This weekend was the Champions Beer Festival at the Red Lion in Isleworth, which I consider practically my local. Even when there’s not a festival on, this pub has at least 7 guest taps that are ever changing, and the women behind the bar know their stuff and are always happy to recommend something based on beer you already like.
Walking in, it was hard to know that there was a beer festival on. There were no banners or signs leading people to the small outer cellar where all the casks were arrayed. In fact, when I was sitting at the bar a woman asked what ciders were on and the guy behind the bar looked bewildered and then told her “Only Strongbow.” I had to butt in and tell her to go in the back where they had three different kinds. After she left the bar hand turned to me and joked, “You made me look bad.” But did he not know there was a festival on?
A man and his two sons came up and squinted at the taps and kind of looked around. When we told them there was a room full of casks in the back worth checking out the old guy said, “You’ve been here for a while have you?” and the younger ones repeated what we said in American accents. I suppose we amused them. (In London, talking to strangers is mistaken for drunkeness. Or being from nutterville.)
I confess I actually didn’t drink any of the featured “Champions” from the GBBF and went straight to the Proper Job, after having read about it on Boak and Bailey. While not as sparkly as I had hoped it was lovely in its hoppy spice. I starting thinking about hops, and how for the longest time I associated very hoppy beers with something medicinal or astringent. I have gradually learned to like them. The first time I ever saw a hop was at my brewer friend Bob’s– he and Edie were having a tasting and they’d strung garlands of hops around. The smell was really comforting and herby and they were beautiful. Now that I knew what they looked like they didn’t scare me as much. And then I realized that different hops have different flavours, and the key was finding the ones you liked. I love estery hops but still can’t abide anything too piney…don’t think I ever will.
And speaking of estery– my favourite was probably Derventio’s Cleopatra Fruit, recommended to me by the woman behind the bar with Cleopatra eyes, no less. It had apricots in the nose and throughout the palate but it was actually quite dry.
Mr Malting of course stuck with milds. The Bateman’s was forgettable. The Martian Mild, which Wayland claimed was “used as a coolant by the Martian War Machines on Mars” was sweet and sour, not unlike some kind of candy we had as children. We concluded that Martian war technology must be cooled by Werther’s Originals. Still, it was a good beer– made even better by the sense of marketing absurdity.
The standout of the milds was the Hobson’s classic. Roasty, roasty comforting and still light. I had a half pint of it myself.
I regret not having a full pint of Old Scatness– a beer I loved at the GBBF. But I thought I should try new things. Interestingly, there were absolutely no disappointments, unless you count the band, who took over 40 minutes with a sound check. There was an accordian, a fiddle, a mandolin and a stand up bass…our interest was piqued and we waited. And waited while their fussing began to squash any potential joy they might make once they got around to making it.
More entertaining was the Red Lion’s gregarious Pomeranian, Eddie. I’ll forgive the band and the lack of signage. With a dog as cute as Eddie, and knowledgeable women behind the bar, plus not a single dud in the line up (at least of what I tried), this festival was a winner.