Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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When the oral history of the UK craft beer revolution is written, September 2017 will be yet another landmark, as Beavertown’s Extravaganza was the UK’s largest and most impressive festival to date.

It was only just over two years ago that Craft Beer Co. had to cancel London Beer Carnival which couldn’t sell out the vaults beneath Waterloo, as the £50 ticket price was a step too far for “just beer” (August 2015 – http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-5/).

Fast forward to 2017, and 8000 people, over 2 days, paid £55, in a sold-out event in Surrey Quays. Overall, the event was fantastic. The time and care spent on logistics was evident from the moment you stepped off the tube, and were directed to the venue.

There were some teething problems, but even here, they improved from Friday to Saturday: on the second day Neck Oil & Gamma Ray were widely available once the festival beers had run out, which isn’t what I got to an event for, but is better than nothing, and the best response they could make in 24 hours after criticism online.

The queuing system was also improved: on the Saturday, we were all let in 15 minutes before pouring began. Consequently, those further back could at least go to a stand which was relatively empty and so the crowd was much more dispersed.

The beers were magnificent: the first I rushed to in each session were Trillium Affogato Imperial Stout and Three Floyds, Zombie Dust Pale Ale, respectively, and both lived up to the hype.

There were many other highlights, and this is already too much of a list, but, in no particular order: Modern Times One Million Tomorrows, a nectarine BA sour, Jester King Dertritivore farmhouse ale with spent cherries, To-ol D’Juicy DIPA, Magic Rock Barrel 25 Golden Sour, Naparbier Milky Brain, a milkshake IPA, J Wakefield Haterade Berliner and also Bad Moon Rising, Lost Abbey Mongo IPA, Deliverance blended oak-aged strong ale, Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale, and, last but not least, Jester King Snorkel farmhouse ale, made with oyster mushrooms and alder smoked sea salt.

My major criticism is that the Rainbow Project felt downgraded, even neglected., It was stuck in a pokey little room and didn’t even have all seven beers on, all the time. Rainbow Project has produced beers as good as Buxton/Omnipollo Yellow Sundae and Hawkshead/Crooked Stave Key Lime Tau, and I am sure the UK brewers learnt from their US counterparts, especially in the earlier years.

I have really loved the Rainbow Project and I hope it continues and gets the respect it deserves (You’re not alone: It was the Editor’s highlight of 2014 https://twitter.com/glynndavis/status/550609732156018688) (Sadly 2018 will be the last Rainbow Project as time will be called on this superb initiative rather symmetrically after seven years – Ed) Overall, though, Extravaganza was a triumph.

In most other months a fantastic road-trip to Buxton, with friends, would have been the most memorable event: their tap-room is in the centre of town, and is a charming venue.

When we arrived I was initially slightly disappointed to discover that, as they had hosted a Dugges TTO the prior Tuesday, a few of their beers were still on, which isn’t to denigrate the Swedes, but we had explicitly travelled up for Buxton. However, the fears proved unfounded, as so many rare Buxton bottles were available.

It was the IndyMan weekend, so the soft-serve machine wasn’t in its normal place. This is always a big hit at festivals, but I have had it before and wasn’t too bothered. On tap we enjoyed classic Axe Edge IPA, Sheep Range, DIPA and BattleHorse, a black DIPA, which certainly put hairs on your chest! 2 fruit beers, with Omnipollo, raspberry meringue ice cream, which was good, and the sensational blueberry slab cake ice cream.

From the TTO remnants, Orange Haze, Mango Mango Mango and the excellent Spanish Muscatel sour.

Finally, In bottles, Red Wolf, a sour, which was excellent, but a tad over-priced, and 3 imperial stouts: their whisky based Highland, and, with Omnipollo, a bourbon BA Yellow Belly peanut butter biscuit, and, Texas Pecan, a sweet but truly delicious dessert beer.

Overall this was a great week-end so many Thanks to Natalie, who looked after us so well in the Tap-room, and Dave, a regular reader of this column, for driving us all up there.

For more on Buxton, http://beerinsider.com/spa-town-based-buxton-brewery-punches-well-above-its-weight/ is an account of the Editor’s visit last year.

The Bottle Shop is now open seven days a week, and to celebrate they hosted Modern Times on the Thursday immediately before Extravaganza. The beers were air-freighted over so had been kegged a few days before. This meant the prices were noticeably steeper than normal.

However, just as Victorian Londoners would happily pay a premium each year for the tea from the first clipper from Fuzhou or Shanghai to dock, no one was complaining! IPA’s & DIPA’s really benefit from freshness, and it was Attack Frequency and Orderville of the former, and Mega Blazing World, of the latter, which really sang. Now, they just have to make sure that SAN/LHR is booked for City of The Sun!

The Sunday afternoon saw Extravaganza weekend completed with Crooked Stave at the Arch. These fruity sours were a delicious pick-me-up after the prior excesses: three Petite Sours, in blueberry, raspberry and rose, two L’Brett’s, in blueberry and cherry, and the sensational Surette Reserva Prunus Persica, a golden sour, aged with peaches.

I was delighted to see the Prosecco tap removed for this TTO. There are countless bars in London selling miles better wines than this, whilst there are none carrying higher quality beers. It is a waste of a tap, and I hope it disappears.

For obvious distance reasons, American sports fans don’t have the same culture of away-day travel that we do, so it was great to see Maryland’s Flying Dog come over to support their local team Baltimore Ravens take on Jacksonville at Wembley. Even better, they popped in for a TTO at Great Northern Railway Tavern on the Saturday.

Unfortunately, both for them, and for the small gentleman’s wager that I had placed, the Ravens lost the next day.

That Saturday evening was also Zwanze Day, when, since 2008, Cantillon organise a simultaneous, global pour of a special one-off beer. Along with a significant number of London’s beer-geeks, I went to the Kernel for it. 2017’s version was a two-year old Lambic blended with Oolong, a semi-fermented blue-green tea.

It was good, rather than great, and given that the pour must obviously be very small, the real enjoyment came in the company and the rest of the list: Fou’Foune and Rose de Gambrinus and, to absolutely no surprise to any regular readers, the host’s very own damson London Sour, were highlights.

The Old Fountain hosted a Moor TTO. It is refreshing to write of the highlights being on cask: Confidence, an amber ale, and Union, a blond ale, were both classic and sessionable, on cask. PMA, an APA, was good on keg.

CBC opened its Old Street branch (25 keg and eight cask lines), which means that the roundabout now has CBC, Old Fountain, Three Crowns and a Draft House, not to mention Brewdog’s London office!

Finally, I am sure anyone who reads this column will join me in congratulating Mauritz (I’m sure you all know who he is – Ed) on his well-deserved move (and step up) to the Axe.

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.