I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the Pied Bull beer festivals. They have always been well organised, the staff is always passionate about them and they always have exciting beers on offer. So when I heard they were organising a Halloween beer festival, I was relatively excited. When I heard they were organising it with Magic Rock Brewery, I could barely contain myself.
Pied Bull itself is a little gem right bang in the centre of Chester, and has been a home for good beer and good times for as long as anyone can remember. Reputed as the oldest licensed house in Chester, it dates back to 1533 and has decidedly kept its ye olde character. It also boasts to have the only operational brewery within the city walls, lovingly headed by Tom Sinclair, a true hop enthusiast. Historic records show that the Inn had its own brewery right up to the late 19th century. The Pied Bull’s microbrewery reopened in April 2011, and in October 2012 they created a CAMRA award winning beer, the good old Matador. Now, if you throw in a ghost or two, passionate local patrons and a staff who knows their way around a handpull, the result is a very special pub.
I daresay that such historic vibrancy was probably the best place to start off the Halloween celebrations. The familiar bar had an extension next to it with goodies from the pub’s own brewery and beers never before seen in Chester.
The Magic Rock Brewery was represented as well, answering any questions that those keen to know their secrets had. There was a quick introduction to the beers and the event itself from Mr Sinclair, but the vast majority of the evening was leisurely paced and everyone was welcome to come and go as they pleased. Very little formalities was the focal point of this event, and it worked perfectly well so. The beer did most of the talking, and it did speak volumes.
Magic Rock Brewery played the leading role in this festival, their beers taking centre stage and rightfully so. In 2011, three people with a great passion for great beer got together to bring us exciting beer with massive character and we have since been under their spell. They have an uncompromising attitude that comes through in their beers and they always deliver a little magic in every pint. As a Huddersfield based brewery their goods are more readily available in Yorkshire than our fair city, but if you don’t mind a little travel, The Grove is an excellent place to visit and sample their goods. You will not be disappointed.
As Magic Rock were the main event of the festival, we thought it only fair to review solely their beers in this entry. However, we do want to give a shout out to Mr Sinclair’s magnificent special beer, Hopoween, in our opinion the best one he has brewed so far. Just goes to show there really is no such thing as too many hops.
Rapture: Red Hop Ale 4.6%
I have always had a soft spot for ruby-like ales, and Rapture definitely is worth of tasting. It has a deep and malty flavour but also a crisp and light finish that comes with the exceptional use of 6 different hops. You get the aromas of grapefruit and pine, combined with a tangy orange and pronounced citrus flavours. It’s perfectly balanced with its earthy malty tones and its zestyness. A real pleasure to drink.
High Wire: West Coast Pale Ale 5.5%
An incredibly hoppy beer with undertones of mango, lychee and grapefruit, working together with a smoothly composed malt base, which develops into a crisply bitter finish. It’s sweet but it also has a bite to it, thus working on several levels and constantly surprising your tastebuds. Tom has declared this one of his favourite tipples of all time, and that is high praise indeed.
Dark Arts: Surreal Stout 6%
As the name says, this beer was a surreal experience. It was smooth and velvety as any good stout should be, with definite hints of chocolate, liquorice, blackberries and figs, but at the same time it packed a right punch with the spicy hops and roasted malts that brought it a little bitter aftertaste. It kept overwhelming at each sup and for a stout lover, it is an absolute must.
Human Cannonball: IIPA 9.2%
Tom was a braver man than me, tasting this explosion of a beer. It came, saw and conquered with the first taste, smacking you right in the kisser with overwhelming malts and hops. It is not for the faint-hearted by any means, it does catch you off guard and throw you in the deep end so fast you don’t know what hit you. And whereas that might sound negative, it really isn’t. It’s a bold brew, unapologetic in it’s character and speaks volumes of those who drink it and who brew it. Magnificent, but moderation is encouraged when drinking this tipple.
Simpleton: Session IPA 2.6%
I’ll say it now, I have had my doubts about beer that goes below a certain ABV. I have always said that too high voltage for the sake of too high voltage damages the taste as much as too low voltage. And then I had Simpleton and had to take back all the awful things I have ever said about session ales of this kind. I did not think a light session ale could pack this much flavour. It has definite tones of mango and passion fruit, it is a crisp and bold beer that can stand alone against any foe with a bigger ABV. When I first tasted it, I could have sworn the voltage was higher than it actually was.