A few Saturdays ago I was lucky enough to take a trip to the Norwich Beer Festival put on by the Norwich & Norfolk Branch of the Campaign for Real Ale. It's a somewhat idiosyncratic festival, held in a former church. For some very strange reason they have a separate lunchtime and evening session on a Saturday. This is most unheard of, as it's usual, in my experience, for other festivals to open late morning and carry on into the night-time. But that's Norfolk folk for you!
Being the last day of the festival always mean that there is less choice, but was I downhearted? Not at all. There was still enough to choose from and choose I did. I started my lunchtime treats with Tawney Bitter (Cotleigh) 3.8% ABV, followed by Sygnus, a 4.0% ABV golden ale from the Blackfriars brewery in Gt Yarmouth which both went down well, as did Golden Newt (Elgoods) 4.1% ABV. I was pretty impressed with Hoppit 3.5% ABV (Loddon), and Harbourmaster 3.6% ABV was deliciously tasty session ale from Quay brewery in Weymouth. Wet & Windy 4.3% ABV bitter (Oulton Ales) was rather disappointing, particularly as I'm a big fan of what they do, and am rarely less than ecstatic about their beer. Yetman's Red 3.8% ABV didn't wow either.
But there was one beer that stood head and shoulders above all others that I tried that day, and that was Chiswick from Fullers. You always expect the best beer you taste to be from an obscure one man band brewery, stuck in the middle of nowhere, and not from a large regional, especially not from the metropolis. Named after the area of London which is home to their Griffin brewery, Chiswick is a 3.5% ABV light coloured bitter with very flowery characteristics. To call it a bitter is almost a misnomer, and if your taste buds have been blatted by years of drinking stronger more bitter ales, from somewhere like Yorkshire, then this beer will be too subtle for you. But for those of us that are fortunate enough to still have palates, and ones that can appreciate complex flavours, this is a fantastic ale. You can taste and the aroma of the hops with their very slight hint of musk really that gets the juices flowing. I always think that a beer that excites both your senses of taste and smell is something to be savoured. With this beer, you close your eyes and you are transported to the hop-fields of Kent.
A lot of people pooh pooh weaker ales, but with this beer the strength is immaterial. It has an up-front hoppiness supported by a clean, sufficiently malty body, which makes it a great ale that you can drink in reasonable quantities. Perhaps they should rename it "win-win"!