Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cambrige Winter Cask Ale Festival

It was a little daunting walking into the packed room, as there was almost no room to move between the crowd. I have to admit I'm not too fond of crowds, so I was getting a little ansy. But my resolve held, and I forced my way toward the bar. For I was here at my very first CAMRA cask ale festival in the UK, and nothing was going to stop me at this point. I waited about 5 minutes to be served, at which point I randomly selected a half of Bartram's Marld.
Long story short: I had a great time. However, I wasn't terribly impressed by most of the beers I had... Now before I get murdered, let me qualify the second claim, after which I will make the short story long.

I said that I wasn't impressed by most of the beers that I had. Thats not to mean that there were no good beers there, its just that bad luck and bad timing resulted in me not getting to drink them. We arrived around 16:45 on the very last day of the festival, and at this point a lot of casks were empty. I assume that word spread about the best beers and those ran out quickly. One point against me for timing.
Second point against me... while we had a beer menu, it really was like shooting for fish while ordering a half of beer. I'd hear about a good one, or read something on the menu that I liked, but by the time I got a chance to order it was already out. So I'd end up ordering whatever was still on. Sometimes that didn't work out so well. Not that I really had any BAD beers, I just didn't have anything that really stuck out as awesome.

I do recall later in the night having one that did stick out as quite nice, that being Rhymney Dark from Merthyr Tydfil, Mid Glamorgan. Like I said, it was later in the night. But I had just finished an unfortunate bout of a couple of halves of heavier beers, and this at 4% abv was quite a nice change. Not only that, it was a nice easy to drink dark beer (I stop short of saying it was a stout or a porter, it was just a nice dark beer). I wish I was able to try a full pint, but alas, when I went to buy the round they were out. I instead ordered a full pint of some 7% dark beer that I can't recall nor find on my beer menu, but it was acceptable, even if it did reduce my sobriety quite a bit.
Upstairs bar
The first beer of the night was pretty decent as well: Bartrams Marld from Ipswitch, Suffolk. While I didn't take specific notes on this beer either, I recall it being a solid English bitter. Quite a bit of hop flavour if I recall correctly... and I do know at the end I was a little put off actually by some flavour unfortunately. I had trouble placing it, it didn't last into the aftertaste (which gave my mouth that lovely hoppy taste I love). I really liked it at first, I don't know what happened at the end there.

Now I know I'm being quite a horrible beer reporter by not taking notes on each beer I drink. Fact is I was concentrating on socialization for the night, really. I was there to have fun, and like I said, nothing really stuck out as unique and better than any beer in recent memory (I'm sure I'll get a few comments to the effect of "what the bloody hell are you talking about, there was X and Y and Z you wanker!" but lets not forget that I didn't try (or have the chance to try) most of the beer there).
Downstairs Casks
I had headed down from Edinburgh to Cambridge with my friend and co-brewing-student Simon, not only to drink beer, but to also visit my friends Melissa and Jon as well as see the beautiful city again. We arrived at the beer festival at quarter to five or so. After a couple of beers we mozied downstairs to see the sights. The fun of the evening really started up when my small female companion, Melissa, managed to squeeze her way into a small table. I came over and joined for awhile, happy to have a place to rest for awhile. Its at this point that we met Valerie, Mike, Bruce, and Kevin. Valerie was also from Canada visiting Mike but moving on soon. Mike was a postdoc doing... something I unfortunately forget. Bruce was a pig farmer and sausage maker from somewhere near wales. And Kevin was ... seemingly a decent bloke I never got much chance to talk to, other than try his good dry cider he had found. All around, a great fun crowd to add to ours.
High Five
The night carried on as nights do with new friends; the beer flowing, the conversation changing from the mundane slowly toward the ridiculous. The cameras come out and an outrageous amount of digital film is 'wasted'. I have many other cool photos beyond what I've publicly displayed on my flickr set, but I tend not to publish photos of people I know without their permission. The whole night really reminded me of how things worked when I backpacked around Europe in 2003... there are friends everywhere, you just need to meet them and drink a few beers. Beer as the great socializer.
Eventually my memories of the night become hazy, which makes it hard to relay the information of what happened...

I think we left the event around 8:30 pm or so, with most of the beer being gone by this point besides beers > 7.5%. As much as I'd like to try them, I don't think I could handle much more at that point.

My friend and I had a pint at a pub on the way back, after which I intended to write my girlfriend back in Canada a nice long love e-letter like I often do while in that state, but after laying down I realized that getting up was not an option.

In the end, it was a hell of a time. In the next installment: my 7 hr walk around Cambridge and the photos I took while doing that.
(Yep, thats me!)
In the end, I fell like ass the next day, but not too bad.


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