Sunday, 6 December 2009

Pig's Ear Beer + Cider Festival

270 Mare Street
London E8 1HE

To the East End, for my second ever beer festival (the first having been stumbled upon during a Deliverance-style canoeing expedition in rural Herefordshire a couple of summers ago). The Pig's Ear (Cockney rhyming slang for beer, innit) is an annual event organised by a local branch of CAMRA.

Rocking up on Saturday afternoon, the fifth and final day, we soon realised many of the drinks advertised in the programme had been drunk already. First lesson learned: while music festivals save the best acts til last, beer festivals work differently.

Having bought our branded Pig's Ear pint glasses for £3 each (refundable on return), our group set to work on the dozens of real ales, cider and foreign beers still available. Fortunately, while the only measures were pints or halves, ‘tasting’ before buying was encouraged, so in theory no one had to end up with something they hated.

My first choice - recommended by one of the many knowledgeable stewards manning the mile-long real ale bar after I requested "something light" - turned out to be my favourite of the day.

Castle Rock's Harvest Pale (3.8%), brewed in Nottingham, was light and flavourful at the same time. A golden colour (pictured) and, as I think they say in these situations, citrussy, grassy and slightly hoppy.

Fearing my taste for light ales might be considered unadventurous by the committed real ale drinkers in the house, I moved on to some more ‘challenging’ brews to show my willingness.

An hour or so after we arrived our group of four expanded to seven, and since everyone was willing to share, a lot of sampling was done.

Our amateurish tasting notes included the following:

Springfield Medium Dry (Monmouthshire, 8.2%) – “Tastes better than it smells.”
Rosie Rampant Ram Whisky Barrel (Denbighshire, 7.2%) – “Christmassy - contains real whisky!”
CJs Medium Dry (Monmouthshire, 6%) – “Slightly carbonated, appley.”
Rosie DDD (Denbighshire, 6.6%) – “Very dry, very little apple taste.”
Sarah’s (Herefordshire) – “Uncloudy.”

Foreign Beers
Schlenkerla Märzen Very Smoky Lager (German, 5.1%) - "Sausage infused." (pictured below)
Lambic Cantillon Gueuze (Belgian, 5%) - "DISgusting."
Girardin Framboise (Belgian, 5%) - "Aaack."
Ij Scharrel Ij Wit (Dutch, 7%) - "Yummy wheat beer."
Mikkeller Big Bad Barley Wine (Danish, 12%) – “Heavy and syrupy.”
Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper (Danish, 10.2%) – “Santa should get another helper.”

Draught Beers
Bollington Dinner Ale (Cheshire, 4.3%) – “Better with dinner?”
Brewdog 77 Lager (Scotland, 4.9%) – “Pretty tasty.”
Brodie’s Amarilla (East London, 4.2%) – “Yeah, okay.”
Castle Rock Harvest Pale (Nottingham, 3.8%) – “Really tasty, light.”
Teignworthy Real Ale (Devon, 4%) – “Watery, bland.”
Stonehenge Pigswill (Salisbury, 4%) – “Light and mild.”
TSA Scotch Mist Wheat Beer (Scotland, 5%) – “Fruity, flowery, herbaceous.”
Grainstore Phipps IPA (Rutland, 4.2%) – “I’m ready to leave now.”

What an afternoon. We left after four hours and many beers and rewarded our efforts with a Turkish meat feast to soak up the booze.

Admittedly, despite trying to expand my beer horizons, I came away with my preference for drinkable pale ales intact. A steward described one of the full-bodied German beers as “more admired than enjoyed”, which I think neatly sums up many we tried. While I don’t mind being tested when I’m tasting, I prefer to be delighted when I’m drinking.


  1. I would like to note that the Lambic Cantillon Gueuze, which was described as "lemony" in the brochure, is actually so acidic it was the worst beer we had all day. It even beat the surprisingly sour Girardin Framboise. Ugh.

  2. Cheeky shit. "Deliverance-style" indeed...

  3. I may have dreamt this, Dave, but didn't some guy at that stumbled-upon beer fest actually play this tune...
    ...on a BANJO, shortly after we'd finished a day's CANOEING? I mean, with all due respect to the people of Herefordshire, is it even possible to get any more Deliverance than that, without killing a man?