CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> Kent Beer Festival

Previous Pint Pleasures - July 24, 2000

guinness eileen

The Kent Beer Festival, Merton Farm, Merton Lane, Canterbury, Kent, July 20-23, 2000

This column is a bit late because I've been so busy. Not only have I been travelling like crazy but I've spent a good deal of time introducing a California friend to various things including the pleasures of real ale in England. As it happened, Mistah Rick's last night in the UK turned out to be the opening night of the Kent Beer Festival. Since M.R. was flying on to Italy for a two-week bicycle tour, we all decided the best way to prepare him for this gruelling task was to send him away with a stomach full of interesting beers.

The festival was a bit hard to find, but we did manage to catch most of the temporary road signs put up by CAMRA. Still it was a bit of a treasure hunt, especially since at 6:10, twenty minutes before the festival was to open, nobody around the Canterbury bus station seemed to know anything about the festival or the free shuttles to the festival.

But we found our way there, through back roads and fields of cows. The festival took place inside the cow barn, the dirt floor practically inviting one to spill his or her pint. Fortunately we never got to that stage, limiting ourselves sensibly to 11 half-pints between the three of us before the drive home. Following is a review of those half-pints, starting with the weakest and ending with the strongest:

Strip & At It (4.0% ABV, Freeminer Brewing Ltd, Coleford, Gloucestershire): This beer, named after a mining term and not what you think, tasted so peary you could almost call it a perry if you wanted to be incorrect. It's a nice, roughly gentle beer, definitely peary, perhaps like Perry Como having been run through a fine Louis Armstrong filter and then, after a dash of Vic Damone, aged in Mel Torme oak. Oddly the colour struck me as Marilyn Monroe. Don't ask me why...

Pale Amber (4.0% ABV, Sarah Hughes Brewery, Sedgley, West Midlands): This is a girly beer, definitely brewed for girls -- but not the kind like me and my real ale-loving girlfriends. I'm afraid it was just too smooth in all directions, with a promising flavour but not enough of it. It's a weak bitter that falls away, like a good idea that's almost immediately forgotten. It could use a bit more brawn; perhaps toning up those abs (or abvs) might help.

Indian Summer Pale Ale (4.2% ABV, Tun Vine & Press, Sittingbourne, Kent): This beer seemed familiar to me, much like a Swale beer I enjoyed at the Red Lion in Snargate. When I learned the Swale Brewery is now called Tun Vine & Press, it all made sense to me. This is a golden beer, very hoppy and very fruity all at once. It's a nice different refresher, like a wet cooling trend on a hot summer day.

Stiltman Ale (4.3% ABV, Ales of Kent, Chatham, Kent): Mmm, this is an interesting beer which tastes like redwood -- the redwood tables, chairs, and fences of my Southern California childhood. I remember one of my olfactory joys as a child was walking through lumberyards and smelling all the different woods, and the redwood was noticeable. It undoubtedly tastes good as well, considering our Bassett hound chewed away most of our redwood gates. But not everyone will detect redwood; my companion Andrew tasted resin, and Mistah Rick leaned toward coffee. As I said, it's interesting.

The Ghillie (4.5% ABV, Broughton Ales Ltd, Biggar, The Borders): This beer is hoppy but balanced with a slight citrus top, and drinking it is like riding on a choppy sea while wearing a straw boater with a blue and red band. Mistah Rick calls it a "balsamic ale", but I wouldn't waste it on salads.

Blue Rocket (4.5% ABV, Kent Garden Brewery, Faversham, Kent): This is simply a fine balanced drop, and there's nothing fiery about it at all. No rocketry, no fireworks, no gunshots, no bombs, not even a Bic lighter.

Guinea Gold (4.5% ABV, Hardys & Hansons PLC, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire): This is a pleasant, friendly, and congenial afternoon session beer. That's about all I can say. It doesn't argue with you and it doesn't make waves. And it always buys a round.

Stairway to Heaven (4.6% ABV, Tripple FFF Brewing Co., Alton, Hants.):: BLECCH! I knew I was risking a lot ordering a real ale named after a Led Zeppelin song. Well, I can tell you there's no heaven in this glass -- definitely no heaven. A small acid fruity hell, perhaps? Maybe I misunderstood the concept. Am I taking the stairway down instead of up?

Friggin in the Riggin (4.7% ABV, The Flagship Brewery, Chatham, Kent): Aye, laddie! That's a real refresher! Plenty of ocean spray, and me eyes detect a pirate ship with men in eyepatches and big gold hoops in their ears, and they're all wearing Hawaiian shorts and sitting in beach chairs. Ahoyaloha there!

Contraflow (5.0% ABV, Ales of Kent, Chatham, Kent): This is another mmm-er, a smooth swathe of copper satin which has been lightly brushed by incense fumes.

Shipwrecked (5.0% ABV, The Flagship Brewery, Chatham, Kent): This beer has an interesting curve: the bitterness is in the middle, a flat, laid-back bitterness. It tastes like a leisurely sail on a comfortable piece of jetsam.

And those are the pints. Strange, this nautical theme I kept detecting in my beers, especially in a cowshed. Did the Channel ever wash all the way up to Merton Farm? Were these cows once sea cows? These things I contemplated as we rode the ferry over the rough Downs back to Folkestone...