Review | Bristol Craft Beer Festival: “Covid-secure with IPAs for days”

The boozy three-dayer was back this weekend to lift our spirits

A mid-pandemic drinking festival, held feet away from open water, complete with beers exceeding the ABV of an average wine – what could possibly go wrong? Not much, it transpires. Lined up all along the harbourside on this autumnal Friday evening are picnic tables of beer connoisseurs civilly sipping away, deeply happy with their unlimited tasters of IPAs, stouts, lagers and sours.

The festival is at half capacity this year, no doubt leaving a fair few disappointed beer-lovers without a ticket, but its air is just as jovial, and the breweries just as numerous. Four tents host around 50 different beer names, such as Wild Beer and Arbor from Bristol, Electric Bear from Bath, Tiny Rebel from Newport and Mondo from London, as well as Sweden’s Dugges and Estonia’s Pohjala.

At points the beer list reads like a 1975 album – Invoice me for the Microphone and How often do they update the internet? are in fact IPAs, not indie tracks. Big Drop are here with their zeros and there’s a smattering of ciders available from South African craft brand SXOllie. There are a few wildcards in the international section, Dugges’ 8% Doux Sour sounding particularly tantalising: ‘strawberry, vanilla mousse, almond flavour and rose’.

The beers on offer run in their hundreds so we crack on with our first set of tasters; a couple of DIPAs, a hazy pale and a dark lager. What speed is a week? and Physiological Needs from Reading-based brewery Double Barrelled are at the bitter end of things, the former checking in at 8% like a true DIPA (double IPA – more hops, more tartness) and the latter a sweeter, more citrus hazy pale. 

From Suffolk brewery Burnt Mill we pick up another DIPA, Great Glacial Lake, and also Dark Second, a dark lager made with cocoa husks. Porter-like in its colour and quality, Dark Second is complex to drink – burnt bbq aromas are followed by coffee notes, with the cocoa coming through last. 

To the food vans we go, coming away with outstanding mac and cheese from Alp Mac, kimchi toasties from Bristol cheese shop Two Belly and a couple of flame-grilled Asado burgers.

Back on the beers, we road-test Festival Saison, a pleasant yet unremarkable brew from Wiper & True (headquarters in St Werburghs) made specially for the festival this year. From Fierce & Noble we try the pretty standard-tasting Bristol Pilsner and How Idaho Can You Go? made from Idaho-7 single hops.

Yonder’s Rosehip Saison is instantly my favourite from the festival – it’s fresh and light with beautifully subtle floral notes from hedgerow rosehips.

Here’s hoping Bristol CBF is back in full glory next year.

Caitlin Bowring

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