So! My first big beer fest of the year and we’re not even out of January. This bodes well for another boozy and varied 12 months. Manchester Beer and Cider Festival is a CAMRA event and certainly one of the biggest I’ve attended. I can class myself as a fairly experienced beer festival goer – I managed to fit in five proper ones last year – and this is probably also the most unique venue, being held in Manchester’s National Cycling Centre. When I say “in” I mean it literally; most of the bars were in the middle of the track where they hosted the Commonwealth Games, and there were plenty of athletes circling the track while we sipped our pints. It was enough to make you fell slightly dizzy and very guilty about being fat and out of shape. Quite an experience.
On to the beers. There were some 500 to choose from, from all over the UK and abroad, but with a fairly heavy focus on the North West as you might expect. First up was Black Edge’s Blonde, which, in the fine tradition of all my festival experiences, was a bit of a dud. I never start well. Very pale and even more hoppy, it had an oily texture, with little sweetness as you might expect from a blonde, and a strong, dry then very green hopped bitterness. It probably needed to be a bit colder, but even then it was just a very brutal, mono-tone beer.
Dent Station Porter was slightly better fare. Hailing from Cumbria, this fairly thin and fruity black beverage had a pleasant mix of cocoa tang and dark fruit sweetness, with little creaminess or smoke in the finish. Any charcoal flavour was very subtle. Perhaps a little weak and watery but a decent and drinkable drop.
I tried to play it safe with number three, going for Brightside’s Winter Solstice, which was described as a winter ruby. The colour was much more of a dark brown than a true red tinted chestnut, and the flavour was rather nutty, with a toffee malt sweetness. The dry and balanced hop finish blurred with the earlier flavours to leave me thinking of walnuts. I was expecting a bit more fruit if I’m honest, but certainly an interesting tipple.
Back to the black stuff for number four, with Black Band Porter from Yorkshire Brewery Kirkstall. Brave chaps to adventure this side of the Pennines, this was a proper porter, thick, oily with some subtle dark fruits before a roasted coffee middle and smoky charcoal to finish. A fairly bitter rather than sweet porter, punchy and full-bodied. Nothing special but very drinkable.
Last of the first selection was the brilliantly named Dis Functional Functional IPA from those nutters at Offbeat Brewing. I’ve had their Way Out Wheat before, but this was a rather different proposition. A dark pale beer, it has some gentle caramel sweetness to start before a prolonged, strong and almost spicy hop taste. The mild start belies the (for me) surprisingly pleasant strength of flavour to follow. Quite refreshing if unbalanced, it isn’t so strong that it wouldn’t work as a session ale.
Winter Solstice and Dent: