The long tents gleamed against a black ragged storm line moving to the south. Children’s laughter mingled with Scottish pipes and drums; the smoke and smell of hog roast and curry kebabs drifted across the fields.
A three-day weekend, Reading UK: the annual Beer and Cider Festival was underway.
I always think of these as an autumn activity, hops and apples harvested, pressed, yielding cloudy alcoholic drinks suited to crisp, colorful afternoons. British spring is more Pimms and Strawberries (although, like pancakes and fondants, the tradition isn’t local to my life in Dorset).
Beer festivals have a common form and function across the UK (likely shared in the US).
Barrels of craft brew, labeled by type, nickname, and strength, are arranged around the perimeter of a huge tent, the center filled with long collapsible tables. There are food and craft stalls, separate zones for wine, foreign beers, and ciders.
Admission (£7.50) buys a commemorative pint glass (refundable on exit). A family-friendly area with games and play parks keeps the kids busy; clever shirts are on offer from disconcertingly painted youth.
Indoors, clutching my glass, I walk the kegs, looking for a match. It’s a bit like picking race horses: Bad Day at the Office (heavy hop bitterness and strong fruit), Goddess of Spring (rich pink Farmhouse Saison, sour mashed and aged for weeks), or Pressed Rat & Warthog (Ruby coloured, complex, perhaps not in the traditional sense, mild fanatics and bitter lovers will be satisfied and wanting more).
‘Something dark and rich? I murmur to the server, as though making a drug deal. He slips me 50 ml to taste; we critique it together. I buy 1/3 pint and go outside to linger over the ale, rolling it around, passing it around. A bite of food, then back in for the next.
Broken Dreams is the sentimental first choice (Deep and complex, she lurks in your imagination, binding smoke and coffee aromas with chocolate, milk and oats to create something thick, velvety and slick).
Black Prince shows promise (black and crystal malts produce a dark rich ale with a toasty flavour), alongside Engineers Best (an easy drinking beer).
Conclusion draws a crowd of Indian drinkers (A rich silky dark beer with notes of figs, raisins and dark chocolate. Bitter, yet sweet)
‘little need for dinner afterwards and so early-to-bed. Luckily, I ended with Dreamweaver (well balanced ale: Cascade and Amarillo hops give beautiful citrus and pine notes).