I’ll start with a confession, I haven’t been to many beer festivals due to my nocturnal working arrangements and it’s a long time since I’ve actually written anything longer than a short note to be read by anyone else. So if this doesn’t meet the high standards you are used to I apologise.
This year’s beer festival was held at the New Hampton Arts Centre in Dunkley Street, a short walk from the bus and train stations through Wolverhampton’s University Quarter. The arts centre opened in 2000 in the former Grammar School, a 120-year-old building which was refurbished with the help of a National Lottery grant and aims to provide a creative hub were people can engage with the arts. The “beer hall” was quite an intimate room, smaller than the Wulfrun Hall of former years, however extra space was available in the café, which was also serving food, and main hall if need. I’m glad that I made the decision to attend on the Friday afternoon and not one of the evening sessions or on the Saturday when it could have become quite crowded. While it wasn’t too busy when I arrived just after twelve by four o’clock the numbers had increased considerably.
With 68 draught beers, 29 bottled beers and, 16 ciders and perries on offer I decide to keep it LocAle as much as possible and not to over indulge. To break the ice and slake my thirst, the first third was a Cnebba brewed by the dwarves at Fownes, a Baltic porter (barrel aged for six months) which I really enjoyed but would have liked to have just a little more carbonation, whether the lack of carbonation was by design or due to the cask being emptied quicker than the yeast could re-carbonate I don’t know and as there were no dwarves on hand to ask I didn’t find out. My second drink was Sacre Brew’s Man on the Oss, as I wanted to compare this with Kinver Brewery’s festival special, Man Off the ‘Oss. Gwen had been relegated to the end of the bottle bar under a sign for foreign beers! Which is quite ironic as apart from Banks’s I don’t think there is another brewery closer to the venue. Man on the Oss (a rye saison) tantalised with hints of rhubarb, while the Man Off the ‘Oss despite being a nice golden colour totally lacked character and flavour. For two drinks so closely named they could not have been further apart in taste and character.
I hate to say it but most of the pale ales that I tried were disappointing, I could have chosen poorly or it may have been down to the warm weather (low to mid 20s) and high humidity but the pale ales certainly didn’t seem to be up there with the porters. For me the stand out beers were the two porters Fowenes’ Cnebba and Ayr’s Rabbies Porter, and both Wendigo IPA and Man on the Oss from Sacre Brew. Oh, and not forgetting Sadlers’ Peaky Blinder a black IPA. It’s interesting to note that unlike the other ales which were served from casks Sacre Brew’s beers were served from KeyKegs and maybe this helped these beers maintain their quality better than the other pale ales.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try Brough’s Sledgehammer as it wasn’t available while I was there, and I’d also have preferred to see Marstons showing its revisionist range of beers instead of those it had on show, although CAMRA may not class them as real ales. Notable by their absence were both Twisted Barrel and Fixed Wheel breweries, which was a shame. All in all, in my short time at the festival I got to try a few excellent beers, some good beer and, some not so good beer, talk to some interesting people and enjoy an afternoon where everyone was there for the beer.
Since writing this I have learnt the results for the public vote for best beer in festival which is as follows;
1st Wendigo (Sacre Brew)
2nd US Pale Ale (Mordue)
3rd Man on the Oss (Sacre Brew).
Not only a justified one three for Wolverhampton brewing but also for Sacre Brew.