For some reason, our French teacher at school was particularly keen to teach us the phrase l’embarras de choix – “having too many to choose from”. I remember my friend saying that grammar tests were going to start taking a different format – “I will have had too many to choose from; you (singular) will have had too many to choose from; he or she will have had too many to choose from” et ainsi de suite. Well, it was funny at the time.
The phrase has never left me, though, and I was forcibly reminded of it when I visited the Velopark for the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. Last year I arrived on the last day, when beer was getting thin on the ground, and still had an excellent session. This year, arriving much earlier on, I had… what’s the phrase I’m looking for…? My usual routine at a beer festival is to get a half of the first thing that catches my eye, then do a quick circuit of the bars, see if anything else catches my eye, and sit down and work my way through the programme. This year I hardly looked at the programme – I didn’t need to: by the time I’d been once round the bars in the centre of the arena I had an absolute must-have wish-list five beers long (Magic Rock! Ticketybrew! St Feuillien!). And then there were the bars on the concourse, which I only reached later on (Conwy! Fuller’s!).
The beer list was, frankly, stupendous. Tremendously varied, too – when I did take a look at the programme I noticed that the style key included a number of abbreviations I hadn’t seen before: alongside the familiar ‘Sp’ (special, which can mean just about anything) were ‘Sa’ (saison) and ‘So’ (sour). There were quite a few of my favourite styles, too – BW, OA and SM (strong mild) – and when I say ‘quite a few’ I mean ‘too many’. At least, too many to choose from. My only regret is not being able to have another session there and work my way through some of the obscurer beers & breweries – there was that much good stuff, I couldn’t fit many new discoveries in.
Lessons had been learnt from last year, particularly on the seating front – the organisers had bowed to the inevitable and put out quite a lot of chairs and tables in the centre, while also diverting traffic onto the concourse by locating some of the bars up there. It worked: things were getting fairly busy by the time I left, but I don’t recall seeing anyone sitting on the floor. There were some changes on the food front, as well; I was a bit disappointed when I first realised that there wasn’t a summat-and-chips option, but the Japanese noodle bar rose to the occasion by selling portions of sauté potatoes. Which were very nice – as, indeed, were the noodles.
Ilkley Mary Jane 3.5
Magic Rock Punchline chocolate chipotle porter 5.4 (couldn’t taste the chocolate, the chilli was unmissable though)
Timothy Taylor Ram Tam 4.1 (Ram Tam! We meet at last! Never had this before. Didn’t disappoint, either.)
Ticketybrew Pale Ale 4.3 (a short-run version of their wonderful Pale Ale, brewed a bit lighter; just as wonderful)
Bad Co Comfortably Numb 3.8 (fruity hops coming out of your ears)
Conwy Telford Porter 5.6 (mmm, Conwy…. mmm, porter)
Fuller’s Past Masters 7.3 (an interesting one, this – like cranking up a strong bitter almost to the point of being a barley wine)
Marble 125 10.7 (This was perhaps a teensy bit expensive at £3 a third – but come on, it’s the 125 barley wine on draught, when are you going to see that again? Perhaps a bit on the hot-and-heavy side, but good stuff.)
Red Willow Soulless black IPA 6.5 (six and a half? blimey, that’s drinkable)
St Feuillien/Green Flash Belgian Coast IPA 7 (keg, alas – when will the Belgians go back to our brewing traditions? – but absolutely superb; the tripel/IPA combo works better than you could imagine)
Alphabet Space Invader 6 (A saison made with grapefruit, pink peppercorns and tarragon. Hmm. Tasted like something made with grapefruit, pink peppercorns and tarragon, but I stress the word ‘something’ – as in, not necessarily a beer.)
Ringway Best Bitter 4.2 (get ’em before they’re gone – and a lightish, brownish BB seemed like a good way to finish)
If I had a complaint, it would be… no, I can’t think of anything. It was all good, pretty much.
Great venue, great beer, brilliant festival. If you missed it, you missed a good ‘un.