So, farewell then, another JDW ‘festival’, or in their own words The World’s Biggest Real Ale and Cider Festival. (Which, considering it featured 50 beers, 8 ciders and 2 (count ’em) perries, might be considered a bit cheeky. On the other hand, the overall total floorspace was massive.)
The last time round I worked my way through about half of the card and kept detailed notes, most of which (as I mentioned earlier) are now obsolete. I didn’t see that much of it this time, for a variety of reasons, and I can’t say my socks were knocked off by much that I did have. Generally the pale beers were more distinctive and more impressive than the dark – Brewster’s American Chopper, for instance, was a nice little hop-monster, and Everard’s Whakatu was worth checking out. I was pleasantly surprised by the draught Ginger Beard, as I said earlier; less so by the American ‘craft ales’ which were prominently featured. Kalamazoo Black Silk struck me as a rather laboured and unsuccessful attempt to do something different with porter, a style which can have tremendous depths of flavour if brewed without any messing about; Odell 90 Shilling was just a bit bland, and not believable for a moment as a “beyond eighty-shilling” dark beer. Bend Eclipse dark IPA (or Cascadian Dark Ale if you prefer) was good – although, again, it was a long way from being the most extreme or emphatic example of the style I’ve had, despite it being an ‘American’ style. (That would be Buxton Black Rocks. Mmm, Buxton.)
So far so lukewarm (figuratively, I hasten to add). But there was one beer I was seriously glad to encounter: Evan-Evans’ 1767. A brown, malty Welsh bitter, and a very fine example of the style* – also, a good example of the depth, richness and complexity that an ordinary brown session bitter can deliver, if done properly. On checking out Evan-Evans I discovered that its Chief Executive is none other than Simon Buckley, whose family produced the first real ale I ever had in a pub – and one of the standards by which I’ve judged beers ever since. Simon left Buckley’s in 1984, the last of the family to be involved in the business; the company was bought out by Brain’s in 1997 and the brewery closed the following year. Evan-Evans has been in business since 2003, but it hasn’t crossed my radar till now (possibly to do with the location of my radar in Saxon territory). Belatedly, welcome back to brewing, Buckley bach.
*Is it a style? Seems pretty distinctive to me – it would probably have its own encyclopedia entry in my ideal world (“historic brewers include Felinfoel, Brains, Buckley’s (until 1997); newcomers to the style include Evan-Evans, Conwy…”).
And speaking of encyclopedias… Actually I’ve got nothing to add to the great Oxford Companion controversy, except to say that Rule 1 of evaluating an encyclopedia (or any other wide-ranging work of reference) is check what you know. It’s not so much that finding errors in the parts you know about introduces the possibility that the rest of it may also contain errors; if there are errors you can identify, the question of whether the rest of it is any good doesn’t even arise, because you can’t afford to trust it. Entries on an area you don’t know may be the kind of Pattinsonian erudition you could stake money on, or they may be as mythical as the old three-threads story: you can’t know. Pace B&B, the errors identified by Martyn, Barm and others aren’t just individual errors in an otherwise trustworthy work – they make the volume as a whole impossible to trust. Which is tragic, and I hope that the reputation of the OCB will be salvaged in a future edition – although it has to be said that the initial reaction of the Companion‘s editor wasn’t particularly hopeful in that respect. Rule 1 of responding to criticism, incidentally, is to de-personalise wherever possible: if they read your book and call you an idiot, go to the bits they’ve quoted and show, politely and patiently, that they don’t support that conclusion. (If they haven’t quoted anything, point that out and let readers draw their own conclusion.) Sadly, Garrett Oliver’s response to Martyn’s criticisms – which focused entirely on the text of the OCB – took precisely the opposite tack: he inferred that only a dishonest idiot would make the kind of mistakes Martyn had pointed out and took umbrage at being called a dishonest idiot, before proceeding to attack Martyn personally. Really not useful.