The splendour of the deconsecrated St Mary At The Walls church that is the Colchester Arts Centre makes for an impressive backdrop to the 30th anniversary of this celebration of beer. I only have a couple of hours so I pore over the list of 160 or so beers from 90 breweries.
Some of my choices have already sold out, but first up is a beer from the Dominion Brewery Company in Epping - The Few. It's a Pale Ale based on a recipe dating back to 1947 from a Cobbold Brewery book. I like this old style of Bitter, light at 3.6% and very easy drinking with enough bitterness from the hops to quench the thirst without being overpowering.
With May being CAMRA's Mild Month, I move on to Gannet Mild from the Earl Soham brewery in Debenham, Suffolk. At only 3.3% it's very light-bodied and has sweet liquorice notes. It’s an old-style Mild that might not be fashionable at the moment but certainly shows-off the Brewers’ skill.
Mild is one of my favourite styles of ale, so I follow-up with a Dark Mild from Bishop Nick in Braintree. At 3.7% it’s more robust and chocolaty than the Gannet but still has a very pleasing bitter finish. There’s also a nice touch of smokiness on the aftertaste that kicks in half way through the first half-pint.
Well, I'm happy to have obliged with the Mild Month theme with the Gannet and Dark Mild both giving me different takes on this unique style of beer. But before I leave the world of Milds, I would like to give honourable mention to Mighty Oak's Oscar Wilde - seek it out and give it a try - it's a former supreme beer of Britain. You won't be disappointed.
Back to the Bitters, and a small jump to 4.1% abv for a Bath Ales’ Gem. The first thing that hits me is a pleasant malt aroma that is sweet and inviting - promising something special to come. On the palate it's finely balanced between bitter and sweet, and offers a more satisfying drink than your average Bitter. Apparently this is widely available in bottles and I will be interested to compare how it compares between cask and bottle – apparently I need to look out for a running Hare on the label.
Last up from me today, and from the Dengie Peninsula in Essex, is Wibblers' Apprentice. Also inviting on the nose with sweet malt dominating, it reveals a floral character on the palate that I wasn't expecting. I suspect this comes from the herbal qualities of the Polish Marynka hops. These are usually to be found in Pilsners but are a pleasant addition to this Bitter (3.9%).
So 5 real ales sampled today and I could have gone on to drink a lot more of any one of them (only the facts that it’s during the day and I need to take things easy at the moment stopped me). Shame I missed out on the Hog Roast though, but I have to say the announcement of the availability of “dead pig in the graveyard” did nothing to stir my appetite!