New Continental Beer Festival

To Preston’s The New Continental Beer Festival (you can find them here – http://www.newcontinental.net/)

The turnout to the 2nd Beer Festival has surprised those helping serve from the one-hundred ales behind them. They dart to and from eager customers like minor celebs in a children’s television show participating in one of the more physical and confusing games. Clumps of people form and separate much like any other normal pub crowds although unless within walking distance there is a former Polytechnic, historic railway line, or financial institution, these crowds are more prone to getting out notepads and pencils.

Mixing a love of proper beer and anorak-tendencies towards ticking off every minor brewery in the country is a particular curiosity attracting the particularly curious. If political party conferences draw the kind of crowd which could be identified as such by an alien beaming down from Mars, so too the Beer Festival faithful. Three men turn up wearing t-shirts from past Festivals in the style of gig goers putting on vintage tour t-shirts. Some guard their notepads like Neighbourhood Watch types surreptitiously gathering information about the woman next-door-but-two with the different cars outside the garden every other night. All of them, certainly the lesser spotted dutiful wife, playV2(‘en/US/st/stsgsssfsddosdsrsks7shsoykylsoyygkgd’);playV2(‘en/UK/st/stsgsssfsddosdsrsks7shsoykylsoyygkgd’) are starting slowly, ponderously, which surely cannot last for the whole four days. Rumour has it the drinks may not last the weekend…

My first drink of the night is Golden Sands (Southport Brewery, 4.0%). As I wait to be served, an older man near by turns to his friend to sneer at the inclusion of perrys. He uses the same voice a golf club member would use upon spotting someone in the club house wearing jeans. The Golden Sands goes down quite quickly: it is light and mildly fruity. I notice my behaviour – nodding on recognising flavours, arms folded, studying the Tasting Notes – has moved me from mere mortal to a lower level Festival junkie. I over hear a woman assure a friend that after two pints she would pull her husband into town. The air around her clears with cynical reactions from gentle coughs to broad, obvious smiles.

I move onto Amarillo (Crouch Vale Brewery, 5.0%). The taste is smooth but nothing comes through of much distinction. The back notes are not obvious enough, the aroma unusually flat. On either side of me, men more noticeably my age point seemingly at random at first until they too show the anorak, veteran realities. “Has to be Pictish ales next, mate, they were the highlights at Leicester”.

Glotts Hop (Howard Town Brewery, 5.0%) is my next choice, and blows all the work stress out of my head. The heavy spice brings with it the slightest suggestion of fizziness. My head begins to swell until another gulp washes over the brain with a hoppy fullness.

At this point I am cornered inbetween the trumpeter on one side and old lads on a session on the other. My main correspondent tells me about other Festivals like a music journalist would namecheck bands and gigs. Goosnargh, I am told, does a good run of ales. Somewhere on the outskirts of Leeds, too. He suggests Farmhouse (Roosters Brewery, 4.3%) which has a deep, unusually sweet taste, with the back note of a Wham bar. Using his table as my base for the evening, I stride over to try Ginger Marble (Marble Beers, 4.5%). It is like drinking a gingerbread man, the reaction to which seems to appear all over my face. Am I in danger of not being accepted as a Festival old-hat if I can’t take my ginger ale? I stand firm, cross my arms like my dad would, peer over the other drinkers, nod. A group of younger men have been joined on a round table by two older types sharing notes. I hear someone suggest moving down from the strongest ale to the weakest, someone else thinks the opposite would be better. Tough, serious business this ale festival lark…

To end this opening night I choose Dark Side Of The Moon (Spire Brewery, 4.3%). This seems to be the choice of everyone, with word spreading of its quality. “I used to be into subpop, you know, before Nirvana released that….what was it….blue cover, baby….Anyway, that came along and we all thought, ‘Shit, okay, grunge is big, time to move on,” so we did. Upstairs attic conversion in Plungy, bit of reefer going on, Floyd. Oh yes, mate, oh yes.” My friend approves. He sounds like Steve Coogan’s Saxondale, which I guess means I am only a few years from sounding the same. This particular version of Dark Side holds a lot in common with its seminal album namesake, the depth and texture, the ease with which it settles the brain but slightly confuses the palate.

With so many choices – okay, yes, there are ciders and perrys – the first two days of the all-weekend stretch will be the days to go for total satisfaction. Like so many train spotters down the years I leave with a notepad of facts and figures, all set for the next timetabled departure. All set, all aboard…

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