Ah, the BBC Good Food Show. This pageant of gluttony has become a bit of a family tradition for Pip of ICIP; the annual pilgrimage to the NEC in Birmingham a signal that Christmas is nearly upon us.
Typically, this joyous occasion is a day for lusting after kitchen appliances we can’t afford (we’re looking at you, Thermomix), trying to avoid people dragging around those old-lady wheeled shopping bags, and eating a lot of cheese samples. The fact that the night after the show Pip had a dream about her sister trimming Joaquin Phoenix’s toe hair is testament to this epic cheese consumption (really).
This year there was an extra little treat in store – CAMRA were sponsoring a series of events under the banner of the Great British Beer Experience, and ICIP was lucky enough to grab tickets for a tutored tasting by Jeff Evans, Inside Beer founder and author of CAMRA’s Good Bottled Beer Guide.
We took our seats, excited by the list of five upcoming brews we would be trying. The beers started light with a golden ale and worked up to an much heavier oak-aged speciality brew. A quick glance around the tables showed that there were around 17 women to 46 men taking part in the tasting, which was better than expected (if still a bit lame).
Jeff began by giving any novices a quick rundown of where beer comes from and how it is made while the CAMRA team filled our first glass. We were a bit taken aback when he began describing the different ways beer could be kept – and damned anything kept in a keg as lacking depth of flavour and quality. This was a bit of a disappointing generalisation, but given CAMRA’s general hostility to “craft beer” perhaps we shouldn’t have been too surprised.
Unperturbed, we got stuck into our first beer, Cheddar Ales’ Bitter Bully (4%). The tasting notes for this golden ale described grapefruit and floral aromas, although we were only able to detect the latter despite the treble whammy of Simcoe, Cascade and Amarillo hops. Despite not packing much on the nose, Bitter Bully was light and fresh with a satisfyingly bitter aftertaste. All in all, a good session beer.
Next up was Little Valley’s Hebden’s Wheat (4.5%), a Belgian-style wheat beer with Hallertauer and Hersbrucker hops. This beer had a sweet clovey, bubblegum nose, and the sweetness really carried through into the taste. Mild whilst retaining that sour finish familiar to wheat beers, this one really divided opinion across the group – including Pip’s mum who poured all of her portion into Pip’s glass. OH WHAT A SHAME.
Bristol Beer Factory have been an ICIP favourite since we first discovered them at a beer festival at the Old Tobacco Factory in Bristol a few years ago, so we were very excited to see their name next on the list with their Southville Hop IPA (6.5%). Packed with IPA favourites Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe, this beer reeked of that classic “craft beer smell” – citrus and pine; hops coming out of the wazoo. The aroma was really fantastic, and the beer had a sharp bite backed up with a decent malty body. This brew was dry-hopped, giving that lingering bitter finish. Tasty.
By this point Pip was gagging for a dark beer, so you can imagine her joy when our glasses were filled with Wye Valley Brewery’s Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout (4.6%). This ruby stout had a rich, toasty, chocolatey nose, and backed it up with a rounded, smooth coffee flavour. Liquid pudding and after dinner coffee rolled into one. Heaven. You simply cannot beat a good stout.
We ended with a bit of a treat – Fuller’s Brewer’s Reserve Number 4, a speciality oak-aged beer coming in at a hefty 8.5%. This beer was aged in armagnac brandy casks and had a serious spirity aroma that nearly stripped your nose hairs (in a good way). Despite the booziness there were tantalising notes of raisin and vanilla. My friends, this beer smelled like Christmas. The beer itself had that firey warmth you get from a brandy or whisky, with just a whispered memory of the plain old beer it once was. Pretty amazing – wouldn’t like to try drinking a whole bottle of it, mind, for fear of losing the entire holiday season in a drunken haze.
All in all, a good session with a really interesting mix of beers. Despite the keg hostility (has this man never tried Kernel Export Stout on keg?!), Jeff’s talk was really interesting and we enjoyed hearing his tips for tasting beers and what the different elements of the beer brought to both aroma and flavour.
There was plenty more beer to be had at the NEC that day, and amongst others we visited stalls run by Purity (we really love UBU!), Hop Back, Kingstone Brewery (Jingle Porter is a thing of beauty), and Thwaites. Pip was especially pleased to see Thwaites as she tried the sublime 13 Guns at Nicholson’s Autumn Beer festival last month and had since taken delivery of a bottle of both that and Big Ben in her latest Beer52 box. Sadly, on approaching the stall to procure samples for Mr Pip, the salesman on the stall would neither look at nor talk to her, and only made eye contact with the husband despite his repeated assertions that “my wife says this beer is really good”, “yes, my wife recommended this”, “MY WIFE FRICKIN’ LOVES BEER GODDAMMIT”.
Luckily the Thwaites man acknowledged Pip’s existence just in time to prevent her swiping all the bottles on his tasting table into her handbag and running away with them cackling manically.
Baby steps, guys. Baby steps.