Sunday, 27 September 2015

Maris Otter 50 Festival

Maris Otter is a variety of malting barley that, as beer drinkers, most of us are familiar with. It was introduced in 1966 by H Banham of Norfolk and is incredibly popular all around the world.

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of this wonderful strain of barley, a beer festival was organised and put on by David at Norfolk Brewhouse where the idea is that 50 breweries, mostly from the UK with a smattering of foreign breweries would brew a one off, limited edition beer using Maris Otter malted barley.

It's a great way to celebrate this wonderful variety of barley, so I figured that despite being iller than the Beastie Boys, it'd be rude not to pop along... once, twice or even thrice!

Venue:

The venue was Open in Norwich, which is primarily used for gigs. I've been to a few here and it's always a good venue. It worked for the beer festival too. Two, long, double stacked rows of casks with a keg bar at the back. Upstairs was food (we'll get to that later) and my buddy Mark's Thirst Consultants stand. Seating on the lower floor was few and far between but there was an alright amount of seats upstairs, around the balcony.

Entertainment:

There were some really good bands playing when I was there, although I couldn't tell you who they were. The only issue was the music was really loud meaning that in the main room you struggled to have a conversation. The best entertainment though? Rugby on the big screen. It's not the first time I've experienced big screen rugby at a beer festival... the first was when we exhibited at Alltech International Brews & Food Festival in Dublin earlier this year and, being English, the atmosphere was INTENSE when the England Vs. Ireland game was on. At Maris Otter 50, there wasn't that level of intensity but it was nice to have it on in the background and not have to make the choice between beer festival or rugby.

Food:

I think the food choice was the biggest let down, if I'm honest. You had two options... a Bray's Cottage pork pie, or veggie chilli. Alright, they're both great options but with the expanding street food scene in Norwich right now I feel that there could have been way more options.

Beer:

Obviously this is the part you're most interested in. Although predominantly a cask beer festival, there were a few keg beers available... the problem was that licensing didn't allow the organisers to run the keg bar themselves so the bar was manned by dreadful Open staff who didn't care. The first keg beer I tried was Arcadia Ales Sword of Damocles (6.5% IPA) from Michigan in the USA and it was great, but there was a massive issue when I went back to try Hop Stuff Session IPA (4.2%) which tasted like the line hadn't been flushed through properly. Obviously, this isn't the organisers' fault and David recognised it wasn't a great way to promote good keg beer and we agreed that in hindsight, a portable keg bar would have been a better option.

This festival was mostly about the cask beer, however, and I got stuck in with the sampling. Woodfordes Redcracker (7%) was an absolute highlight for me, despite not usually being a Woodfordes fan... a raspberry barley wine that gave no hint of its ABV... it was just like drinking raspberry juice, but without the tartness or the sweetness. It was brilliant. ESBaird from Baird Brewery in Japan was a well balanced, fruity, sweet and strong ESB although a half was more than enough for me. Lion Heart Honey and Mustard Sour (6%) did exactly what it said on the tin... warming mustard with enough honey sweetness to take the edge off.

I'm not going to bore you with the full list of beers I drank, but generally speaking, the beers were great although with the inevitable couple of disappointments.

Another great thing about this festival was the extremely reasonably priced bottle shop to take beers home... £5.50 for 3 lower ABV UK beers or £6.50 for 3 international or higher ABV UK beers. I grabbed some Waen Dangermousse which i'd been looking forward to trying for a while, and it didn't disappoint, as well as two beers from Arcadia Ales - Hop Mouth Double IPA which was a massive Columbus Bomb, sticky, fruity and just wonderful as well as Loch Down Scotch Ale, a beer I fell in love with if only for the pun... wasn't sure I was going to like it but I did as it wasn't as sweet as most scotch ales.

Overall:

A great festival that I really enjoyed. It was well organised and I'd love to see more similarly themed beer festivals pop up!

Nate

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