The Scottish Real Ale Festival celebrated its 10th birthday this year with its biggest festival yet at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange. I bravely took up the chalice and went along for qmunicate. What follows is a faithful, if increasingly incoherent, account of the day.
In perhaps not the most auspicious start to proceedings, I overslept by two hours, missed a conveniently direct train to Slateford, battled with bus drivers at Haymarket and eventually rocked up at approximately 3pm. Luckily, there were still a few of the 170-odd beers left. I was with my good friend Liam “Councillor” Hainey, a beer festival “virgin”, who was chuffed with his free commemorative glass. We dived straight in.
My first was Mussleburgh Broke, from Knop’s Beer Company. Very malty, great nose, and a promising start to the afternoon. Liam went for Dark Horse by Scottish Borders, which had a nice coffee flavour and a salty aftertaste (the tasting notes said that this was a ‘spicy finish’, apparently). Liam clearly wasn’t a fan of mine as he promptly spilt it down my trousers, so I moved rather swiftly on to Jolly Beggars by the Ayr Brewing Company; fairly standard, slight grapefruit taste, not a knockout but enjoyable. Liam decided to take a geographical approach to his choices, picking Red Rye by Barney’s Beer, residents of his hometown of Falkirk, which was again pleasant enough.
Putting our glasses down for a minute, we were happy to note the number of stereotype-busters at this year’s festival. Alongside the usual gaggle of rotund beardy types (a category to which I aspire), there was a steady stream of young, fashionable men and women, leading us to speculate whether beer was, indeed, “on the up”. It’s certainly an image that the Campaign for Real Ale, the organisers of this and many other beer festivals, are keen to encourage. With pubs closing at a rate of 16 every week, CAMRA is at the forefront of campaigns to increase the popularity of real ale and cider, establish fair taxation on pints and rebalance the relationship between pubcos, who own many of our favourite pubs, and the people who run them. This chat, however, was distracting us from some serious business; back to the beer.
As we continued to drink, our descriptions became ever-more fanciful; Duncan’s IPA and Independence, both by Inveralmond brewery, were like a pastel-coloured pullover and gazpacho made by a drunk respectively. Roysten’s Hoppy Handful by Spey Valley was like a jeeley piece hurled from the top floor of a Partick tenement. Braveheart, by Moulin, was a bit like soil, but not in a bad way. Needless to say, our tasting notes differed slightly from theofficial guide, although I did hear one man echoing my description of Spey Valley’s David’s Not So Bitter as like cheap, weak, orange squash.
The one real let-down of the festival was the lack of Tombola. For stalwart beer-chasers (imagine those guys in Tornado. But with beer.), the Tombola is a key fixture of a festival. Its success can depend on whether one wins or loses that coveted copy of the Shropshire Good Pub Guide. But the Scottish Real Ale Festival has stubbornly refused to provide. Letters will be written.
Eventually, we came to a point in the waning afternoon where our instinct for risk-aversion, not to mention our legs, became increasingly repressed. This is a dangerous time in any beer-based experience. Once can find oneself dancing outrageously to ridiculous folk bands, buying books on home brewing and sampling the strongest ales in the programme, if one is not careful. Liam was not careful. The Dark Island Special Reserve by the Orkney Brewery stood at 10 per cent, smelt and tasted like red wine, and brought forth contemplations of mortality and fine long facial hair from both of us.
After that adventure, we deemed it high time to leave. We stopped for the traditional Edinburgh feast of chips ‘n salt ‘n sauce, clambered onto a train and snoozed deeply all the way to Queen Street. We were the lucky ones. We saw one man outside, on his knees, crawling along the pavement, whilst his friend laughed behind. We were reminded of the old motto, “drink responsibly”, and mused on how that could very easily have been us, and how thankful we were for half measures. And so, dear reader, we come to an end, with just one final thought; I love you. You’re my best friend.