The event was billed as “The great northern beer festival” and, as the name suggests, featured beers from the North West of England. Eighteen breweries were represented from Lancashire, Cheshire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cumbria.
Nine beers were tried by the tasting team on the evening of 22 May and were scored using CAMRA’s national scoring system (0 = undrinkable, 1 = poor, 2 = average, 3 = good, 4 = very good, 5 = excellent).
The lowest score (2) was given to Black Pig, a 3.6 abv mild brewed by Bazens of Salford. One comment was: “Turbid.” The team noted that, despite the dark hue, cloudiness was evident. It was deemed to be “ok,” with chocolate notes developing, but no one was impressed.
The highest score (4.8) went to Wobbly Bob, a 6% abv bruiser of a beer. Comments included: “Takes the swivel out of the knees and leaves me feeling like Virgil Tracy with his strings cut.” (We hope that readers aren’t confused by these technical terms.)
Then there was Ambeardextrous from Beartown. Did we like it? Do bears do their business in the woods? It was very well received. “Rich and choclatey,” “Some fruitiness.” “Quite a complex little bear, er beer”. It scored 4.
Pictish Brewery’s Alchemist (4.3% abv) was a hit. “God, this is marvellous!” said one member of the team. The almighty didn’t intervene with his comments, but others said: “Lovely floral nose,” “It makes an immediate impact,” and “Complex, multi-layered.” 4.2.
Millstone’s Pig and Whistle rated 4, as did the beer from Beecham’s (we weren’t sure of the name as there was an error in the tasting notes, but we think it was Crystal Wheat) which one taster described as “Complex and spicy.” Some wheat was detected. Conclusion: “An interesting beer, but is it more-ish?” Probably not, because no one had another one. The Pig and Whistle, however, demanded a good seeing to: “Lovely nose...,” “Honey, with floral notes...,” “Beautiful...” We put the distinctive nose and flavour down to the Riwaka hop from New Zealand.
Also tasted: Skiddaw Special from Hesket Newmarket, which the tasting notes said was “spritzy” (but wasn’t), an “inoffensive beer” which possessed the soft, restrained mouth feel of some other Cumbrian beers (Tirril, Dent?) and scored 3; Stationhouse brewery’s Splash, which was judged lacking in condition (3); and Hornbeam Black Coral Stout: “Restrained, pleasant...” “Somewhat sweet but with a developing dryness...” “Nothing special”: 3.
Not for the first time this Water Witch festival was evidence of imaginative thinking by the pub’s management and/or Mitchell’s. The menu of beers was quite well-balanced in terms both of style and strength, though stronger brews outnumbered session ales — there were 6 at 4% abv or under, 4 at 4.1 to 4.4, and 8 at 4.5 or above. Stout,mild and a range of bitter styles were represented.
The choice was not only varied but interesting. It was real pleasure to be able to sample at one session drinks as different as Millstone Pig and Whistle, Phoenix Wobbly Bob and Beartown Ambeardextrous, and as nuanced as Pictish Alchemist and Stationhouse Splash. The beers were served at the right temperature and were well-conditioned (though note the comments on Black Pig and Splash, above). Service was friendly and efficient, with a fair and well-organised voucher system in operation. The tasting notes were marred by a number of errors, particularly as regards beer strengths.
Finally, it was an opportunity to assess the new look of the pub, only recently re-opened after renovation. Some have expressed their dislike of the changes. The tasting team couldn’t understand why, and were generally favourably impressed by what they saw. The toilets in particular were considered a great improvement on the stone age specimens that preceded them. Congratulations to Mitchell’s for attending to both the start and finish of the beer drinking process!
Julian Holt Press Officer Lunesdale CAMRA