After a week of deliberation, one promotion in a real-world-job, complete change of shift pattern and far too little sleep, we finally can confirm we’ve typed up the review of the Chester Beer Festival. As this was a solo-mission, Tom was held up by work commitments and I ventured to the festivities alone, the beer reviews are not as consistent as they usually are. However, with around 130 beers on offer it can easily be said that there was enough tipple to suit every taste and the few I had, were sublime.
Whether this was due to being accompanied to the festival by a brewer friend (who also ruled as the Grand Bar Overlord at the North Wales Beer Festival) I daresay the beers we tasted were not just sublime, but kept well. Obviously the Brewer, who shall remain nameless, was more concerned about checking upon the produce of their own brewery than anything else but as always, their top tips on the tipple were very well received.
This year the Chester Beer Festival celebrated it’s 25th birthday, and the setting matched the quarter of a century anniversary. Whereas the weather didn’t fully agree, all the other elements were there to make it a truly special event.
The festival, which is jointly organised by the Chester Round Table and Saughall Rotary Club, has grown to attract more than 2,000 patrons from across Cheshire and the neighoring counties. Hardly surprising as it has been a much anticipated event for 25 years already. During it’s time, it has raised more than £200,000 for local charities and community projects over the years, and hopes to raise another £10,000 this year for well deserving local charities like Claire House, Hospice of the Good Shepherd, Age Cheshire.
Basically, we were drinking beer to aid charity. Which obviously makes me feel awesome.
The Brewer and I opted to walk to the venue, even though there was a free bus available for all patrons. A great way to avoid the pesky problem of drink-driving, as the festival was a tad out of the way. Even on foot, though, the festival was easily accessible for the patrons and after a brisk walk we found ourselves in the midst of all things ale.
If memory serves right, we arrived to the venue around 7pm, to find it already packed. It was good to see so many patrons eager to taste different beers provided by breweries nationwide. There were a few ciders and perries on offer as well, and whereas I am not a fan of cider, they seemed to be very well received. From what I heard from festival-goers who did sample the goods, they were delicious and the offerings were greatly varied.
The beer however, was easy to navigate. The beers were, apparently, in a different order than last year but once you got you head around the system it was easy to find the one you were after. The staff were very helpful as well, all available for recommendations (should you need any, I didn’t this time) and eager to assist. The phrase “nothing is too much trouble” comes to mind, and to be honest, we can sometimes be troublesome customers. Not on purpose, though, we promise!
Apart from a lively middle with the punters chatting and mingling happily, there also was live entertainment. Some familiar faces were seen on stage (in form of MGB, in our opinion the best beer festival band ever) rocking it away and people were easily drawn into a little song and dance with the performers.
It would also be rude not to mention the caterers of this fantastic event, Hickory’s Smokehouse, who delivered a fantastic selection of BBQ grub for hungry punters. Ever since becoming a beer enthusiast I been told that food and beer pairings are the way forward, but smoky BBQ meat and hoppy refreshing beer definitely sealed the fate of this fact. If you’re not doing it now, you’re missing out. Just saying.
All in all, the anniversary celebrations were a fantastic event. The atmosphere was jolly, people were happy and the beer was fantastic. And all of this goodness to a good cause, supporting charities. Hands down, best beer event in Chester this year.
Now on to the pressing matters of the beer. After deciphering the complex notes (written half shorthand half normal in a hurry and after a few beers a little tipsy) we can present my pick of the best beers in the festival. Or the ones I remember best, take your pick.
Sandstone – Onyx 4.0%
I was sure I had tasted this one before, but was proven wrong. It was a delightfully dark beer with sweet notes to it. Combining seven different malts and Bramling Cross hops, it is a complex beer with an interesting taste that keeps surprising with every sup. A very strong four out of five for this one.
Sandstone – Citrine 5.8%
This American style IPA packed a lot of citrus and tropical fruit flavour, even if was a little light. It still offered a deep taste that caressed the senses and refreshed at the same time. Perhaps a few pints on a night out would be more than enough but it definitely would be foolish to pass this one up. Another four out of five.
Magic Rock – High Wire 5.5%
Reading the tasting notes to this one it boasts mango, lychee and grapefruit against a smooth malt base. I also noted a hoppy tone in the beer, and a bitter aftertaste, and whereas that might sound like a combination that doesn’t work… it does. It is a perfectly balanced, beautiful beer that stays with you unlike lighter ones that attempt the same. Four out five again.
Quantum – American Amber 5.3%
The notes become a little hazy at this point so it is good that memory serves better. I am a great lover of amber ales as it is, so I might be somewhat biased on this one, however this beer is probably the best of its kind that I’ve had in a very long time. You can taste the results of the dry-hopping process against a beautiful background of malty goodness. Technicalities aside, it is a balanced sensation that is surprisingly light when you look at the voltage on it. I remain in awe of this beer. Five out of five.
Oakham – Citra 4.2%
After going through the notes for this one I had to ask the Brewer friend of mine what was I trying to say. For some reason I had noted down “single hop heart burn attack”, but we both remember that I enjoyed it. With fruity notes and aromas, this light pale beer would be a great session beer if it wasn’t packed with all the volts. It gives a sharp taste to begin with and turns quite sweet from there, but it definitely does not give you an attack of any kind. Nor does it burn. It is by no means unpleasant, but it doesn’t stay with you like some other similar beers I had on the night. Three out of four.