Every year, like Serengeti wildebeest migrating to Lake Victoria to lap up its refreshing waters, we travel north along the A46 to relocate in a Cotswold field for a weekend of drinking at Frocester Beer Festival. As Rich wrote in last year’s review of the event “attendance is obligatory”. Nick hasn’t missed one since Scouse songstress Sonia warbled her way to the top of the hit parade and Rich, who made his debut a few years later, only blotted his attendance card when struck down by a faulty appendix. Attendance is obligatory.
We use the weekend as a chance to catch up with old friends who we would otherwise never see; to relax in the glorious Gloucestershire countryside; to let our hair down and sing-along to myriad covers bands belting out beer-friendly classics*; and, of course, to sample some of the 100+ beers and ciders on offer. Attendance is obligatory.
This year, Rich failed to attend Frocester Beer Festival.
His excuse involved a possible flight to California to promote the American paperback version of our book. I can’t believe he thought he was in with a chance of bagging a trip like that. And, sure enough, it didn’t happen. Instead he hid himself in a darkened room, forlornly supping on my bottle of Siren’s Undercurrent** for a Beer of the Week review. Scant consolation for weekend’s entertainment.
Choosing the beers
Usually Rich writes our annual FBF review. I send him a list of my favourite beers from the festival, and remind him what his favourite beers were, before he does the rest. But seeing as he failed to show up, this whole blog is solely down to me. So I’ve changed the format.
Instead of blindly picking beers based on dodgy descriptions, faint memories of someone saying they’re good, or drunkenly pointing at random barrels, I decided to solicit the opinions of beer experts. The festival helpfully published the beer list on their website in advance of the weekend; I tweeted it to our beeriest followers; and they kindly responded with their recommendations. Here’s the review of my favourites.
Frocester Beer Festival 2016’s Best Beers
Joule’s Pale Ale, 3.8%
Beer writing legend Roger Protz (@RogerProtzBeer) perused the festival list and offered this suggestion: “Joule’s Pale Ale from the heart of pale ale brewing.” If the great Roger Protz suggests a beer, you drink it, and a fine choice it was too. Gentle wafts of the Burton snatch*** drifted through the nostrils while the mouth was treated to the softest beer imaginable, reminding me that a decent brew isn’t just about grain, hops and yeast: the water is vital too. Floral notes serenaded the palette, introducing some gentle bitterness before plummy hop flavours entered for the closing stages. Lovely stuff.
Ramstage Brewery, Gadd’s No. 5, 4.4%
Beer scribe and sommelier Sophie Atherton (@SophWrites) was one of several people who picked out Gadds’ No. 3, describing it as a “classic British pale ale.” Unfortunately, the beer list makers got their numbers wrong and it was Gadds’ No. 5 that showed up. But no matter, for this Kentish Bitter Ale was exceptional. Brown and full-bodied in the malt department it wasn’t shy of delivering a fresh blast of bitterness. Perfect English festival drinking. Now I’m on the hunt for No. 3. And No. 7. And any other number they care to put out…
Franklins Brewing Co, Smoked Porter, 5.5%
Rach Smith (@lookatbrew) is the beery brains behind the excellent blog ‘Look at Brew‘. She suggested I “check out the Smoked Porter by @FranksBrewSussx“, one of her local breweries. I didn’t need much encouragement. I like porters. And I like smoky beer. And this one got the combination spot on. Smouldering fruits with a sprinkling of spice gave way to a back-of-throat chocolate burn which only another swig could douse. Well balanced beer, well managed smoke.
Monty’s Brewery, Desert Rats, 3.8%
Top beer judge and writer Melissa Cole (@MelissaCole) knows lots about good ales, so there was no reason to ignore her suggestion for anything by Keltek or Monty’s. I’ve enjoyed many Keltek beers before and Monty’s golden pale ale, at a mere 3.8%, sounded like a perfect end-of-session pint, so I decided to save them for later. Mistake. Beers that good don’t last long and by the time I stumbled to that section of the bar their barrels had been drained. Sorry Melissa. It won’t happen again.
St Austell Brewery, Italian Job, 5%
Only last week I reviewed a bottle of this Sorrento lemon infused beer, noting that I had it “on good authority that the draught Italian Job is even better”. Good ol’ Frocester gave me a chance to test this out for sure. And it’s true. The lemon flavours are much more upfront than in the bottle, but they still keep a lid on things, refusing to overpower the rest of the IPA magic that has gone into the booze.
Cotswold Spring, Aviator, 5%
Of all the beers I tried using a random selection method, this was by far the best. I’ve been doing a lot of German beer research**** lately so any beer with the description “a take on Cologne Kolsch” was going to get me interested. Kolsch beers are like lagers but brewed with top fermenting ale yeasts. This beer was refreshing like a Pils, but had had a beery bite to it and a superb hit of spicy hops. The acceptable face of German lager at a British beer festival.
*Although we refused to join in with the chorus of Tight Fit’s ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’.
**Siren Undercurrent was one of the Frocester beers. I had a pint recently so declined its hoppy advances this time around.
***The name for the sulphuric aroma present in beers made from good Midlands water.