Friday 8 November 2013

Wandsworth Common Halloween Beer Festival Recap

The Wandsworth Common Halloween Beer Festival concluded this past weekend and it was another great event. (For information on the festival and its history, please go here.) I attended on the Preview Night, which allowed me to try a good number of the beers on offer. Among the highlights were:

You may not find a better location for a beer festival.
Empire Colony Thirteen, 5.1% - Until this festival I had never had a beer from Empire, so I really didn't know what to expect. This beer was billed as an 'American style IPA', and I'll just say this: as a default I am skeptical of non-US breweries (and, to be fair, even many US breweries) who describe an IPA as American because, as an American, I have certain expectations. Well, congratulations, Empire, you did a damn fine job on this beer. The beer pours clear gold with a large, frothy white head. The aroma is a pleasant mix of lightly dried citrus fruits, hay and biscuity pale malts. The flavor is light to medium sweet with mild pithy lemons, subtle citrus rind and hay bitterness, and crunchy pale malts. The body is light to medium and the carbonation level is moderate - the beer is in top condition. The finish is quite clean with decent citrus pith, stony dryness, straw and balancing pale malt sweetness. This really is a superlative sessioner. And while I wouldn't describe this beer as a by-the-book American IPA, it's still an excellent beer; I'd probably call it a ramped up British golden ale with a nod to American IPAs.  Regardless of what you want to call it, this was one of the best beers on tap. (Score: 4.1/5)

Bank Top Dark Mild, 4% - I'm a big fan of milds. It's a difficult style to do well, in my opinion, because packing a lot of flavor into a low-ABV beer - while keeping it balanced and drinkable - is no easy feat. When done right, though, it's one of the best session styles around. Bank Top delivered a stunner here. The beer pours clearish brown with a frothy beige cap. The nose has nice chocolate notes and mellow roasted malts. The flavor is light to medium sweet with moderate toasted bread and light milk chocolate. Light bodied with fine carbonation; it's in great condition. Lightly earthy and dry to finish with more chocolate character. The beer is rich but mellow and very well balanced. Easily one of the best beers at the festival. (Score: 4.1/5)

The beer of the festival, folks: Fuller's Imperial Stout.
Fuller's Imperial Stout, 10.5% - Imperial stout might not be the best style of beer to have during a protracted festival drinking session, but that doesn't mean one should pass up the opportunity to try it; and bless the festival staff for only serving this beer in small pours. In contrast to a mild, I find imperial stout a much simpler style to pull off since any slight imperfections can be covered up by an excess of flavor. As with any style of beer, though, the chief goal should be to achieve balance, and Fuller's has most definitely done that with this rendition. The beer pours oily black-brown with a mellow, creamy brown head. The aroma holds lots of burnt wood, dark chocolate, well roasted malts and charred marshmallows. It's medium sweet with a nice torched wood character, subtle pine, dark fruits, rich chocolate and restrained bitterness. Medium to full in body with fine carbonation, the beer rests easy on the palate. It finishes with light dry burnt wood, further rich chocolate, earthy bitterness and more scorched marshmallows. The most impressive thing about the beer is the balance between the intense depth of flavor and it's drinkability; for a 10.5% beer, it was far too easy to drink. This was my favorite of the festival. I hope others were able to try it as well but I know there was only a small amount available. If you missed out, this beer can be purchased on the Fuller's website. (Score: 4.2/5)

Belleville Trick or Treat, 5.4% - Pumpkin beers are tough to do well given that you're dealing with a range of ingredients that don't often make their way into beer. The classic pitfalls of the pumpkin beer style include excessive spicing or cloying sweetness. I'm happy to say that Belleville managed to brew a lovely take on the style. The beer pours lightly hazy gold with a fine, filmy white head. The nose has notes of fleshy pumpkin, pumpkin pie and nutmeg. Medium sweet with notes of dry, bready malts, further pumpkin pie and restrained cinnamon and nutmeg. It's light to medium in body with fine carbonation. It finishes lightly sweet with great balance between the pumpkin character and the spices. While it's simple to write off pumpkin beers as novelty, this offering shows you can make one that is balanced and drinkable. Good work. (Score: 3.7/5)

Other beers worthy of mention include:

Exeter Avocet, 3.9% - A classical British golden ale with notes of lemon rind, straw and bready pale malts. Effortlessly drinkable if not particularly complex. (Score: 3.8/ 5)

Hawkshead Windemere, 3.5% - A good and hoppy golden ale with a dynamic character of tangerine, lemon and peach. It finished clean and dry with slight minerality and crunchy pale malts. (Score: 3.8/5)

Twickenham Autumn Red, 4.4% - A well constructed premium bitter marked by toasted brown bread, dried berries and balanced, piney bitterness. (Score: 3.8/5)

Exmoor Beast, 6.6% - A rich, hefty porter with notes of toffee, figs, raisins, sweet bread and semi-dark fruits. A nice cold weather beer. (Score: 3.7/5)

And in a tie for best names...

There's always something for everyone. 
Elgood Harry Trotter & The Deathly Swallows, 4.5% - While fairly average overall, the beer did have an intriguing fruit character with lots of berries, plums and cherries. And it was in good condition. (Score: 3.1/5)

Ulverston Laughing Gravy, 4.0% - It was a pretty decent bitter that hit all the right notes: grainy and bready malts, berries and other dried fruits, moderate leafy bitterness. I don't know what other people thought of the name, but I loved it. (Score: 3.6/5)

Many thanks to the folks behind this festival. You all continue to impress me with the range of beers and the consistently good conditioning. Cheers.

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