Beer Tasting at Belfast Beer Fest

Earlier in the week I posted about my weekend working at Belfast Beer Festival 2011 and promised a later post about the tutored tasting sessions. Well here it is!

It was organised by branch chairman Phil Hernberg and jointly hosted with Rab Cowan from across the water (in that there Scotland) with tidbits of interest interjected by my good self. The beer lineup had to be tweaked slightly each day as casks ran out or others came into condition. The basic lineup was as follows:

Phil in full flow whilst Adrian and Rab discuss in the background
Wheat beer
Best Bitter

 Lager: we started off with Williams Ceildah but later switched to using Ossett Silver King. Its a shame we had no Schiehallion but the lagers we did have were nice enough. The assembled tasters were asked if they knew the difference between lager and "ale" amd some did know of the yeast differences. People said that they would have preferred it a few degrees colder. Alas the logistics which make it nigh on impossible for coolers. We have to resort to the "wet tea-towel" method.

Mild: B&T Black Dragon Mild was used first, then Ilkley Black, one of my own favourites. This one found a lot of favour with the female participants. Described as a beer that can range in colour and strength and named for its usually* low hopping rate. I suggested that it would pear well with good carby dishes as would be consumed by those after a hard day down t'mines.

mmm this mild has chocolate
Bitter: We had some good examples of bitter's on in the festival but in the end settled for O'hanlons firefly as it was well balanced between malt and hops and for its good mid-brown colour halfway between the lager and mild. Highlighted that the UK is great at making flavourful "session" beers.

Weisse: Little Valley Hebden's wheat: This is a bit of an odd one, uses a german weisse yeast but has corriander seed and lemon peel added. It has the wheatbeer haziness which alowed us to talk about other forms of haze/cloudiness to look out for in a beer.

Witbier: Hilden Barney's Brew. This was a real marmite beer. For some people it was the standout, for others only a sip was tried before declaring it foul. Spicy beers are just not some people's cup of tea.

Golden Ale: We switched best bitter for a golden ale when the dark star American Pale Ale ran out on the second day and the speciality beer became a witbier. Then hophead ran out and we had to use Oakleaf hole hearted. Talked about how American hop varieties had become more prolific in English brewing and how Golden Ale as a style is a fairly recent invention.

Porter: Did my best to dispel porter myths but I can't promise that some didn't get through when I was out of the room. We used Elland 1872 porter for a while but as it overpowered the stouts switched it for Coachhouse blunderbus [sic] old porter, which claims an "authentic" recipe. It certainly contrasted well to the stout.

Tasters start to feel it after 8 thirds
Stout: Talked about how not much separates stout and porter as styles these days, with stronger and lower ABV versions of both. We used Acorn Gorlovka stout so I was able to recount the tale of the rise of Imperial Russian Stouts, Baltic Porters and the recent great Baltic Adventure. There were inevitable comparisons to the ubiquitous black stuff from down south, but hopefully peopel's eyes were opened to the range of different stouts available.

The sessions finished with a final chance to ask questions and the three of us offering suggestions for what beers to try next. Was slightly embarassed when one tasting session gave a round of applause but it felt good to be appreciated.

I was pleased that the majority of sessions were oversubscribed (though this made my job a nightmare with only one hour between sessions trying to get 120 glasses and 8 jugs through the potwash and cool enough in time for the next session!). There was also a good mix of old and young, male and female, 2 Catalans and 2 Japanese visitors. Some people were pretty knowledgable and others just starting out in their beery journeys. I was surprised to meet a few peopel who had also travelled to the festival from Cookstown and hope to taste some beers with them later in the year.

I enjoyed helping out with the tasting sessions, maybe I'll be allowed to do one by myself next year, I reckon cheese** and beer would go down well as a talk ;)

**Any Excuse eh?

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