Norwich Amateur Brewers Festival 2018
|Festival Guide - does exactly what it says on the tin|
|The Coachmakers Arms - no Bass I'm afraid|
Arriving at the pub we saw a reassuring poster for the festival on the door. I was soon glad of that, as I couldn't see any sign of where to go once we stepped into the bar. To be fair though, it didn't take too much exploring to find the courtyard and the festival bar. We were directed to the end of the bar where Ashley, the festival organiser, introduced himself, handed us guides and glasses, and explained the token system.
|Agreed with Matt Curtis - Joy Division are a NEIPA|
Our first beers were 'Mild in the Country', a well balanced light mild, and 'Sunnyside Best Bitter', quite a light bitter with a slight citrus aroma and flavour from the Amarillo hops. Both of them were very drinkable and, like most of the beers we had at the festival, would stand up well against many a commercial beer. As first drinks of the afternoon, and being just thirds, they didn't last long. Next up were 'Comet Smash', a pale ale which combined quite a sweet aroma with a rather bitter flavour, and 'Tivoli', another best bitter with a rather delicious coffee and honey flavour. At this point we decided to partake of the buffet that had been very kindly laid on by the pub, and was included in our festival ticket price. Then there was just time to squeeze in a 'Californian Magnum Blonde' which I wasn't so keen on although I couldn't put my finger on why, and Wymondham White Shield, another very decent bitter.
At this point it was time for the tutored tasting in the function room upsatirs, led by Alan Edwards, Chair of the Norfolk CAMRA Taste Panel. The first part of Alan's session would have been very familiar to anyone who has done a brewery tour, as he talked about the four basic ingredients of beer, and showed us three different types of malt and a couple of different hops. Then he got onto the four criteria that are considered in beer tasting: appearance, aroma, taste and aftertaste. After this introduction, we got onto actually tasting some beer, and discussing it.
First was 'Duke of Jarl'. I presumed that this was based on Jarl by Fyne Ales; a beer that I have heard and read about an awful lot, but never actually drunk (shameful admission I know!). It had a rather unusual, but strangely attractive, blush colour, and flavours of grapefruit and peach. The only slight downside was that I felt it was slightly flat. Talking to the brewer later, I heard that it was possibly past it's best, having been brewed a good six weeks earlier. Then we moved onto 'Norwich Surprise'. This was a delicious, red-brown, best bitter, with flavours of malt loaf and plums, and a slight alcohol warmth. This was one of my favourite beers of the day, although a fellow panel member was concerned that it was rather strong at 5.1%.
|Festival goers enjoy their beer in the courtyard|
The final beer of the tasting session was 'Station Porter', which was another firm favourite for me. It had a succession of flavours and aromas, including coffee, chocolate, and an unlit cigar straight out of the humidor. Another strong beer at 5.6%, but I wold have been happy to sip slowly at a few glasses of this, and in fact did exactly that towards the end of the evening.
The tasting session was very enjoyable. Alan was clearly very knowledgeable, but it was also really good to share ideas with all of the participants, and to talk about beer in depth in a way that I don't often get the chance to. I certainly wouldn't want to do that every time I have a drink, despite what my wife might think, but it's nice to do sometimes.
Going back downstairs to the courtyard, we were immediately approached by Martin, who had brewed the kit beer and seemed impressed that I had picked it out so quickly. He said himself that it was a flawed beer, and we had a bit of a discussion of the merits of malt extract kits these days. He also talked to me about another of his beers on the festival list - 'Flat Out White', a milk stout with Fairtrade Columbian coffee. Martin was quite self deprecating, saying that he felt this was also not quite as he had intended it. For me, it was a fine milk stout with a good balance between the sweetness and body of the lactose, and the bitterness of the coffee.
|Ashley and Martin poring over the festival recipe folder|
While Martin and I talked homebrewing technicalities, Fi discovered her beer of the festival. 'Totally Tropical' was very much in the mould of 'Elvis Juice', which is one of Fi's all time favourite beers. In fact, she said that it might even be better than BrewDog's real deal! It was certainly very good, and it would have been interesting to do a blind taste test of the two. Unfortunately, this was the only beer which wasn't included in the festival recipe folder; I will have to see if I can get hold of its brewer through the Norwich Amateur Brewer's Club.
Martin then introduced me to Ray Ashworth, who founded the very successful Woodforde's brewery in 1981. Having retired some time ago Ray is now a keen amateur brewer and had one of his beers on the festival list. Obviously starting to feel the effects of what I had already drunk, I gave Ray a detailed critique of his 'Oatcake Stout', which I felt was a little too bitter, and maybe suffered from too much roasted barley. Fi did her best to save me from myself, but I was oblivious to her hints, elbow nudges, and kicks on the shin. Ray was very gracious, presumably accepting my point of view at face value, or else deciding that I was the kind of drunken idiot that it is best to ignore!
|Ray Ashworth chats to a festival goer as he serves at the bar|
As the evening drew towards a close we fell into conversation with Kevin Tweedy, of the Golden Triangle Brewery. Fi was most interested in his use of coconut oil as a skin conditioner, but I think we also talked about how he came to set up his brewery in Norwich after a background as an amateur brewer himself. Much of the conversation is lost in the haze of an afternoon and evening of drinking fine beer, but I am sure that he seemed a great chap and I would very much like to chat to him again in a more sober state.
I also spoke to Cheryl, of Thirst Consultants, and another member of the CAMRA Taste Panel whose name I didn't catch. From them I learnt that there were a couple of beers that had stood out form the rest in the judging of the panel, although they gave me no more than a hint as to which they were. The top three beers of the festival, as judged by the CAMRA Taste Panel and the festival goers, will be brewed by some of Norfolk's commercial breweries for the Norwich Beer Festival in October. There will then be a public vote to decide Norwich's Champion Amateur Beer of 2018. I look forward to finding out which beers will be available at the the Norwich Beer Festival.
All together I had a really great time at the Norwich Amateur Brewers Festival. No doubt that was partly because I am a homebrewer myself, and enjoyed talking about brewing to people who are also passionate about their hobby. However, I am sure that anyone who appreciates good beer would also have enjoyed this festival just as much as many others where all the beers would have been professionally produced. I hope that the festival happens again in future; I would certainly be interested in a return visit.
This blog has been edited, following a clarification received from CAMRA, to show that three beers will be commercially produced for the Norwich Beer Festival, not one as I had originally believed.