Real ale festivals, there’s only really two ways to approach them. Firstly, you can get roaringly paralytic having imbibed and vomited your body weight in pongy, soupy beer and pongy, acrid cider. Secondly, you can be so overwhelmed by the quantity on offer, with no way of distinguishing between any of it, that you instantly leave, sobbing into your hog-roast. Given the niceness of the city, Editor Daniel and I hoped a third way would be possible at the Winchester real ale festival.
Don’t get me wrong, real ale can be lovely. However, in saying that I feel a bit like I’m justifying Hitler. An awfully large amount of it is just stinking, repellent rubbish that has been made by people with no ability, sense of smell or taste. But when it’s good it is a marvellous drink that will engage and refresh.
I tried eight real ales at the festival and most seemed like they had not been tasted before they had been sold. When I eat or drink something I value taste and aroma and it appeared that the people who made these did not have the same values. A couple were simply anodyne, a few stank and the others were actively unpleasant. It was an awful experience.
Four things were good about the festival, they are (in order of increasing goodness):
Hartland’s Sweet cider was delicious. Fresh and fruity with enough sugar to cover the acetic edge. It was distinctly refreshing and with enough booze (5.8%) that a half pint made me a bit less depressed about the rest of the stuff I’d been sampling.
The butcher Upton’s of Bassett had a brilliant roast pork sandwich as one of the food offerings. They have excellent pig, this was clearly a pampered animal, and it had been prepared with skill. A delicious sandwich.
Dark Star’s American Pale Ale was a brilliant beer. Not at all pongy with lively hoppy bitterness and incredible refreshment value. It wasn’t too soupy and strong, just a total delight to drink and could almost have been worth the excessive amount the festival were charging for drinks. It was a really top beer.
Best of all was leaving.