29 October 2014

Corners of Europe

Borefts without a Thornbridge bar was strange -- I understand they're the first brewery in history to have turned down an invitation to the event -- but there were plenty of new English faces filling in. So much so that I barely troubled the Kernel at all, grabbing just a swift London Sour Cherry because Evin told me it was running out. Such a salesman, that guy. 3% ABV and a happy bright red topped with pink foam. It's not especially sour and not especially cherryish but definitely has elements of both, perfumed lightly with floral rosewater. It's one of those beers I could happily drink by the gallon.

I also only visited Gadd's once, but then they only really brought one beer: their Green Hop Ale and a half-strength radlerised version of the same. The full beer is 4.8% ABV, a bright gold colour and has a powerful perfume aroma. Crispness is the key feature here, a cleanness in both the grain and hop elements. The latter brings lots of the classic English marmalade flavours to the table. Definitely more interesting than I'd expect a session-strength East Kent Goldings beer to be, but whether that's down to the quantity or quality of the hops I couldn't say.

There was no question of only paying one visit to Magic Rock since they brought loads of beers. Top of my hitlist was Cannonball, having enjoyed one of its stronger iterations a couple of years ago. This one is no lightweight at 7.4% ABV, arriving a clear pale orange and quite headless. It's an exceedingly dry beer, the massive hop flavour being centred on a flinty mineral quality. The high alcohol is very apparent but that hop complexity balances it beautifully. A low level of residual sugar means the end product is still very drinkable and surprisingly thirst quenching. Limes and damp cut grass make for a beautiful final flourish to a majestic beer.

Their other IPA on my list was Villainous, a more modest 6.5% ABV and made with all Vienna malt. So, biscuits then. Lots of sweet, crunchy -- roasty, even -- biscuits, deftly balanced by mango fruit and lime citrus. Of the 45 beers I drank samples of at Borefts, this was the one that left me craving a pint.

I didn't drink these back-to-back, but I've just noticed from my notes that there's something of a lime theme with the Magic Rock beers. Their radler (every brewer was asked to bring one) was made with lemon and lime and was a bit strong for the style at 4.5% ABV. Appropriate, then, that they named it Pith Head. The base is a saison, providing an almost neutral base for huge fresh citrus flavours, bringing the same sort of intensity you get with very old-fashioned lemonade. Somewhat oily, in fact. Lip-smackingly tasty and I could feel my scurvy clearing right up.

And if this is too strong for you, there was also a Berliner weisse: Circus of Sour, 3.5% ABV and aged in white wine casks. I wasn't a fan of this. It's unsubtly sharp, with a white vinegar kick followed by a buzz of stale cardboard.

A new English brewery for me was Burning Sky from Sussex. Their Plateau bitter was on cask: just 3.5% ABV and an odd bright shade of pale yellow. It packs a lot of pithy punch into that small package. I guess it's one your palate adjusts to when consumed in greater quantity, but I was quite taken aback by my sampler. Devil's Rest IPA was an altogether more rounded experience: just as stimulating in its bitterness, throwing extra resinousness into the mix, but at 7% ABV the hops were much better balanced by the malt counterweight.

Burning Sky Monolith was billed in the programme as a "sour black ale" at 7.4% ABV but was a bit of a mess, I thought. The roast flavour is the stale sweaty sort, like bad hotel coffee, with added cardboard, set on an unpleasantly watery texture. There is some nice floral complexity and a little bit of mild bretty funk, but not enough of either to rescue the beer.

That just leaves Saison L'Été to clean up. This is another one of those cloudy lemonade jobs, magically refreshing and quaffable too at just 4.2% ABV. The addition of elderflower and gooseberry adds a meadowy mellowness to the spicy base. A perfectly executed summer beer.

Just one Spanish brewery in the line-up this year, in the form of Laugur from the Basque country, bringing two very interesting twists on established styles. The IPA was called Hopzale and is 9.2% ABV but doesn't taste anything like it. In place of a malt base there's bags of spritzy citrus, building to the hot sharpness of accidentally tasted perfume which lingers long on the palate. Kiskale is just the antidote to all that acid, a 7.5% ABV chestnut-red brown ale mixing in warming sticky toffee and treacle with herbal, medicinal hops: menthol and wintergreen. Beautifully smooth and soothing.

Finally for this post, the usual Italians were present and correct. Toccalmatto's radler was a 9% ABV beast called Yellow Monster. Still extremely refreshing for all the alcohol, however. It has more of that fresh lemonade zest but is more sweet than bitter. There's a lovely herbal bath salts quality to it too, adding a dry alkaline touch for extra drinkability.

Next to them stood Brewfist and I made use of the opportunity to try a few of theirs that have been around for ages but I've never tasted. Like Spaceman: 7% ABV and, oh, more bath salts, on top of a dry lemony bitterness. If there weren't lots of dry citric beers at the festival already I'd have been impressed, but it ran the risk of being mistaken for another radler. That's not likely to happen with Spaghetti Western, Brewfist's coffee imperial stout. It pales a bit next to what De Molen were pouring, but it's a solid sweet and creamy stout at 8.7% ABV, throwing in a touch of dry roast for balance though not really showing off its coffee credentials.

There was one other Italian brewery, returning to Borefts after a year away, but I'll come to them next.

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