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Previous Pint Pleasures - November 1, 1999

Guinness Eileen

The Hastings Beer Festival, July 8-12, 1999, Alexandra Park, Hastings, East Sussex

Since I was out of touch with a computer and my web columns for several months, I'd like to apologize for waiting until November to publish a review of a July event. But since this is the magical year of 1999 -- and since many things are changing, the century's coming to a close, and my notebook is overflowing with hundreds of quickly-scribbled beer and pub notes -- what's a few months when the universe is so ancient? We're all getting older and wiser, and the beers I tasted at the festival are still readily available. So here goes:

Plunge yourself back to the month of July. (Ouch! Not so hard! Always make sure there's plenty of water before you dive.) On Sunday afternoon my friends and I caught a cab over to Alexandra Park, supposedly the longest park in Europe. It was a warm sunny day and the grounds were covered with surprisingly bronzed bodies decked with a good deal of orange clothing. As Acker Bilk and the Paramount Jazz Band performed trad jazz on the stage we found refuge from the blazing sun under the beer tent, where many beers were already sold out. Still there was an adequate selection remaining to choose from. This was a typical British beer festival too, i.e. full pints only -- no tasters or halves, therefore no wimps.

Young's Special Bitter (from Young & Company, London) is a good summer breakfast quaff. At 4.6% ABV it may seem a bit strong to follow coffee; but the full-flavoured marriage of hoppiness and malt helps remind one that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

On to Bombardier Premium Bitter (4.3% ABV, from the Charles Wells Brewery, Bedford). This classic beer, brewed by the largest independent family-owned brewery in the country, tastes somewhat dry and complex -- "like a planed piece of ebony," according to my friend Andrew. My pint of Bateman XXXB (4.8% ABV, from George Bateman & Son Ltd., Wainfleet, Lincolnshire) was quite strong but very good, vertical and hoppy, like an upstanding eccentric. The taste profile was described by a friend in this manner: "Choo -- fwoooh -- CHU!"

Next was a pint of Fuggles Imperial Ale (3.6% ABV, from the Castle Eden Brewery, Hartlepool, Durham). This spicy floral beer -- brewed with 100 percent Fuggles hops -- tastes like molasses with all the sweetness removed. Well, perhaps just a tad left in . . . just enough. And then on to Dorset Best (4.1% ABV, from Hall & Woodhouse's Badger Brewery, Blandford Forum, Dorset). This hoppy brew was pleasantly surprising, and drinking it was like driving through a dull industrial area only to discover a pleasingly-coloured smartly-designed building nestled in between the uglier structures.

As the casks were quickly emptying by this time, one of us was lucky enough to get the last pint of Rooster's Best (3.9% ABV, from the six-year-old Rooster's Brewery in Harrogate, North Yorkshire). This beer is reminiscent of Badger's Tanglefoot in its lightness and hoppiness. Next on the tour was Cocker Hoop (4.8% ABV, from Jennings Brothers, Cockermouth, Cumbria, founded in 1828). A complexly bitter ale, my friend Andrew thought this beer pretentious with delusions of grandeur. I thought it was trying to be hoppy and malty and sweet, all at once -- i.e. way too much ambition backed by not nearly enough experience.

The last beer we all tasted was a wonderful surprise. Having been terribly curious about The Dog's Bollocks for the past couple years I was excited to find them -- er, it -- at the beer festival. Brewed by the Wychwood Brewery in Witney, Oxfordshire, this 5.2% ABV brew, made with Styrian hops and wheat, wasn't the most appropriate brew to be drinking late on a balmy afternoon. But who can resist Dog's Bollocks -- the name, I mean? And this is a glorious beer! Mmmm! Mmmmm! MMMMMMM! My first impression was similar to my initial reaction to Shepherd Neame's Bishops Finger: WOW!!! This is definitely the finest brew named after canine gonads -- or any gonads, for that matter -- I've ever tasted.

And there I was, at the end of the Hastings Beer Festival, contentedly sipping away on Dog's Bollocks, and wondering what a beer called Bishop's Bollocks might taste like...

As long as I'm reviewing beers instead of pubs I may as well take this opportunity to mention a few bottled beers I've tried recently:

Golden Champion Ale (5.0% ABV, Badger Brewery, Blandford St. Mary, Dorset). This is a fruity beer, light but strong. This is another good summer beer for a hot Sunday afternoon. The only problem with this beer was that, having only one bottle between two of us, there simply wasn't enough.

Old Speckled Hen (5.2% ABV, Morland, Abingdon, Oxfordshire). This fine beer, from the second oldest brewery in the UK (established in 1711), has a long taste, very bitter, and it tingles the tastebuds with a tantalizing tannicness (Or is it tannicity?) It has a great aftertaste, too, as if it were wearing an ankle-length leather coat. This tastes nothing like a beer named after a geriatric chicken; in fact it was named after a car, an unusual speckled vintage MG.

Ruddles County Classic English Country Ale (4.7% ABV, Ruddles Brewery, also from Abington, Oxfordshire). This beer comes in a wonderful, sensual bottle with a slightly large mouth and a sensual little waist on the bottom. Mmm, mmm, mmm, what a bottle! It's destined to become a vase . . . and, oh yeah, the beer! Almost forgot . . . nice and richly dark, smooth yet hoppy and full-flavoured, versatile, changeable, now smoky, then again coffeelike -- like an array of tastes displayed on a beautiful, sensually clear glass platter.

Trafalgar IPA (6.0% ABV, Freeminer Brewery, Coleford, Cottswalds). Located in the Forest of the Deans, this seven-year-old brewery bottles twenty percent of its beer. This particular selection features Maris Otter barley and choice grade Worcester Golding hops. But enough about ingredients; let's talk about taste! This is an OOOHH! beer! As I was picking up my glass in the kitchen I heard this "OOOHH! OOOHH! OOOHH!" bursting from the lounge where my tasting companion was taking his first sip. Mmm, yes, this is a fine brew! It has a golden colour, a delightful hoppiness, and the flavour of a spectacular sky with big, billowy clouds covering the entire grayscale, like a pleasantly cool, crisp, fresh breeze as you ride alone in your convertible, your favourite song on the radio...

Back to the pubs of Kent next time...