Friday 19 August 2011

And now for something completely different – Egham Beer Festival

Egham played a prominent part in British history as the location of Runnymede where (probably), in 1215, a reluctant King John sealed the Magna Carta. In more recent times AliG, the most famous son of Egham’s near neighbour Staines, declared the Wimpy bar on Egham High Street to be part of his turf. I may be doing Egham a disservice but, if much has happened in Egham in the intervening eight hundred years or so, it has passed me by. But three times a year, for the last few years, I’ve made the journey out to the quiet suburban town, and through it’s quiet suburban streets (if the Wimpy bar exists I’ve never noticed it) to a rather nondescript blocky building that goes by the name of Egham United Services Club. It’s a journey that has been made by large numbers of other discerning beer enthusiasts too. For, within that community Egham and it’s United Services Club have acquired a burgeoning reputation. That reputation is, as you might have guessed, based on the superlative beer festival hosted there.

After the gargantuan Great British Beer Festival in the cavernous Earls Court, Egham beer festival is indeed something completely different – intimate, modest and low-key. But the list of British beers that Bob Inman, Ian Davey and the rest of the EUSC team put together is anything but low-key. The number of beers is not huge compared to the hundreds on offer at GBBF – 70 or so is the norm – but what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. Where the British selection at GBBF is regarded by many as somewhat pedestrian, Egham’s is adventurous in the extreme. And some of the beers are rather extreme too. Not to mention the new, the novel and the obscure. For this reason, Egham has become a magnet for scoopers from far and wide. Even the most hardened of tickers will find plenty of new stuff. Of course it’s not that tough to disregard the quality and simply order beers that nobody, even the most seasoned ticker, has ever heard of, but the Egham guys have a happy knack getting in the good stuff and it’s certainly not just a ticker-fest. It was at Egham for instance that I first had the opportunity to try two British brewed Belgian-style tripels alongside each other – something that I would have considered quite unbelievable just a few years ago. 

So, yesterday, I found myself joining a procession of familiar faces from Egham station to the EUSC for the Summer 2011 festival. At GBBF, out of the 500 or so UK cask beers there were just about 100 that were new to me and less than half that number that I was really looking forward to trying. At Egham yesterday the list of 70 beers contained nearly 60 that I had not encountered before and I wanted to try them all. I managed to get through 26 of them yesterday before my grip on sobriety began to loosen and I decided it was time for home. They included beers from 9 breweries I had never come across before and, whilst there were a fair number of “brown bitters”, I also sampled milds, porters, stouts, imperial stouts, German & Belgian style wheat beers, strong IPAs, zesty golden ales making generous use of US hop varieties and more. It would be unfair to single out particular beers (although my reviews will be appearing on Ratebeer in due course), a high proportion of which were excellent and nearly all of them were interesting – something I would be hard pressed, in all honesty, to say about the UK beer selection at GBBF.

Whilst I’m feeling a little fragile today, I will be back for more tomorrow. If you have not been to Egham beer festival before, I would urge you to give it a try. The festival is open until chucking out time on Sunday. If you can’t make it this time, the Autumn festival, to be held from the 3rd to the 6th of November should be a date for the diary.  

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