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38th Annual Steel City Beer & Cider Festival, Ponds Forge, Sheffield, South Yorkshire
It's been years since I've been to a proper beer festival. For one thing, paying entry in order to pay further for my pints doesn't appeal to me much in these tight economic times, even with my entry-reducing CAMRA card. I much prefer to walk for free into a fine cask ale pub and sample the brews in a more comfortable setting.
So it was on a spur of the moment, prompted by a couple of friends planning to attend, that we decided to check out the Steel City Beer and Cider Festival. This year it was staged in Ponds Forge, a massive sports, fitness, and leisure centre covering 6.7 acres. Located on what were once cutlery works and a brewery, Ponds Forge is named after the ponds and millraces that supplied the wheels and forge. Featuring an Olympic-sized swimming pool, squash courts, and table tennis tables, the venue seems an odd place to sample beers. The only time I had been here previously was to attend an art show that happened to be held in the same room as the beer festival.
In the centre of the huge cold room was a long two-sided bar with beers arranged alphabetically by brewery name. Sadly the descriptions of the beers located on the ends of the casks were so small they were difficult to read, and not many of the volunteer staff really knew anything about them. So it was a bit of a lottery tasting, but we definitely scored a couple of times.
Andrew and I decided to stick to half pints, starting low in ABV and gradually increasing to the stronger selections. We started with Chiswick Ale (3.5% ABV, Fuller, Smith, & Turner, London). This was a good starting half, with a rich gold colour, perfectly healthy tasting and very natural. It was a surprisingly exciting low-alcohol starter for a beer festival with scary prospects.
Our second round of half was slightly stronger. I had a half of the Wishbone (4.0% ABV, The Brew Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). This is a nice lightly hopped brew, not threatening at all. In fact I would call it very tame like a contented lap dog. Andrew had a half of Golden Dawn (4.0% ABV, Mr Grundy's Brewery, Derby, Derbyshire) which was honeyingly disappointing. It tasted like nothingness with a honey edge. Blahhh.
Our third round consisted of one half of Amarillo (5.0% ABV, Crouch Vale Brewery, Chelmsford, Essex). This is a nice full orangey ale with a bitter orange hops bite. The other choice was Calypso (5.0% ABV, Acorn Brewery, Barnsley, South Yorkshire). I tasted this recently but couldn't afford on that occasion to go with the high alcohol. So here I was, ready for a West Indian treat. This is a super choppy hops affair, amber in colour, and a definite saviour at a stressful time.
We next had half pints of Tangled Up (6.0% ABV, Blue Bee Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). Andrew thought it tasted sweet following the Calypso. I thought it wasn't nearly as impressive as the last time I tasted it. Perhaps it's because all the beers here are served on gravity, and Tangled Up could do with being served through a sparkler. I believe that would do it justice.
Because most of the stronger beers were malty stouts, we dipped a bit lower in the ABVs for our next round. The Tangerine Dream (4.5% ABV, Acorn Brewery, Barnsley, South Yorkshire) was absolutely gorgeous and definitely the best beer we tasted all night. It's like a gorgeous tangerine in a pint glass, with wonderfully balanced hops and malt. It's a perfect little brew. I could sense some New World hops done in a very well-balanced way. I fell in love with this brew -- but then again I do love all the various tangerines available these days. Our other half was Honey Blonde (4.0% ABV, Blue Bee Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire) which was surprisingly nice. Its full classy flavor suggested hopped-up honey.
We ended the evening with half pints of Yakima IPA (7.4% ABV, Great Heck Brewing, Goole, South Yorkshire), simply because with a Washington State name like that I had to try it. It was wildly strong but nice, very alcoholic. If there wasn't already a beer called Bitter and Twisted, this should be called that -- not because it's bitter and twisted but because it's Vitter and twisted. Does that make sense? It's as good as a mug of Marmite while you're waiting for your roasted spuds. It's warming. "It lifts the heart," said Andrew.
Enough said; it was time for the bus home. At least this time, as opposed to previous festivals, we made it home with both of our souvenir glasses.