|Beer on Broadway 2006|
And the winner is...
Report on the Beer on Broadway Festival, May 2006
by John Wilmott
If, amongst the dizzying array of cocktails, alchopops and re-invented spirits, beer has something of an image problem, then �Real Ale' arguably suffers most of all. So, is it all �beards & sandals'? Well, an initial glance around the �Beer on Broadway' festival suggests that there's still more than a hint of that about.
But, in these days of �organic' awareness and the insistence on �real' ingredients in everything, it's surprising that there's not more general interest in finding out just what goes into the 2 billion pints of beer consumed in the UK each year.
For Ealing's seventeenth festival, besides a huge array of T-shirts, tankards and other �beerabilia�, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) had assembled over 140 real beers, some local, many from further afield, so that you could do just that.
The term �real' refers to beer brewed from traditional ingredients (malted barley, hops, water & yeast) which, after initial fermentation at the brewery, is put into casks, where it's matured by secondary fermentation, and served, direct, without the addition of carbon dioxide. It's this �secondary fermentation' that gives the beer its distinctive flavour, character and style.
And there's certainly a range styles, from milds and bitters, through golden beers, best bitters, pale ales and strong ales, to porters and stouts. It's almost impossible to try everything in one night� (unless, of course, you're particularly dedicated, and haven't got work in the morning). But at a festival like this you don't have to taste many before you find something you really like, something you'll remember the name of, and look out for in future.
Which, for the brewers, is the point of festivals like �Beer on Broadway'. So many small independents are fighting to get their beers served to customers in a marketplace dominated by a few large brewers. For the little guys, winning prizes, establishing a following, and thus demonstrating �saleability', are what it's all about.
Lucky enough to be invited onto the panel this year, I judged �milds'. Traditionally a thirst slaker for those in heavy manual work, mild was for those who needed something they could sink four or five pints of at the end of a shift, without falling over too much. Not a great seller these days, especially in the South, because there are plenty of chemically enhanced thirst quenchers around, and because no-one after that anaesthetic alcohol �buzz' wants to drink a gallon of liquid to find it.
After tasting the first few, I'd have said they had their work cut out, but then we tasted Westerham Brewery's �Finchcock's Original� � full of flavour, a really refreshing summer drink, and at only 3.5% ABV you could down quite a few and still hold your own in even the politest conversation.
We moved on to strong bitters, more familiar territory for me, but still the difference across the range was surprising, inviting diverse judgements from �phenomenal� (rather good) to �phenolic� (very, very bad). The quality of local offerings, from Fullers (Golden Pride) and Twickenham Fine Ales (Daisy Cutter), was encouragingly high, though in terms of a winner, we were fairly unanimous.
The Milds� Westerham's �Finchcock's Original� (Gold)
West Berkshire 's �Maggs' Magnificent� (Silver)
Oakleaf's �Maypole Mild� (Bronze)
The Strongs� Ringwood �Old Thumper� (Gold)
Triple FFF �Little Red Rooster� (Silver)
Ramsgate �Gadds' No.3� (Bronze)
And the Festival's supreme winners were�
Surrey Hills �Shere Drop� (Gold)
Oakleaf �Hole Hearted� (Silver)
Surrey Hills � Ranmore Ale� (Bronze)
The festival will be over by the time you read this (actually, most of the winning beers were gone before the end of the first night�) but don't let that stop you. Go exploring. You might not find much on the Broadway itself, but for a good range of independently brewed beer try The Red Lion, St Mary's Road, which always has five real ales available, or The Ealing Park Tavern, in South Ealing , which boasts an archive of 60 ales. The Fox, by the canal in Hanwell, if you can find it, is also very good, as are many others. For a truly unreconstructed night of beer indulgence though, if you're prepared to slip quietly over the border of the traditional Lammas patch, try the Magpie & Crown in Brentford, opposite the magistrates court. A great selection of guest beers, some good Thai food and an ambience that gets you wondering whether you could still squeeze into that old Motorhead tour T-shirt. As a bonus, the E2 will whisk you from just outside the front door, back up into Ealing in less than ten minutes, saving you from having to stagger back across the busy A4!
So, for the new beer adventurer, it's just a case of �Go out and find one you really like!'. And remember, if you don't, these beers will eventually disappear and we'll all end up having to wind down over a couple of vodka Red Bulls, and then where will we be? As my favourite festival T-shirt observed astutely�
�Beer. Because you can't solve the world's problems over a spritzer.�