In the train from Utrecht, when I was surrounded by young enthusiasts* chatting excitedly about Whales, I knew I wasn't going to fit the festival's demographic very well. Not at all, more like. I'm pretty sure my attitude to the beers on offer was unique amongst the attendees. For I had a very simple plan: drink cask beer by the pint.
Let me explain why that wasn't as reactionary as it might sound. The two British breweries present - Fynes Ales and Thornbridge - brew some pretty decent stuff. Especially in cask form, and they'd both brought several with them. I like cask beer. Love it. I'm not going to apologise for that. I know it's trendy to sup craft keg nowadays, but there's something about cask no other form of beer can replicate. That soft, enticing drinkability. One pint makes you lust for another. And another. It never gets tired, tiring or dull as long as your legs are still up to their job and your lunch isn't threatening a return. Fun and easy to drink -what could beat that?
I don't get to drink cask beer very often. Amsterdam's only regular cask outlet is Wildeman and, let's be honest, they're a bit clueless as how to handle it. They keep the firkin somewhere too cold, then plonk it on the bar when they want to serve it. Pretty much guaranteed to produce a pint that's hazy and lacking condition. I've just about given up on it. Especially as it costs 7 or 8 euros a pint. Which leaves trips to the UK my only chance to drink cask. Three or four times a year. That's how often I can drink my favourite drink. Not much. I'll struggle to knock back a couple of hundred more pints of it in my lifetime. Now there's a depressing thought.
|Note all the beards|
With the brewers manning the stalls, I was sure there would be no quality problems. Poor handling is cask's Achilles heel. An idiot can turn the best beer in the world into a foul mess. Then again, and this is one of the big points in cask's favour, the opposite is also true. Handled by an expert, the dullest beer in the world can shine and sing. With cask you really can polish a turd.
Sadly neither brewery had brought a Mild with them. Or a Burton. Fyne Ales did have a dark four-and-a-bit ABV dark beer (Vital Spark) that could possibly have been hammered into the Mild category, if you ignored the New World hops. But it didn't fool me, pleasant as it was.
I did make a few notes. A very few notes. Not really enough to have been worth the bother. Sitting next to Beer Nut, a very dilligent note-taker, highlighted what a rubbish job I was doing. He was also being much wider in his choice of beers than me. In comparison, I was an amateurish bumbler, sticking to just a handful of beers.
This festival report is a bit like my festival experience. Narrow, incomplete and
* Bizarrely, I recognised one American from his BeerAdvocate avatar, a picture of himself and his Dutch girlfriend. I would have introduced myself, but what would have been the point? "Hello, I'm the shouty Englishman who annoys Americans on the interweb."