Our intrepid reporter samples some of the country's finest ales. Photo: David Parry
In the face of torrential downpours, intrepid real ale and cider drinkers were out in full force at Nottingham Castle last weekend. And with over 1,000 beers and 200 ciders and perries on offer, who could blame them? The festival has been at the castle since moving from the Victoria Leisure Centre in 2008, and you have to admit, the pretty grounds make for a better backdrop than a covered over swimming pool, even when the skies open.
My visit started with a dilemma: how many of these varieties could I get my lips round and still be sober enough to make sense of this review. Well, there was only one way to find out.
The first ale I got stuck into was a cappuccino stout brewed by Titanic from Stoke-on-Trent. A delicious, rich dark stout with a smooth coffee finish - a beautiful start, filling me with a burst of energy that would keep me going all evening. Next up was Worksop-based Grafton where I was presented with a number of delicious prospects but eventually plumped for Two Water Grog. It turned out to be a refreshingly light choice, perfect after a heavy stout.
Beer festivals practically beg silly hats. Photo: David Parry
Two down and feeling good, it wasn’t difficult to spot the cheeky chimpanzee face on the banner over Giltbrook’s Blue Monkey brewery,which, with less than a twenty-mile journey from the brewery to the festival was classed as a LocALE, a tag the festival uses to promote the best local ales around.With a choice of ape-based pints of puns laid out in front of me, I went for the multi-award winning Guerilla, and wasn’t disappointed. A lovely sweet stout that was full of flavour.
My next drink was one that I was looking forward to before setting foot on the castle grounds, Fownes Ghost Rider. New to the festival, this was an aromatic, tasty spiced pumpkin ale which did not disappoint.
With my stomach growling, it was time to soak up some atmosphere, go exploring, and remind myself that the festival is also a haven of good food. From Bar Deux’s hot dog stand to ostrich burgers to barbecued bratwurst to fire-baked pizza, there were plenty of hearty offerings to soak up the suds.
Then I found a treasure down by the bandstand where Euler was cranking out a cover of A Town Called Malice. Surely a contender for name of the night: Grandma’s Weapons Grade Ginger Ale shipped in all the way from the remote lands of Cornwall. A splendidly fiery brew that made me wish it was my Nan that had come up with this tipple.
The same goes for immense facial hair. Photo: David Parry
And in the efforts of journalistic completeness, I had to visit the cider and perry bar. Faced with so many delicious-sounding ciders from the West Country, I decided to stay local. As with LocALE, local ciders – within 35 miles of the festival – are being specially showcased, and the organsiers have continued with their ban on larger, commercially produced ciders that rely on flavourings and colourings. Equinox, from Watnall-based Green Trees Cider was the first pressing from a new producer, a prospect I couldn’t turn down. A good first effort, though a little too watery for my taste.
That done, it was back to the beer, and Westwood’s Naked Brewer (not literally, of course) drew me out a third of his Oracle, a full-flavoured bitter.
The night drawing to a close, I decided it was now or never and sought out Nottingham-based Medieval’s Hung, Drawn and Quartered, a whopping 18% ABV. Unfortunately, the barrel wasn’t ready yet, so instead I finished the night on Nutbrook’s Spyked Ale. It’s a recipe originally designed by the late and legendary Spyke Golding, Nottingham’s former chair of CAMRA. It seemed an appropriate closer. I raised a glass to Spyke and stumbled home, thoroughly refreshed.