Sunday, 10 April 2016

The Big Bournemouth Beer Festival (2016)

25th March 2016, by Mark Gale

In its 7th year, the Bournemouth Beer Festival keeps getting bigger and better. Each Easter weekend sees the festival pop up in the Purbeck Hall at the Bournemouth International Centre (known as the BIC) and spreads itself out over the 4 day bank holiday, much to the delight of the locals who attend to sample the vast amount of beers on offer.

We first visited the festival in its 2nd year back in 2010 and although it has no doubt risen in popularity, not too much has changed in that time since our last visit – in fact one of the biggest changes since then is my own perception of beer. Like many men these days, the resurgence of the craft beer trend has led to an evolution of people’s taste buds that has taken our palettes beyond the bland and boring swill of mainstream lagers such as Fosters and Carling (absolute swill) that you used to (and still do) get in most ordinary pubs into the realm of beers of vast varieties, flavours and colours.

Why is this important? Because, when we first visited we (myself and my friend Adam) were only beginning to expand our horizons of tasting beer when we first visited, whereas these days we have a much better idea of not only what we really enjoy, but also what quality beer tastes like, so we were very interested to see how things would measure up with the benefit of added experience.

Also along for the ride were Claire, Jess and Mike – who would admit to being on the other side of the coin and not the biggest beer drinkers; but considering the range on offer were willing to come give plenty of it a go! What was good about this was we were all interested in trying different things, so it often meant we were insistent on letting others try what we’d ordered so we could experience as much of the taste as possible!

So here’s a running order of the beers I sampled on the day:

Pre-event: Brooklyn Lager

As a warm-up we stopped by the local Wetherspoons (Moon in the square), where I had one of my current favourites, Brooklyn Lager. A strong, 5.2% lager that I’ve really grown to like this over the year; both before and after trying it in New York. It may be a lager, but it’s a lot more complex with a deeper, bitter taste but is still refreshing. Big fan of this and love the bottle design too.

During the event

1: Beast (Dark ale, 6.6% by Exmoor)

Beautifully complex, plenty of flavour dancing around your tongue. I loved this dark ale and it felt like a stout that was a lot lighter. If I wasn’t so interested in trying others, I would’ve had this all night and will definitely seek this out again as it was my favourite of the night!

2: Sunchaser (Blonde, 4% by Everards)

Claire’s choice as she didn’t want something too heavy. Problem was that even she felt this was too far in the opposite direction. This was a very drinkable beer, problem was there honestly wasn’t much to talk about with the flavour as it was very plain. Advertised as ‘lightly-hopped’; perhaps a few more hops are in order here!

3: Red Dragon (Red ale, 4.5% by Great Orme)

I enjoy red and ruby ales as they offer something different; in this case it was a very fruity bitter (yes, it’s possible!) which I wasn’t expecting. Nice, but I’ve had far better reds.

4: Captain Pigwash (Porter, 5% by Potbelly)

Claire’s choice and a surprising one for her as I wouldn’t expect her to like a porter. The description included chocolate and ‘crystal’ malts (?) and wasn’t something I enjoyed.  Maybe the combo of the flavours involved isn’t for me, but I couldn’t quite grasp what on earth was going on with this one as it didn’t sit well with me and left a very weird taste in my mouth. Strangely, Claire loved it and declared it as her favourite of the night!

5: East Street Cream (Bitter, 5% by RCH)

Although mainly sampling half-pints, I was certainly getting a bit full at this point. Next up was this bitter which tempted me with its promise of both bitter and sweet in one go and that's exactly what comes across. This was really satisfying on the pallet and along with a nuttiness was something you could happily have more of - perhaps another time after not so many full bodied beers already!

6: Ripper (Belgian Tripel, 8.5% by Green Jack)

I'm a huge fan of Belgian tripel's but other countries attempts often fall very wide of the mark. Not in this case though. I was really pleasantly surprised with this as it had all the usual notes of a tripel but still had a distinctive twist that kept it firmly in the realm of other ales. There's far better of course, but this was a very good attempt.

What's the event like itself?

The atmosphere is brilliant; laid back but also suitably livelier as time goes on with a band playing. The festival appears every Easter bank holiday and sees countless visitors and you can see why, because for £7.50 a ticket and very reasonable prices for the beers on offer, you certainly feel you get value for money. Everyone also receives a memento glass to drink out of during the night, which is a great souvenir to take home from the night.

You start the night by booklets of beer vouchers, which you use to purchase beers - as some are pricier than others (often down to the strength) - and we were over zealous as we eventually ended up selling our booklet on as we didn't need anywhere near the amount we bought!

One thing I couldn't help but notice was that most of the beers on offer were all in the realm of ale, which isn't necessarily a problem, but I can't help but think the organisers could either invite suppliers that have a more varied range of beers, or make it a bit clearer about what the majority of beers are like. Take nothing away from it though, we all had a really good time, but it was partly down to our success in finding a table - if you're stood up in a massive hall all night you may feel differently!

So final verdict? Give it a go obviously! What was clear was that even if you aren't the biggest fan of beer, there's so much to try that it's worth a go just to be adventurous and those we were with still had a great time, whereas those of us who are closer to connoisseurs had a great time - with all that's on offer you can't fail to have a great time trying them all!

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