Though one of the offerings at the Waterwitch beer festival goes under the intriguing name Blonde Imposter, this Spring feast of ales is without doubt the genuine article. The theme here is heritage, with a line up of prize-winning brews that have proved themselves at beer festivals across the land.
A CAMRA “tasting team” of 10 spent an enjoyable evening sampling the beers at this welcoming pub that is itself a multi-award winner. There was lively debate on the merits of the ales tasted and, at one point, intervention by of all things a chocolate brownie.
The usual starting point for tasting is the mild because of its low alcohol level. However, Rudgate Ruby at 4.4% doesn’t fit the profile. This CAMRA supreme champion beer of 2009 got us digging deep into our store of images, with the customary “vinous” competing with the more inventive “dandelion and burdock” and even “Uncle Joe’s Mintballs.” Everyone agreed that this mild was definitely not meek, possessing real depth of flavour. It scored 3.9/4.0.
Three bitters then clamoured for attention. The first, Castle Rock Harvest Pale (3.8%), a 2010 CAMRA winner, was “grassy, delicate, subtle” with a “citrus quality rather than bitterness”, and came out with a score that matched its ABV: 3.8. Deuchar’s IPA was only sampled by one of us (me) so not scored. It was well kept, but personally I no longer find this drink very inspiring, perhaps because it’s so common now, and other beers do its job better. One example is the wonderful Oakham JHB whose 3.8 strength encompasses a mighty depth of flavour and a powerful citrus punch. This one was loved (“definitely more-ish”) and scored 4.3.
By far the most discussion/argument/bloodshed was devoted to the evening’s star turns, York Brewery’s Blonde Imposter and Kelham Island’s Pale Rider. The former is a 5% pale beer created by the female winner of York’s Brew Your Own Beer competition and aimed at attracting more women to cask ale. Its dominant fruit flavour and aroma is probably down to use of a new US hop, Citra. Comments included: “like Summer Lightning,” “like grapefruit”, “a hint of lime” (really?), “good hoppiness”, “very drinkable” and “phenomenal”. Score: 4.2.
The Sheffield brew (5.2%) is an acknowledged modern classic pale, with an astounding depth of flavour and full body. In the end it pipped the Imposter by a smidgen, scoring 4.3. The only item on the menu scoring more was a sweet little number ordered by one of our party, who declared: “The chocolate brownie gets 4.5!” We’ll see to it that she never lives this down.
The festival, which is highly recommended, runs until Sunday 10th April. Once again the Witch is to be congratulated on its imaginative choice of theme, the quality of its beers (available in 1/3 pint glasses), the helpful tasting notes and excellent service.
Thanks to the team: Tom Sherlock, Bob Smith, Sue Holt, Jane Barnes, John Slinger, Hilary Kennett. Emma Procter, Lawrence Bland, Martin Sherlock, Julian Holt.
CAMRA National Beer Scoring Scheme (explanatory details omitted): 0 = Undrinkable, 1 = Poor, 2 = Average, 3 = Good, 4 = Very good, 5 = Excellent