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Previous Pint Pleasures - February 14, 2000

guinness eileen

The White Cliffs Festival of Winter Ales 2000, 4th and 5th of February, Maison Dieu, High Street, Dover, Kent

I'm not quite sure how I did it, but somehow I managed to survive this true test of endurance. Imagine two shorts days in a room full of over 50 different winter ales from small brewers, all poured directly from the cask and not one of a strength less than 5.0% ABV. With the help of a small handful of friends and the slow, careful consumption of half pints, I managed to taste an impressive 21 beers! I know it's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

The CAMRA-sponsored festival was held at the Maison Dieu in Dover, just a couple blocks' walk from the Dover Priory rail station. This old "House of God", which dates from 1203, originally served as a hospice for wounded soldiers and the elderly and as temporary lodgings for travellers. In 1544 the monks who ran the place were evicted; for the next 300 years the building and grounds were used to supply the English Navy with victuals. In 1834 Dover Corporation bought the Maison Dieu for use as the city's Town Hall. Today the building houses a fine collection of armour and paintings, and E.J. Poynter's painted stained glass windows depict various historic events in Dover.

A more appropriate setting for a winter beer festival I can't imagine: quaffing strong ales while admiring such majestic art and artifacts. One room of the Maison Dieu was set up with casks of beer and a food and snacks area, and the other larger room had a stage where live music was performed in the evenings. Men in White Coats played Friday evening; we caught a bit of the Bill Barnacle Jazz Band on Saturday evening.

But on to all these beers! While I jotted down my usual notes, my companion rated each beer on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best. So I'll list each beer with its score, starting with the highest:

Millennium Ale (8.0% ABV, Pitfield Brewery, London): This is a Presidential beer -- yes, truly Presidential, but not like Clinton or Bush or Reagan or Ford or, not like Kennedy or Eisenhower or FDR...and not really like Lincoln or Washington or Wilson or, well, any of the others...but still Presidential. It's a beer like the Ideal President would drink. My friend gave it a score of 9.

Fortress Ale (5.0% ABV, Beckett's Brewery Ltd., Basingstoke, Hampshire): This is a bitter, very drinkable ale. It locks your tastebuds in a pleasurable fortress supplied with a fine selection of ports and cigars. It's stalwart but it wouldn't hold against any army stronger than that of Luxembourg or Mali -- but with the ports and cigars, who cares? C'est la guerre... A score of 8.

Old Expensive (6.7% ABV, Burton Bridge Brewery, Burton-Upon-Trent, Staffordshire): This is "a very nice nostalgic beer", our friend Stuart claimed. And yes, this is a nice beer, malty and fruity: a fine beer! An "Mmm-mmm!" beer! It rates a score of 8.

White Cliff Addiction (7.5% ABV, Swale Brewery, Sittingbourne, Kent): As strong in alcohol as it is, this beer is deceptively light, like a double cloth made up of two layers of rich cotton. A score of 7.5.

Monkey Wrench (5.3% ABV, Daleside Brewery Ltd., Starbeck, Harrogate, North Yorkshire): What can I say but well balanced hops and malt? No monkeying about here: a pint of this brew would be a nice tool for further research. A score of 7.

Moonraker (7.5% ABV,JW Lees & Co., Middleton Junction, Manchester): This brew imparts a complicated malt character -- but it's not sweet, so don't worry about that. It makes the Moon seem more like Venus or Mars: it's a complicated beer where if you drink enough, you'll probably be able to see the back of your head, not unlike the greenhouse effect on Venus -- but only if you're brunette. I doubt you could see the back of your blonde or red head. A score of 7.

Traveller's Rest (5.0% ABV, Wye Valley Brewery Ltd., Hereford): This beer, the first one we tried, is blackly and brownly and wonderfully bitter, like a black paved runway from which the rain is evaporating in vertical precision. A score of 7.

Willie Warmer (6.4% ABV, Crouch Vale Brewery Ltd., South Woodham Ferrers, Chelmsford, Essex): Since the Climax had run out by the time we arrived I had to try this beer. It's warm, pleasant, and inviting, so much that it warms the cockles of my...well, of course I don't have a willie, so I won't go into details. It's like a furry codpiece: a green, red, and black wool variety, very, very fuzzy with a touch of wool, perhaps a Merino/angora blend. Yes, this is a beer that would definitely protect one's little fireman in inclement weather. A score of 7.

Death Wish (5.0% ABV, Dark Horse Brewing Co., Hertford, Hertfordshire): This is a bitter, pleasant, friendly brew, suggestive of Death dressed in a nice brushed cotton shirt and black trousers with a youthful spiky hairstyle. And he rides a skateboard and listens to Pulp on his pocket CD player. Despite the image he's definitely Death -- but he might change his mind later on and give a reprieve. A "brilliant!" beer this is! Way brilliant! A score of 6.

Headstrong (5.2% ABV, Blackawton Brewery, Washburn, Totnes, Devon): I don't mean to be so headstrong, but Yes! I insist! This is quite simply a stubbornly drinkable light hoppy strong beer. A score of 6.

Heavy Petting (8.0% ABV, Pett Brewing Co., The Old Forge Brewery, Pett, Hastings, East Sussex): Sexual and sensual, this brew grows on you! Mmm-mmm, it elicits mild moans of pleasure. It's quite a strong and malty beer but good nevertheless. A score of 6.

Old 1066 Ale (6.7% ABV, P&DJ Goacher, Maidstone, Kent): This ale features a good spicy mix of malt and hops. It's malty! No, hoppy! No, malty! No, hoppy! Actually, it's jumpy, like a winter cartwheel! A score of 6.

Old Jock (6.7% ABV, Broughton Ales Ltd, Broughton, Biggar, The Borders): This goes down like a classic family film, an epic, period piece, a feel-good feature, with a hunchback and a tiny good-hearted daughter playing the leads. A score of 6.

Firebox (6.0% ABV, RCH Brewery, West Hewish, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset): After taking a break from all that Old 1066 jumping around, I found this beer just as active: Frisky! And spicy! Yes, this is definitely a frisky beer, like a spirited romp back and forth through the grass. A score of 5.

Longhorn (5.5% ABV, Titanic Brewery, Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire): Actually, this beer tastes more like a blonde wooly buffalo than a longhorn steer -- a Native American beer, perhaps. A score of 5.

OTT (6.0% ABV, Hogs Back Brewery, Tongham, Surrey): This over-the-top beer is dark and malty. It brings to mind driving your car into a petrol station and filling the tank, but without the petrol odour. A score of 5.

Shefford Old Strong, also called SOS (5.0% ABV, Banks & Taylor, Shefford, Bedfordshire): This strong ale has a roiling and boiling character with a sour edge, rather like an old, sour grandfather with a scraggly beard and a caustically curmudgeonly attitude toward the world. A score of 5.

Signal Failure (6.0% ABV, Pembroke Brewery Co., Pembroke, Pembrokeshire): This rail disaster-inspired beer was dark and bitter and...what? (Unfortunately I tasted this near the end of the festival, so I can't completely decipher my notes.) A score of 5.

Old Fireside (5.5% ABV, The Wood Brewery Ltd., Craven Arms, Shropshire): This beer has promise but it simply doesn't deliver. It tastes like an old peach -- or like the bottom of the grate when the fire's been out for three days. A score of 4.

Harvey's Christmas Ale (8.1% ABV, John Harvey Brewery, Lewes, East Sussex): All I can say about this is it's sweet! And thick! AAGGHHRROUGHHHH!! A surprisingly disappointment from a fine brewery. A score of 3.

Old Spot (5.0% ABV, Uley Brewery, Uley, Dursley, Gloucestershire): This is a sadly, tiredly disappointing beer, like an old dog that pees on the carpet because he can't help it. A score of 3.

So there you have it -- another annual beer festival over and done. Somewhere during the course of events I misplaced my black scarf, not to mention both of our souvenir glasses -- but at least I discovered some new winter brews to look forward to in future years.