20th Sussex CAMRA Beer & Cider Festival

Festival mascot!Here’s something I wrote for a friend’s prototype Brighton boozin’ website. I’ve no idea if his project will ever come to fruition but I enjoyed writing and, er, researching this, so here you go – enjoy.

(For other booze-related blogging, why not check out my friend Rachel’s lackadaisical blog Victory Gin? If you do she might update it more often.)

20th Sussex CAMRA Beer & Cider Festival @ Hove Town Hall, 11th March 2010

In the main room, the kids are sat on the floor in the corner. Small groups, laughing and drinking and flirting. The beards occupy the dozen round tables in the centre of the amphitheatre, expressions hidden beneath facial hair. Clear battle lines are drawn: old versus young. The combatants are drunk with courage. Well, mostly ale. But there’s a clear hierarchy at work here: the young are more casual, more likely to be here out of curiousity or a desire to socialise, whereas the older are more serious drinkers, more serious acolytes of booze and priests of ale.

I’m at the 20th Sussex CAMRA beer fest, and a few drinks deep I’ve enough of a drunk buzz to write nonsense like the above. There’s no sense of conflict here: everyone’s just happy to be present, enjoying the wide selection of beverages on offer. But stood on the top balcony within Hove Town Hall, looking down on the drinkers and barrels arrayed below, especially with synapses doused in sweet cider, it’s hard not to let your imagination fire.

The first thing I knock back is a very sweet cider indeed, but one with a fiery name: Battle Cider, a sharp but delightful 6% concoction with a notable and pleasant aftertaste. It’s highly drinkable but I nursed it anyway; the last thing I want to do is end up wildly drunk in the first hour or two of the evening and wind up missing the rest of the evening in a blur of drunken motion. No, a drunken… gaussian blur is a much more appropriate ambition. Anyway, Battle Cider a triumph for East Sussex (the programme lists breweries for beers but only location for cider and perry – boo).

After that I go a little conservative with an American Pale Ale from Dark Star (4.7%). It’s a known quantity as I’ve drunk it before on a number of occasions. It’s a gentle beer with a distinct taste: strong but soft on the tongue. It was voted best golden ale at CAMRA’s 2009 CBOB Awards and it’s easy to see why.

I follow it up with something I’ve been looking forward to: Brewdog’s Punk IPA (6%). I’ve been wanting to try this out since writer Warren Ellis began banging on about it a year or so ago, and I’m pleased to say he’s spot on with this. It’s a suitably aggressive bitter for its name; despite the light golden colour the taste is a diverse blend of fruit and malt flavours, all with a strong kick to it. The aftertaste is also a powerful but agreeable surprise. Recommended!

A quick break for food is taken, and grats to the volunteers for the quality of their vegetable curry. My review of dinner: om nom nom. If it weren’t for the queue I’d have gone back for seconds.

Having earlier decided to follow a cider-beer-beer cycle, I move on to the perry next. Once again I elect to appease my sweet tooth and go for Newton’s Knap Perry (5.5%). It’s smooth and easy on the palate which is a little odd following a curry, but it’s light on the stomach so no complaint there. I struggled to think of much to say about this drink, however; it’s delicious but no obvious identity leaps forward.

After that I’m tempted back to the Brew Dog and this time I’m torn between the Hardcore IPA (9%), a bitter but supposedly mild ale, and the 5am Saint (5%), an intense bitter. In the end I plump for the latter, as having sampled the former I was impressed but unsure if a casual ale boozer like myself could make it through an entire glass. By this point my notes are already getting a little colourful; 5am Saint, I decree has “the best fucking name of the night”, and liken its powerful flavour to “a powerful kick in the teeth”. “Still up at 5am?” I ask my bemused friends. “You need pain. This is the ale equivalent of guarana.” Suffice to say it’s strong and I like it.

After that I head straight in the opposite direction… to the wine table, in fact. A few friends decide to join me and share our bounteous nectar. Between us we collect Elder Berry Wine, Light Honey Mead and Silver Birch Wine, the latter being my pick. It’s clear, delicate, sweet and soothing. My notes on its exact taste are not entirely clear, reading only “Trees?” I suspect by this point in the evening I wasn’t taken my notes entirely seriously.

That’s all I remember, I’m afraid: I think at some point I also tried one of the Hammerpot ales (possibly their Pale Ale, 4.7%) and the Langham Hip Hop (4%) but having forgotten to take notes, and being quite drunk, I no longer recall. Regardless, even as a very irregular ale drinker I was hugely impressed with the variety of beers on display and how much I enjoyed almost everything I tried. Give it a go: even if you end up sticking to the milds and ciders you can still enjoy a game of beard-spotting.

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