addington. Cobbett’s Real Ales in Dorking, my favourite beer shop, had an ad in the programme but no bottles on sale – what a shame.
The burgers looked good but having started late the queue was long so I opted for a ‘snack box’ instead. Good decision. Pork pie, scotch egg, two cheeses and bread – everything local – excellent quality at a reasonable price.
The beers were what you might expect, a lot of pale and golden ales, not a 12% imperial stout in sight. Three favourite breweries on the night,
Tillingbourne Brewery just nose it as my favourite brewery in Surrey. Cask ales with a modern, hop forward twist is how I would describe them. On the night I tried Hoppy Cock, 4.3% described as a golden but drinking more like a hoppy pale.
Dorking Brewery work out of a small unit in, er, Dorking. Once you get past the DBOne, a relatively standard flagship bitter, there is more inventive stuff at work here. Smokestack Lightnin’ I had tried before, Dorking is not the new Bamberg quite yet but an impressive first effort. On the night I tried Ceres, a 4.6% wheat beer, great banana start then a gooseberry and candy finish – good work!
Craft giants in this company, Weird Beard have been producing great, always hoppy, beer in Hanwell (Middlesex not Surrey last time I looked) for some while. So it was no surprise that K*ntish Town Beard, a 5.5% hoppy wheat beer was my beer of the festival. I’m not always sure about mixing styles and have had hoppy wheat beer where I’ve been left wanting one thing or the other. However, as usual, the Beards have nailed it perfectly.
So what to make of it? The premise is great, let’s forgive the first time organisation problems, with some good craft bottles and including the other Surrey breweries these could become good festivals. Certainly I came here for the beer in preference to the Bexley CAMRA event which had greater geographic coverage and more, but less interesting, beer. I made the right decision.
Date: Friday, 16 May 2014
Beer selection: 7/10
Beer quality: 7/10
A good night out: 7.5/10
Total score: 36.5/50, 73%