The Robin Hood Beer Festival: On Target For Food!

The Robin Hood Beer Festival is a must for any fan of the fine art of brewing. It takes over the grounds of beautiful Nottingham Castle for a long weekend in early October, usually catching the last of the sunshine before England succumbs to the soft rains of autumn. The Festival has been a lock on the Beeranaut's diary for quite a few years now, and 2014 saw a representative quartet (Super Sam, Rev Sherlock, Charmin' Ciaran and myself, El Conojito) jump on the train and hit the Midlands.

Now, I could spend a long time raving about the quality and choice of beer on offer, and let's be straight up here: The Robin Hood Festival has a larger selection than any other gathering in the country, and that includes the Great British in Olympia. Given the choice, you should be heading here rather than the big shed in London. The surroundings are nicer, the beer is better and, most importantly, the food is amazing. There'll be plenty of bloggers out there talking about the beer. Me, I'm peckish. Let's take a look at the food.

The thing with the Robin Hood Fest is that we're almost more excited about the grub than the beer. We know we're guaranteed a good feed at a reasonable price. We're not talking about duff burgers or a soggy cone of chips here. The scran at Robin Hood is top notch.

It never seems long after we head up the hill to the main marquee before we gravitate to the deli stand. It's lunch-time, after all. This is a shared concern between The Cheese Shop, which is normally based in the Flying Horse Arcade in Nottingham itself, and Melton Mowbray's own Mrs. King's Pies. I dream about the porky goodness encased in a lovely crumbly hot-water crust. A half-pie with a dab of mustard will set you back £2, and set you up for the afternoon. You will note that greedy Conojito had a salami on the side. Dense, meaty and utterly delightful. Rob's top tip: put a whole pie back to pick up for later, along with some choice cheeses. You have to check out the smoked stilton.

Porky bliss

 

While you're picking up treats, head to the Merry Berry stall and snag some chocolate for the significant other. These guys do a roaring trade at the bigger food festivals (they were at Olympia this year) and specialise in creamy buttons and spicy dark chocolate. TLC insists I bring her back the white chocolate with lemongrass. I have a thing for the Scorpion Death Chili Chocolate: absurdly hot, with a burn that just keeps building. Try it, but have a glass of something to hand, because that bad boy is gonna sting.

After an afternoon's connosieuring of fine ales, the hunger struck and we Beeranauts wended our way down the hill to the food stands. Tempted as I was by the maple and beer-glazed bacon, something more substantial was needed. Memsaab, a local curry house of distinction, was serving up good grub for the geezer on the go. A heaped punnet of curry and rice was £6 and it was money wisely invested. Beef Madras or Chicken Tikka Masala, both beautifully spiced and fall-apart tender. If you ask nicely, you can have a bit of both. Don't be embarrassed if you feel the urge to lick your tray clean. Lord knows, I wasn't. Memsaab also did amazing wraps of grilled marinaded meat. I had one of those later in the day. Hey, I was hungry.

As the sun started to ebb and the crowds started to grow, we knew it was time to vacate the site and find a quiet hostelry. For one thing, we'd been on our feet for six hours. But we needed one last snackie to get us on our way. A bowl of duck fat roasties from the appropriately named Duck Fat Roastie company did the trick. Deeply savoury, crispy, crumbly in the middle, intensely addictive. A big bowl was £3, and was enough for 4 greedy boozy blokes. The scraps at the bottom were the best bits, but the whole thing was deliriously good.

Ciaran makes an annexation attempt on the duck fat roasties. He failed.

 

A quiet pint at the Castle Rock Brewery tap by Nottingham's thoughtfully restored train station and we Beeranauts considered the ales of the day. The hits for me were Oakham's Citra (which you can get in M&S, in a slightly rebranded form), Enville's Cherry Blonde, which was the essence of a Cherry Bakewell in a glass, and Nottingham Brewery's own Centurion Porter. But I don't think I had a duff drop all day. Not bad, considering there were over a thousand beers to choose from and I was going purely by instinct.

As ever, The Robin Hood Beer Festival was the best of all possible worlds for the discerning Beeranaut: good beer, great food and a fantastic atmosphere in lovely surroundings. It's probably the highlight of my beer year, and its growing popularity shows that I'm not alone. Maybe see some of you there next October?

 

Your Beeranauts: El Conojito, Rev Sherlock, Super Sam, Charmin' Ciaran. Blue skies, great beer.

 

Tanglefoot Rice

In the unlikely event that I ever make it onto Desert Island Discs, there’s one decision with which I would struggle massively. Not the music – a heady mix of northern soul, chiming indie rock and squelchy electronica. Sod that one book nonsense – I’d be taking a Kindle fully loaded with William Gibson, Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut.

It would be the luxury item that would give me pause. Although the notion of a fast satellite uplink feeding a hot-rodded MacBook Pro appeals, I think in the end I’d have to plump for a rice cooker.

Continue reading Tanglefoot Rice

Tales Of The Beeranauts: Very Merry Men

The Beeranauts have been pretty quiet this year. The Great British Beer Festival had to manage without us, and it was a minor contingent that made it to the London Drinker gathering back in the spring. Apart from that, nish since Battersea. A bit of a poor show, frankly.

We made up for that on Friday, with a trip up to Nottingham for the Robin Hood Festival. Held in the grounds of lovely Nottingham Castle, it’s perhaps the biggest British Beer Festival after the Earl’s Court spectacular. And it’s far and away the best.

Continue reading Tales Of The Beeranauts: Very Merry Men

The Friday Fotos: What’s your pleasure?

This board is by the bar of the Eagle and Child in Oxford. There are better pubs in the town, but few with such impeccable geek credentials. Snag one of the snugs at the front, and you’ll be sorted.

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This is the display over the bar at The Harp near Charing Cross, which recently won the coveted Camra Best Pub award. Their selection is always impeccably chosen, and swiftly served. But boy, does it get busy on a Friday night. I recommend Dark Star’s Hophead for these warm summer evenings, and they do a great pint (or two) of it at the Harp.

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And this is the ceiling of the Hobgoblin in Reading. This is a gem, with a tiny bar that opens out into a labyrinth of woody snugs, scarred with decades of graffiti, love poetry and dirty jokes. Some of the best beer in the Ding can be found right here.

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Cheers!

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Mine’s A Half: The Battersea Beer Festival

I think we're in there somewhere...

Blimey, it comes round quick. It’s year three for the Beeranauts at the Battersea Beer Festival, a hastily assembled crew gathered for an evening session, as we weren’t organised enough to pull it together for a full day.

The South West train service from Reading is slow, but direct to Clapham Junction (un-nervingly, the station announcements were running backwards in my carriage. If I were to believe them I was heading further away from Clapham with every stop). From there, a short hike up Lavender Hill brings me to the Battersea Arts Centre, brutish in concrete cladding.

In the Great Hall, it’s a different matter. A huge oaken hall with a pipe organ at one end, the very best of Victorian municipal architecture, and improved no end by two long counters housing hundreds of beer barrels. I walk straight in, but it’s already busy, roaringly so, barrel-belly tight, and I was lucky to dodge the queue that must have started forming immediately behind me. Charmer Ciaran wasn’t so lucky. He was in a one-in, one-out shuffle forward that took him and The Lovely Chloe an hour to negotiate.

Joining the Beeranauts (for the purposes of this gathering the rollcall is Rev Sherlock, Cranford Sam and new addition John The Oilman) I was informed of the first problem. Some popular and interesting ales had already vanished, a victim of the tickers on the first night. Tickers are the twitchers of the beer world. They will come to a festival with a list to try, and will drain a popular barrel like piranhas on a cow carcass. This is not good. Tellingly, the one beer I really wanted to try, Entire Stout, which had just won Champion Ale at a big CAMRA show in Manchester, was the only one of the five Hopback beers in the catalogue that wasn’t on offer.

This makes it sound like there was a crisis in supply, which is errant nonsense, of course. There was, as ever, an embarrassment of choice. All it meant was that we abandoned all pretence of discernment in our picks, and went for the beers with the waggiest tails.

I’ve found that I tend to drink in the same way at festivals. I start light and hoppy, before moving onto juicy IPAs, building up towards dark, rich stouts and porters. A palate cleanser of hoppiness at the end, perhaps a cider or perry, and I am replete.

I must make mention of the food at the BBF, run by a small concern that serve up proper grub for a small lay out. Their Hunter’s Stew, a thick concoction of sauerkraut and all the finest smoked meats that Eastern Europe has to offer is particularly good, although their meatballs with olives over rice also do the job nicely. I bought a plateful just to be polite. I didn’t think I was hungry. I scarfed the lot in land speed record time. A godsend for the hungry drinker.

We had a wander round the cider room, which seemed a lot friendlier and fuller than last year. No twats in hats, but the demographic was noticably younger and more female. The Lovely Chloe recommended a Welsh cider, which was delish. Uncharacteristically, I forgot to note it down. Forget I mentioned it.

Beer of the night? I’m going to go for Powerhouse Porter, a rich, dark, fruit-and-nut bar confection from Sambrooks, who are local to Battersea. It divided the Beeranauts. Cranford Sam and I loved it. John couldn’t finish his half. I was a gent, and helped him out.

As ever, the Battersea Beer Festival was a buzzy, beery treat, well-organised, friendly and well-stocked. It’s worth getting there a little early if you’re planning to go, because it does fill up fast for the evening session. I always find it worth the trip, and always come home with a new beer to rave about.

Chin chin!

(The pic illustrating today’s post is from the Battersea Beer Festival Flickr pool, and is by streatham mike. The Battersea Beer Festival is at The BAC on Lavender Hill, London SW11, and is on today. Try the meatballs.)

Festivale

Earl’s Court is home this week to The Great British Beer Festival, making it the one time in the year that it’s actually acceptable to drink round there. Beer festivals are enormous fun, and if you play it right you can get nicely sozzed while still keeping hold of the niceties of social behaviour. Here are the tips that I and my partners in ale, the Beeranauts, have come up with over the years.

1) Food. As important as a beer glass. There’s a mass of food stalls in the central area, and you can even get a salad if you’re some kind of girly wuss. I would recommend a decent cooked breakfast before you even start. There are plenty of cafes and pubs that open early to serve food on the Earl’s Court Road. Don’t enter the Exhibition Hall without a well and truly lined stomach.

2) Get your bearings. The programme is vital to planning out your day. It tells you plenty about all the beer on offer, the itinerary of bands on the music stage, and where you can find the award-winners. If you’re a bit of a ticker like me, this is essential. Also, if you’re a civilised type, now’s the time to find a table and set camp for the day. We tend not to, which leads to tired legs after a few hours. Some people brought fold-out picnic chairs this year, which seems like a smart idea.

3) Freebies. Keep your eyes open. The Bombardier stand was giving away free t-shirts, and beer mats and other goodies are always up for grabs. Plenty of good merchandising at curiously affordable prices here as well. Don’t just be thinking all your money for the day is going on beer.

4) The half-in-a-pint-glass trick. This has served us well. The first thing you do once you’re in the hall is to buy a glass, £3 deposit, a nice souvenir for the day. It comes in pint, half and third sizes. The Beeranauts always buy pint glasses, and order halves. This way, you can fit in more brews through the day. More importantly, the volunteers behind the pumps always err on  the generous side on servings. You always get a bit more than a half, which can add up to almost a full pint over the course of a day.

5) Keep an eye on your glass. If you don’t, some thieving tyke will have it away. That means you have to spend out another £3 if you want to keep going. This happened to me at the end of the day, which I would like to think is the action of some higher power telling me that I needed to stop drinking, and that I didn’t need another commerative pint glass. Shame though. I was enjoying that cider.

6) People-watch. All human life is here, and it’s all getting nicely tweaked on the finest ales known to man. With a camera, or even a notebook and pen, the artist has character material to last for years. The Beeranaut’s personal favourite was the guy in the greasy leather stetson, body warmer and sand-camo combat strides, with no shirt and a wild spill of white hair. King Of The Show. Also, don’t assume this is a man-only thing. Plenty of girls at the show, and they seemed to be on the dark ales too.

7) Move outside your comfort zone. You will never get another opportunity to try different and interesting beers from all over the globe, so try a glass of something you would’t normally. Lager drinkers, try a stout. Bitter boys, get a perry down you. If you think all American beer is watery froth, there’s a stall full of craft brewers ready to prove you wrong with some of the strongest ales of the show. My tastes have changed radically over the past year or so, and that’s down to trying and enjoying new stuff at beerfests in Battersea, Reading and Earl’s Court.

8. Do the day shift. The halls get intolerably crowded in the evenings, so if you can, do a day shift and leave early. I tend to find six hours does it for me anyway, so we’re normally done and heading home by 6ish. Can’t say that I’m really good for anything when I get back, but at least I’m normally in one piece, and happy after a fun, woozy day out.

My recommendations? Well, the Beeranauts did a tour of each other’s home counties, which led to some interesting choices. The treat for us was probably Wood’s Shropshire Lass, which was recommended as a good alternative to the 2010 Champion Ale, Castle Rock Harvest Pale Ale. But I also loved Tunnel’s Late OTT from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, and the dark and complex Felstar Crix Forest from the heart of Essex. I don’t think we had a duff beer all day.

I tweeted everything I drank, so you can see the full list by checking out the hashtag #gbbfun.

Me and Rev Sherlock in our Beer Pride t-shirts