21 October 2008

Bladdered (again) @ the Bull

This October finally saw the arrival of the long-awaited Bull Handpicked ’08 beer festival. Dubbel, Jnr and I had excitedly been anticipating the event since landlord, Garrett, first approached us on a random regular Friday evening visit, enquiring as to where our real ale allegiances lay and which of this year’s brews had most impressed us. We rapidly reeled of a list of faves from notable British breweries including Thornbridge, Marble, BrewDog, and Beowolf.

The Bull is definitely my favourite watering hole. I was first introduced to the place in April this year and from my very first visit I’ve always felt warm and welcome in its homely and comfortable atmosphere. This really is a pub you can walk into and leave feeling content. As soon as you open the door the staff and the regulars will welcome you with open arms to their locals’ paradise. Landlady Lynne’s food never fails to impress me: generous portions, locally sourced ingredients, seasonal options, BBQ’s, hog roasts, fine home made crumbles - you name it - and if there isn’t anything on the menu that takes your fancy, Lynne is only too happy to go out of her way to be flexible with other options.

The Sunday roast this week again left me spellbound. Naturally, I had to select the largest option on the menu - a bit of everything! - beef, lamb, pork (and crackling of course). The home made roast potatoes were perfect with lightly cooked cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, stuffing, and a huge Yorkshire pudding. Mmmm.

Garrett is amazing in his knowledge and enthusiasm for breweries and beer sampling. He’s so positive in his ongoing aim of sourcing some of the best beers in the country and he never seems to forget any of them! Not withstanding his cellar skills, which are clearly exceptional based on the constant stream of crystal clear beer pulled from the pumps. If you were inclined to check the temperature you could guarantee every pint would be virtually spot on 13.5 degrees. The two proud owners together with the rest of their team provide the perfect concoction for our Ultimate Pub.

Anyhow, I digress. Back to the festival…

We were invited to a preview “tasting” session on the Thursday night. In actuality this was just a chance to get the beers flowing nice and early - I think the hosts were too excited! The first night was supposed to be a light one. If only my head felt the same way as I navigated my way to work on the Friday morning knowing only too well that it would only be a few hours before we could continue working through the select 20 or so beers.

Friday was definitely ‘a good effort’ and I woke up with my face stuck to the sofa on the Saturday morning but still eager to get back to the pub for midday to ensure we had maximum time for quaffing all day. Thank heavens I backed out of the originally proposed 20 pint challenge! We all left at the appropriate time. A finishing Dark Star Imperial Stout put pay to everyone’s plans for a late night. Officially 10.5% (although the consensus around the pub was that it was probably a fair bit stronger - 14% at a guess). YCC associate Rapid confirmed its soporific qualities after deciding that 4pm was the perfect time for a pint of it. Fortunately he’d perked up admirably well come darkness.

After much wallowing and some deliberation we opted to give the Sunday a miss. None of us felt it wise to tackle another day and what a shame! We missed Lynne’s hog roast which looked fantastic as it was being prepped the night before.

In terms of the ale selection Beowulf Dragonsmoke Stout (4.7%) was one of my favourite beers of the weekend; a full-on smoky dry-roasted stout with a rich bitter palate and a hint of chocolate which tingles the tongue. Their Dark Raven (4.5%) tradional mild with a heavy yet smooth and hugely fruity body was also a treat. Sadly we missed the Finns Hall Porter as it was stoically kept in reserve until the Sunday buffle*.

This was our first encounter with BrewDog Hype (4.1%), a beer which can only be described as BIG. A warm gold colour, the nose is full of a spectrum of fruit, malts and hops, the flavour is one of the richest, fullest beers I’ve ever had. Not one to be drunk all day! With some pints the palate adjusts as you work your way through and the overall taste sensation weakens – this just doesn’t and was one of the first beers to run dry. Punk IPA (6%) came runner up in the Beer of the Festival public vote and is a legendary beer for us. Each of our stashes are full of the stuff following Tesco’s recent giveaway introductory offer of 99p a bottle. However, straight from the cask it’s a different animal: a monstrously sweet, yet refreshing and tangy IPA in keeping with the rest of the impressive BrewDog range. We pray they don’t become too big and lose their way.

Dark Star Festival Best (4.5%) was a festival special literally consisting of 50% Festival and 50% Best Bitter. I was unsure about this one. Although a big fan of Festival, the Best is the only ale in the entire range I’m not sure I enjoy. Having recently tinkered with the recipe, it has improved but it still lacks the usual Dark Star wow factor. The two mixed together seemed to separate again on the palate, possibly because I was already familiar with the two ingredients. On the other hand, the Imperial Stout was worthy of celebration alone. This rich, gloopy, treacley Russian Imperial Stout is absolutely to die for and probably my personal Beer of the Festival - certainly the one that commands the most respect.

Other beers that really impressed were the eminently drinkable Marble Pint (3.9%) which was first to sell out despite its worrying sparkling yellow-green hue and another huge-hopper JP Best (4.3%). But a special mention must go to Thornbridge, whose Katipo (5.4%, pronounced Kar-ti-Paw) porter was dark but not too heavy and chocked full of peaty, ripe fruit flavour which we absolutely loved. However, the Beer of the Festival was rightly awarded to Jaipur IPA (5.9%) a modern-day classic and possibly the best IPA currently in production in the country with spice and a host of fruits offset by a rasping dry finish, it really was in world-beating nick.

Overall the festival was wonderful and an all-round great success. Garrett and Lynne have since revealed that they are planning to put their acquired stillage to good use with a monthly brewery showcase weekend. The first of which will hopefully be BrewDog in November. (Keep an eye on the blog for further updates) Brilliant news, and great to see that the hard work put into the festival hasn’t kerbed their enthusiasm!


*Buffle, v - best defined by Two Hats of Goldie Lookin' Chain: "I dunno if you've heard of buffling but it's to shy away from something, "You coming out for a drink? You coming out tonight?" "No, I'm buffling". Or you get in a fight "Aaaah, no buffling, no buffling."


  1. Excellent report. Good to see Manchester's Marble getting an honourable mention.

  2. Thornbridge and Brewdog at the same fest - you'd have to drag me out of there! Katipo is one of my beers of the year. And I've a dozen bottles of Punk IPA under my desk right now, at 1.28 a bottle it's still cheap enough to buy whatever I can carry each time I call by.

  3. Dark Star Best lacks a wow factor? Lordy. Best session ale in the south as far as I'm concerned.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Add to Google Add us to your Google Homepage or Google Reader