Amateur Night

New Year's Beers

New Year’s Eve, like Christmas Eve, is amateur night, only more so. Those people who only drink once or twice a year, who therefore haven’t put in the requisite training, come out to drink. The bars are too crowded, too many people don’t know how to get served, there’s an air of desperate fun.

And then, once oblivion has been almost reached, a long walk home through cold and ice and fog and…

I’ve done my fair share of New Year’s Eves and, whilst I often fear we jinx each year, the thought that the hangover on 1 January marks the point from which things can only get better is not reassuring.

I have in a Angels and Demon’s Racing Tiger 4.2%, a Gaddis Black Pearl Oyster Stout 6.2%, a Canterbury Belgo Russian Imperial Stout 9.1% and a ‘t Kolleke Jheronimus 7%, with Crème de Cassis, sloe gin and a run of whiskies if that doesn’t do the trick.

And nibbles. And the bedside lamp already on.

There’ll Be Blue Anchors Over…

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I spent last Friday morning reading articles on extreme episodic drinking before going to get drunk in a much more respectable way in Dover.

I suspect the last time I went to Dover was for last year’s White Cliffs Festival of Winter Ales, one as I recall was delayed in getting to by teaching commitments. And I think I went to the one before that — but it gets a little fuzzy. The sales pitch of the festival is that all of the beers are 5% or more when I guess the majority of ones we drink are between 3.7% and 4.5%. In other words, a number of them are twice the strength of session drinking.

Festivals take a bit of working out how to work — often you pay to get in, you pay a deposit of a pint glass and you pay money for tokens. At the Kent Beer Festival there’s a variable price per pint, between £3 and £4 typically, so the tokens come in £1, 20p and 10p combinations, typically leaving you with loose paper. The price tends to reflect the ABV — the stronger the beer, the higher the price. Dover, on other hand, charges £1.50 a half, allowing a chance to try more beer. At CAMRA organised festivals I’ve been to, CAMRA members get in for free, but there’s still a queuing up. Last year I had a big of trouble as the senior citizen on the welcome desk didn’t seem to know what I wanted, but eventually I was given my entry card. Then you have to go to the other end of the row of barrels to pick up tokens and a glass — here it was £9 for a glass and four tokens, but you can then buy additional glasses.

The festival is held in the Maison Dieu, a clearly ancient building that has been a hospital and a town hall, and from our point of view has a long space with tickets, barrels, food, folk music and some circulation space, and a bigger room with four long tables and about twelve round tables. At one end is the CAMRA tombola where an annoying horn is sounding every time a win is achieved and a bookstall.

But that is to get ahead of ourselves.

First you need beer.

Some festivals publish a list of beers ahead of time, but this isn’t one of them, and you’ve only just got the details. Each barrel is labelled, and it takes a while to work out what’s what. Here the beers are alphabetical by brewery, aside from all the Kent beers that are under K and Sarah Hughes is under H. (This does make sense, as many brewers are named for the family, but drop the first name.) You want a beer — but you are aware of the room filling up and the need to get served.

At this point I panic.

I noted a couple of Mordue, their IPA and their Pandazilla, both of which I’ve had in bottle form and preferred the Pandazilla. It would be interesting to try on draft, although of course it’s 7%.
Tactically I always feel it’s best to start with a lower percentage and work up — partly it’s a sense of limbering up, partly a sense of trying to control the intoxication (and this is lunch time drinking, don’t forget) and partly that the lower ABVs taste deceptively watery after 7%.
And frankly I think Pandazilla is better in a bottle — or perhaps was being poured wrong in the south, although barrels are I’m assuming less different than hand pumps with or without sparklers.

So, having found a table, and joined by a couple of strangers with which there could be some random chat, I perused the list and became more cautious. Derby Old Intentional, Sarah Hughes Sedgley Surprise and Portobello American Pale Ale were all 5%; I’ve had Derby and Portobello before and enjoyed, but these were just ok, and I’ve failed to get the Hughes before but it wasn’t great. Then a slow move up — Blue Anchor Spingo Middle (5.1%), Black Hole Cyborg (5.5% – as always a name more seductive than the beer), Beowulf IPA (7.2%) and Fyne Ales Ragnarok (7.4%).

There was a Burton Bridge Thomas Sykes (10%) but I decided to be wise.

My experience is that the stronger the beer, the sweeter it is likely to be, tending sometimes to treacle. As Steve says, these can be chutney beers. Some of the stronger beers have what I think of as a machine flavour, something chemical, in some cases even oily (a Brodie Mocha Stout had a taste of MDF; Brodie’s pale ales tend to excellent though). And I suspect that in a barrel in a room is not the best way to keep beers — have they settled enough? So whilst I had some good beers, there were no great ones.

The gents toilets — I can’t speak to the ladies — are down a flight of steps and put me in mind of a 1930s cinema. The walk is a little tedious, not to say a little dangerous, and there’s the increasing need to do so.

Looking around, you can’t help but note that the crowd is overwhelmingly male and over fifty, if not sixty. This may be the fact of it being an afternoon session — there were some student types but nit many. There were some women, but probably only one in thirty at most. I wasn’t aware of any people of colour. Certainly I’ve been to real ale and craft ale pubs where I’ve been the oldest person there, so real ale isn’t just greying, but the day time weekday session was clearly a maturer crowd.

 Last year we then went on to the Rack of Ale micropub, but I decided to go straight home and pass out. There is of course the worry that the passing out will happen before the destination station is reached; here extra fun was had by the train announcement lying about where we were. I do need to go back — there are a number of micropubs to be checked out.

Kent Beer Festival: 40 Favourite Ales

In the run up the the fortieth CAMRA Kent Beer Festival, they called for people’s nominations for favourite beers. Forty beers were chosen, and it’s an often depressing list. I’m thinking that I can probably only sample five or six pints, so there’s no point having something I could drink elsewhere. I’m also aware the poltical background to some of the breweries, so some might leave an ideological aftertaste…


Adnams: Broadside; Southwold Bitter

These are fine, but pretty universal – my objection is that I’m someone who would rather try something new. Ghost Ship is better than either of these.


Canterbury Brewery: Red Rye

I like this, but I can often get it at the mother ship, the Foundry. Do try it if you have the chance.


Black Sheep: Best Bitter

Offshoot of the Theakston’s family. It’s ok, but not great.


Brains: SA

Fairly well distributed, but I’ve never had a great pint of it


Brakspears: Bitter

And the same. From the Marston’s stable.


Bristol Beer Factory: Independence Ale

Now you’re talking. I’ve had bottles from this brewery, but I want to try this


Burning Sky: Devil’s Rest

A new-comer, from the ex-head brewer of Dark Star. For what was meant to be fairly limited, this is getting in all the good pubs. I’ll give it a miss for now. (I prefer Plateau and Aurora.)


Butcombe: Bitter

Had a pint of this last night. Likable.


Dark Star: Hophead

Yes, please, but perhaps over familiar.


Fullers: ESB; London Pride

Fairly universal, but the parent company’s attitude to austerity means it’d have a sour taste. The potable is political.


Goachers: Fine Light Ale; Gold Star; Real Mild Ale

I don’t get Goachers as often as I like – more west Kent? Tempting to go with the Light Ale.


Greene King: IPA

Seriously? Andy in the New Inn keeps a fine pint of this, and it’s his bestseller, but I wouldn’t pay to go to a beer festival to drink it. Plus, Greene King’s attitude to tax is … awkward.
Harveys: Sussex Best Bitter

An old fashioned beer, faitly universal in the south east.


Hopdaemon: Golden Braid; Green Daemon; Incubus; Skrimshander

I used to drink a lot of Hopdaemon, but not recently. These are all fine.


Sarah Hughes: Dark Ruby Mild

I’ve always missed this brewery when I’ve been to pubs that Perfect Pint or the GBG claim have it – very tempting but I’m not a mild fan. One for later in the evening.


Oakham: Bishop’s Farewell; Citra

I think one of the earliest Citra beers. I’d happily drink either of these.


Old Dairy Brewery: Blue Top

My first Old Dairy was a Blue Top and it wasn’t good, but I’ve had better since and better Blue Top. Tempting.


Portobello: VPA

I like these beers. VPA is great, but I’ve had it a lot recently.


Ramsgate: Gadds No 5; Gadds No 7

Fairly common round these parts – again, I’d be wasting a pint to have one but they are good.


St Austell: Proper Job; Tribute

Fairly common in the New Inn; I think I prefer the Tribute, but again, too common.


Sharps: Doom Bar

Really? Seriously? You’d buy this at a beer festival? Yawn. I’d start ranting, but save it for…


Shepherd Neame: Master Brew Bitter; Bishop’s Finger

Fifty percent of pubs in Kent and Sussex must be Sheps. If you want to drink this, stay in your local. Bishop’s Finger is the better of the two.


Skinners: Betty Stogs

People rave about it, but I guess I’m not buying into the Cornish marketing. I’ve leave it for those who appreciate it.


Timothy Taylor: Landlord

An old favourite, but I’ll pass this time.


Thornbridge: Jaipur

Tougher to get than it used to be, one of the best beers ever. Fairness would make me squint at the link from the brewer’s owner Jim Harrison to the former CEO of A4E, Emma Harrison. Tough call. I may well be swayed, but my guess is it’ll go quickly.


Tonbridge Brewery: Rustic

I don’t see Tonbridge that often; tempting.


Wantsum: Hengist

Wantsum is frustrating, a bit hit and miss. Tempting.


Whitstable: East India Pale Ale

A former regular, which I’ve not had for a while. Very tempting.


Woodfordes: Wherry

Another old-fashioned beer, but is often at the New Inn.