The fact that the pint of loopy-juice in front of me has not been touched is either because my intake has reached dangerous levels already resulting in a rare moment of brain-sense booze wise, or the indentikit lager is offending the rediscovered love of real ales following another great day at the New Continental Beer Festival. Either snobbery or a skinful – I will take it being the former, for the sake of reputation if nothing else.
At the Continental a brightly dressed Canadian woman is enthusiastically pointing at every barrel with an increasing broad smile. “You guys are so inventive with your beers. You and the Belgians,” she laughs, knocking back a few slurps of Bishop’s Farewell (Oakham Ales, 4.6%). “Is it ‘bishop’ as in religion, or chess, you think?” she asks with a self-mocking giggle. “I don’t want people to know I can’t play chess!”. On her recommendation I try the Bishop’s, which is a SIBA National Supreme Champion Bronze Award Winner. Impressive stuff, it would seem, and it pleases the Toronto palate. This more robust Lancastrian mouth – with no offence to our colonial cousins – found it bright and friendly but the lasting taste did not match its fragrance.
While I go for the subtle and soft Santium (Pictish, 4.1%) my companion follows my recommendation from yesterday to try the potent Dark Side of the Moon. After a few sips he raises his eyebrows quite highly; “Think I will only have one of these.”
With its toffee undertones Farmhouse (Roosters Brewery, 3.9%) is an unsuspecting good find, lightly fizzy and with tangy body. Our favourite bundle of enthusiastic Canadian joy is gleeful in her recommendation of True Grit (Millstone, 5.0%) which really did surprise both my companion and me. The hearty hoppy taste merges into a thoroughly bright and sparkly grapefruit flavour, rounded off with a sour tang not too dissimilar to munching on a slice of lemon.
My companion tries Cartfold Gold (Hart Brewery, 3.6%) while I aim for Cappuchin (Brass Monkey, 4.5%). Both of these lighter pale ales are good for bringing some balance to the onslaught of heavier beers: the former is pretty anonymous but the latter kicks in with a tougher undertone. Despite the good things said by our Canadian friend we both feel disappointed by Bitter and Twisted (Harviestoun, 3.8%) a Scottish ale which is supposed to be one of the beers to try but leaves a rather underwhelming taste. The twist is supposed to be a kick of lemon but nothing seems to come through at all.
The sun is greeted with rushes to the ciders and barbecue, but in the interests of research my companion and I decide to finish with two ales coming with high recommendations – and not just from Canadians. Little Brown Jug (Spire Brewery, 4.4%) is close to Newcastle Brown Ale in colour and taste, albeit with a brown-sugar spice in the aftertaste and a quite stunning smell. “It smells…awful,” says my companion, “but if I breathe out before each taste it’s really good.”
Dark Ruby Mild (Sarah Hughes, 6.0%) was spoken about before hand as the potential winner of the best ale of the festival, so with all the originality of investigative journalism it is the last drink tried. My head throbs a bit, my eyes go a little blurred, and then I take the second slurp for a full-body shock. As a mild it is an intense and angry pint with a sweet punch that calms down in the backnotes which acts like a sparking fire.
The old-guard veterans speak of this being one of the best festivals they can remember. It certainly seems to have gone down very well, even with Canadian women, and what do they know about beer.