The last three beer festivals I’ve attended are Ealing, Oxted and Wandsworth Common/LBA.
Compare and contrast as my school exams always used to say. Beer festivals, tap takeovers, meet the brewers, there are so many events, which do you choose? In my fair handed, even way, I’d like to say they all have merit, it depends what you like.
I went to Ealing beer festival on the Friday afternoon. It is hardcore CAMRA so lots of best bitter and golden ale and no ‘ridiculous hop levels’ or ‘outrageous alcoholic potency’. London brewers were only averagely represented. What the beer might have lacked in diversity it made up for in quantity, there was a lot of different some indifferent volunteers. For me it was an exercise in sorting the wheat from the chaff. Firmly in the former category, however unseasonal, was the Cappuccino Stout from Titanic. Another to catch the eye was The Juniper Tree from Williams, the best juniper infused beer that I have tried (yes, several). As usual at CAMRA festivals there was a great selection of foreign bottles at competitive prices. Very much a CAMRA crowd in attendance.
Oxted was next on my list. This is organised by sports clubs in Oxted to raise money. There is live music and also live cricket. The beer selection comprised a few local breweries (Westerham, Pilgrim and quite a few from Sussex and Kent) plus a wide geographic selection. In terms of styles it was again rather narrow. No bottles. My main gripe with this event was that beer was £3 a pint or £2 a half which meant I (had to?) drank pints. Lots more golden ales and best bitters but some citra action going on in places. I enjoyed the Pale from Kent Brewery (admirably simple branding guys) which was just what an English Pale Ale should be, aromatic, citrusy, refreshing with a hop bite. The crowd here are just out for the day to have a few beers and enjoy themselves.
Most anticipated was the Wandsworth Common in association with the London Brewers Alliance festival held at Le Gothique. I don’t know Mark Justin who organises these events and I’ve heard tell that he can be opinionated and bolshie. Fact remains that he knows how to organise and execute a good beer festival. Good venue but more importantly, interesting beer – new breweries, new beers, collaboration brews, beers not widely available – which doesn’t happen by accident. I went on the first night which was £25 entry and then free beer, plus brewers were invited. On arrival the first person I met was Rocky Head Steve who said, ” a glass of Zen, just what you need on summer’s day”, he was absolutely right! Cool, refreshing, bursting with citra and cascade modern American pale ale brewed not five minutes away. Hot weather and limited cooling facilities meant that they had taken the decision not to serve all the beers but what was on was all tasting perfectly – good decision. It was disappointing not to have the full range to choose from though, also annoying was that from a food list of about 8 items, three were off and kitchen chaotic. Dragonfly, Upstairs Brewing and London Beer Factory were three whose beers I had never tried before. The only beer from Upstairs Brewing (so called because they brew upstairs at Clarence & Fredericks) was Arabian Nights, a milk stout spiced with black cardamom. A nice safe beer to start with 😉 I thought it was a real winner, everything you want from a milk stout with a lovely twist from the judiciously added spice. Milk stout’s answer to chai.
So to sum up, go to Ealing if you want a large quantity of traditional real ale. Go to Oxted if you want a day in the sun with a few friends and some different beer to your regular pint. Go to Le Gothique if you want really interesting beer in a wide variety of styles.
|Wandsworth Common/LBA at Le Gothique||Oxted Beer Festival at Master Park, Oxted||Ealing Beer Festival at Walpole Park, Ealing|
|Date:||Thursday, 24 July 2014||Saturday, 19 July 2014||Friday, 4 July 2014|
|A good night out:||7.5/10||7.5/10||7/10|
|Total score:||40/50, 80% (higher if all beer/food available)||36/50, 72%||35/50, 70% (CAMRA fanatics would no doubt score it higher)|