This was an eagerly awaited and welcome event — the first beer festival at the Water Witch (now a Mitchell’s house) since the departure of the previous manager, Matt Jackson. Under Matt’s innovative management the place had been transformed, winning numerous national and local awards, and becoming a venue for regular and very popular beer festivals. How would the new regime fare?
The well-designed and colourful tasting notes gave details of brewery locations (most with a small pump-clip/brewery logo illustration ) for each of the 20 ales and three real ciders featured over the five days of the festival. It was interesting to note that seven beers were below 4% ABV and 14 were below 4.5%, a welcome change, in the view of the CAMRA tasting team, from festivals that put the emphasis on high gravity ales.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the event was the thought that had evidently gone into the selection. The result was a beautifully balanced offering of ales that reflected practically every aspect of the brewer’s art, from mild through pale and amber coloured bitters, to fruit beer, cask lager and stout. The ten beers sampled by the CAMRA team were all strikingly different, together displaying wonderful nuances and combinations of malt, fruit and hop bitterness, sweetness and dryness. Their distinctive and contrasting features prompted the unanimous view that whoever chose them should be congratulated on their thoughtful selection.
The second point concerns quality. Beer festivals commonly have the odd “dud” offering, sometimes several of them. The ales sampled at the Water Witch were of consistent high quality, fresh tasting, well-kept and in good condition. While individual tasters had their particular favourites, these were determined by personal preference rather than differences in beer quality. In addition - and this was a real plus - the service was efficient and the staff friendly and welcoming.
There were just too many contenders to select a Beer of the Festival, but it was felt that the following deserved a special mention:
Phoenix brewery’s Pale Moonlight (4.2%) - lovely hop character, creamy on the swallow, with a long dry, bitter finish;
Hidden Fantasy (4.6%) from Salisbury’s Hidden brewery - hoppy, fruity nose, with both malt and hops present throughout. A complex, multi-faceted beer, with no one flavour dominant;
A most unusual ale was Purple Moose’s (a North Wales brewery) Madog Ale (3.7%). This began with a biscuity nose , with increasing fruitiness in the mouth, leading to a very bitter but not astringent long-lasting after taste. A remarkable achievement for a beer of this gravity;
Manchester brewer Millstone’s Tiger’s Rut (4%) had a stunning grapefruit tinged complexity, with an unusual, difficult-to-place flavour (Chinook hops?) coming through in the attack.
Congratulations to all at the Water Witch for a festival that promoted a really interesting range of outstanding real ales. We look forward to more of the same!