It was an evening of two halves at the Gradbar last Friday, though curiously the two halves occurred at the same time. On the TV screen an abysmal no-score draw from the national team, at home a tremendous display from the local team resulting in goals galore and huge satisfaction from the fans.
The scene: the courtyard outside Lancaster University’s Graduate College Bar. The occasion: the latest in a now iconic series of matches (I refer, of course, to the matching of beers and ciders to the palates of drinkers). The fans: hundreds of enthusiastic supporters compelled to turn out for this celebration of skills and national pride. Pride in our wonderful beers and ciders, I mean. (Oh, and there was the minor distraction of some “soccer” on the courtyard screen.)
Words to sum up the evening of Friday 18 June? Flat..uninspiring..mediocre..lifeless..bland
...below par. All terms that have been known to apply to beer, but on the night in question were reserved for the Great Game. Thankfully the TV was small, while the flavours of the ales, ciders and perries on offer (46 of them over the 4 days of the fest) were the taste equivalent of the most ginormous screen imaginable. Plus there was a terrific atmosphere, a friendly crowd and the usual excellent organisation and service.
As usual, coach and skipper Gareth Ellis had selected a side that represented England’s (and Scotland’s and Wales’) finest skills. There were strikers like Elgood’s powerful Greyhound (5.2%), Fuller’s ever-reliable ESB (5.5) and Kelham Island’s mercilessly accurate 5.2 Pale Rider. There were a host of talented midfielders to satisfy the fans, too, like Great Orme’s Welsh Back (sorry, Black — got carried away with the sporting metaphor) at 4%, Derventio’s Gem (ditto) and Rudgate’s King Knut at 4.1.
Unlike Fabio Capello’s, Gradbar manager Gareth Ellis’ selection procedure and game strategy are clear. Speaking on the evening of the victory, he said: “The whole point is to give drinkers the chance to try ales, ciders and perries that they probably haven’t come across before. I’ve also gone for the widest possible range of styles and strengths so that people can compare and contrast while they enjoy.” Well, he certainly got a result.
I asked a group of CAMRA members to name their star players of the evening. The milds (Titanic and Hobson) drew particular praise for versatility (showing just what could be done with ABVs of 3.5 and 3.0 respectively) and Green Jack Canary Pale Ale, Palmers Copper Ale and in particular Hopback World Hop Medley for achieving stunning hop-based effects.
Ciders noted for their superb attacking qualities included Thatcher’s Cheddar Valley, Moles Black Rat and Hartlands Medium, plus Hartlands Perry.
For one punter the chief scorer of the evening was undoubtedly Oakham’s 7.5% Attila, with a kick that puts Rooney in the shade. “Absolutely amazing,” was the comment. And that’s my verdict on the evening too.