Wetherspoons have been holding 2 real ale festivals a year for some time now. I haven’t always been able to try many of the ales on offer, but at this year’s spring festival, which ran from 23 March to 10 April, I was more successful. Most of the ales were sampled at the Hanley Wetherspoons (The Reginald Mitchell), but I also had several visits to Newcastle (The Arnold Machin), and two London branches, The Montagu Pyke (Charing Cross Road), and Lord Moon of the Mall (Whitehall).
There were 50 ales in the list, but of those there were several that I didn’t see in any of the venues. The one I most missed trying was the Green Jack Orange Wheat Beer, which was apparently available in Hanley on the night I was playing in a concert in Middlewich! I’ve only been able to try that once before, at the GBBF a few years ago. Let’s hope it appears in the future.
The ales that really stood out for me were, in descending order:
1. Feral the Runt (4.7%), brewed at Wadworth by a brewer from the Feral Brewery in Western Australia, which I described in my tasting notes as just ‘wonderful’
2. Robinson’s Ginger Tom (4.3%) which is a superb ginger flavoured ale, and also very refreshing. I tried it on 2 separate occasions, and found the degree of ginger flavour to vary, probably depending on how recently the barrel was opened.
3. Freeminer Deep Shaft (6.2%), which was quite simply the definitive stout, leaving all other stouts in the ‘also ran’ category.
4. Lancaster Kingmaker (5.0%), which was very easy drinking and smooth considering its strength.
5. Thwaite’s Bloomin’ Smoky (5.0%), although this was another one which varied over two tastings, with more smoky quality the first time than the second.
A couple of the more unusual ales which I tried were Wychwood Elderwych (3.8%), which promised much, but didn’t have enough elderflower for my liking, and Hydes Plum Treat (4.0%), of which I wrote ‘very good although it could be more plummy’. The message here is that if brewers are going to market an ale with a specific fruit or flower in the name, don’t short change us by not having enough fruit or flower flavour!
One ale in the festival was very disappointing, and not to my taste at all. It was the unusually named Ballast Point Calico Amber (5.2%), brewed at Shepherd Neame by a brewer from the Ballast Point Brewery in California. It is described in the tasting notes as having ‘rich complexity’, but to me it was simply too complex, with too many flavours fighting to emerge. I found it hard to finish a third of a pint of that one!
All in all, it was a good real ale festival, and I look forward to the next one in the Autumn.