Wetherspoon’s festivals come round with regularity, but “monotonous” they certainly aren’t. In many people’s opinion the quality has improved over the years, and they always provide an opportunity to try brews that are rarely if ever available at other times.
Eight CAMRA “tasters” visited the two Lancaster pubs one evening this week during what has been billed as The World’s Biggest Real Ale and Cider Festival. At the Sir Richard Owen we tried Wadworth 125 Celebratory Stout, brewed using four varieties of hops and dark muscovado sugar. The 4% brew was “easy drinking, creamy and fruity, with a drying finish.” “In good condition,” said one, “rather fruity for a stout,” said another. Score: 3.5 (see below for explanation).
Next up was Brains Milkwood, 4.3% and made with malted oats and rye crystal, and described on the pump clip as a brown ale. This was “distinctive,” characterised by a “smooth bitterness,” and agreed to be “very nice.” Score: 3.7.
Unfortunately these were the only two festival beers on at The SRO, though Shepherd Neame East India Pale Ale was advertised as “coming soon.” However, we tried two non-festival beers, one of which was Allendale Wolf. The verdict was “potent, fruity and malty” and “difficult to categorise.” “Lacking oomph!” said one, while another said: “It can’t make its mind up whether it’s a strong mild or a barley wine. It needs to be either hoppier or a lot stronger.” Score: 3.
The second non-festival brew, and beer of the evening for those who had it, was Hawkshead Lakeland Gold, described as “brilliant,” “wonderfully hoppy,” “outstanding” and “marvellous”. There was some argument over the score, but eventually a mark of 4.8 was agreed.
We found rather more festival beers on at the Green Ayre, at least 5 in fact, and we tried three. Bateman’s All Seasons (4.2%) had a “complex malty taste,” was a “brewer’s beer” (ie they’d bunged in lots of malts), and “ a bit like the old Scottish heavies, but more complex.” This got 3.7. A beer with the catchy name Caledonian Doc Kennedy’s Lipsmacker Lemon Ale was also enjoyed, scoring 3.5. Comments: “I actually quite like it”, “the lemon comes in the aftertaste,” refreshing, nice and crisp, light on the palate,” bordering on more-ish”.
Wychwood Elderwych (3.8%) was something of a disappointment: “light and crispy, with a nice aftertaste, “an alecost or mint flavour... slightly herbal”, but in the end “not very exciting,” hence the score of 2.9.
The beers in both pubs were well kept and served at the right temperature. Bar staff in both worked hard, but it has to be said that waiting time in the Sir Richard Owen was excessive. An extra person behind the bar would have made a difference. Management please note.
Tasting team: Martin Sherlock, George Palmer, Sandra Busby, Don Busby, Lawrence Bland, John Slinger, Hilary Kennett, Julian Holt.
CAMRA National Beer Scoring Scheme (abridged version, explanatory notes not included):
- Very good