01 December 2017

Let's party

Session logoThis month's Session, hosted by Portland's Brian Yaeger, is on the subject of festivals and catches me just at the end of writing about a big one. Brian asks us to "write about how you would design your dream beer festival" and that's a tall order. I've been to a lot of beer festivals this year, covering every format from a few casks in the back yard of a small pub to large marquees to hangar-sized event halls; indoor, outdoor; tokens, cash, flat rate; local and international; minimal new ticks and impossible to know where to start. And I have enjoyed them all. Yes I'm a ticker primarily: I go to festivals with the aim of tasting lots of unfamiliar beers, but I also experience genuine relief when there aren't any more and I can put the notebook away and relax into a pint.

For that reason, I think my ideal festival is one that changes format and venue every year. It has no abiding theme, no set way of operating. Sometimes there's food, music, talks, and sometimes there isn't. But what it does provide, consistently, is information. You know what breweries will be there, what beers they're bringing, the price of admission, the serving sizes and the seating arrangements. I call it the No Surprises Festival and if you don't like the plans for this year, come next year instead.

Back to the real world, and wrapping up the final handful of Swedish beers at the Stockholm Beer & Whisky Festival 2017. New England-style IPA hasn't really featured thus far, but of course it was available. Beer Monkey had one they called Fuzzy Gorilla, and yes it's fuzzy: an appropriate hazy yellow-orange. It pretty much drops the ball after this point, however. The aroma is full of phenolic solvents, and so is the flavour. The hops are perceptible behind this, showing caraway and a little softer honeydew, but the dreadful infection shouts loudly over the top of that and it's pretty grim drinking.

Next it's Ella, a brown ale from Roslags Näsby, to the north of Stockholm. The first surprise was how dark it was; almost black, with an aroma of very bitter liquorice. Its flavour is stout-like, based around a wholesome and uncomplex roasted cereal flavour. More typical coffee and caramel sweetness arrives after this and balances it nicely. It doesn't deliver what I look for in a brown ale but rebadge it as a porter and you'd have a winner.

A barrel-aged barley wine next: the operatically-titled Valkyrians Välkomst by Gotlands. A Sauternes cask did the business here, and the end result is infused with a sweet, almost mead-like, perfume. That includes the sharp beeswax and the sickly honey too, unfortunately. A hard bitterness arrives in the finish, but too late to provide balance. I found this hard going, overall. It's a big 11% ABV and I think a lighter and cleaner beer would have complemented the wine barrel's contribution better than one which was already strong and sweet.

I couldn't have left without trying at least one beer from Ocean. The brewer here has an Irish connection having previously worked a