Sunday, 14 August 2016

Beer Festival: Fishpond at Matlock Bath

Yesterday I attended only my second beer festival, which is quite something given that this blog has now been running for four years. I know, I know, I am something of a late developer. We were up Matlock Bath way on Friday and as we pootled about I happened to notice a sign for a beer festival being held there and so scoped out a few local hostelries to see what was available. Not seeing much, but enough to warrant a trip out, I decided to keep my powder dry. However, come morning and Willow suggested I have a day out and I checked the transportation (buses) and decided that it could be done.

One long bus trip later I was in Matlock Bath and thence into the hosting public house, being the Fishpond just on the southern edge of the place. The sun was struggling to shine, though it was a lovely warm day, and I, apparently, was the very first person to arrive for the day. Not at all embarrassing, no sir. Well, okay, I was slightly embarrassed. However, they were open and they did have stuff on tap and so, with a notebook in one hand and my embarrassing habit of taking photos on my phone, I began my journey of the day. Would you like to join me?

First up was a Porter by Derby Brewing Co. called Black Magic at 4.8% ABV. It was a bit of an ambitious start to proceedings for someone like me who is a lightweight but it was a dark and they hadn't tapped the Papa Jangles yet.
The aroma was strong chocolate but with no coffee despite a definite roasting sort of flavour, the kind of smokey one has with bacon rather than with barbeques. The colour was deep red, so deep it looked black until it caught the light (as I had run away to the back bar with views out across the town to take notes). Once on the tongue it was creamy, which was something of a surprise, but with a fiery underside that burned at first and then cooled over the middle of the taste, spilling into the sides of the mouth to fill it out quite nicely, which is not my usual experience with porters. This one was a bit smoother than most, putting me in mind of Plum Porter from Titanic actually. By the time it hits the back of the throat there is a dryness to it but there's a moistness remaining in the mouth and the aftertaste is definitely away from the arid dryness associated with blondes and into the kind of peaty wetness one associates with bitter. One of the big surprises was the complete lack of chocolate after the heavy aroma but this was, overall, a clear porter that augured well for the rest of the offerings.

It was at this point that I noted that they were only serving in halves and full pints, not a third measure in sight. Bugger. I was going to regret this later, I knew, but for the moment the live music had arrived, being actually rather good, and I had found a list of the ales on offer.

To that end I plumbed for Whim Ales Glacier. Having never seen this brewery before last week I was surprised to see at least four different ales from them and the IPA at 3.4% ABV seemed soft enough to go for a punt.

However, schoolboy error, I forgot to get a photo of this one, so the video above of the live act that was playing whilst I drank will have to suffice. Anyway, this poured with a bit of a head that stuck around as I wandered off again to find a table. There, in the light of the sun streaming through the window, I noted that it was extremely pale as an ale, looking like weak cordial. There was a freshness to the nose that was backed up by the faintest of faint citrus notes, so faint I couldn't decide on any particular fruit. Very pale copper hue. On the tongue there was a tropical note, putting me in mind of orange and mango cordial, but very weak and heavily watered down. Mind you, this didn't feel watery, there was a mango-like soft citrus that surrounded the tongue and despite a thin start it built afterwards and then went full mango for the aftertaste. It was almost like the ale wanted to be done before it did anything of note. The ABV played a surprisingly large role in the taste too, given how low it was, and the hops were a tad on the subtle side for an IPA, but it was single-hopped so it was probably a feature rather than a flaw. The smell gradually developed to something more soapy and unappetising but the taste remained fine. Good, but not as good as I was hoping for.

Next up was Wentwell Brewery and their offering of Hydro, another IPA at 3.8% ABV. I went for this because their brand new brew, which I could see, wasn't yet tapped and so was off-limits. Presumably they had to have something left for the third day, so fair play to them.
This was straw coloured, and thin at that, with no head again, reaffirming my belief that most ales would be headless straight from the cask like this. There was such a faint aroma that it was easily overpowered by the smell of polish from the bar on which I was resting to take notes and that wasn't very strong at all. Mind you, a much bigger issue here was the pervading smell of fish batter drifting in from further down the road where they had clearly begun frying. No matter, the taste was high on the malt without too much in the way of hops, that pleasant basic malt did deliver some clear hops that didn't make much of a fuss as they arrived but did build into the aftertaste: musty and without too much nuance. A burst of bittering after the soft taste and mouthfeel but there was nothing too adventurous. All in all, a safe ale - one to have when you're worried about trying something new or just to sit in the shade on a sunny day and enjoy company. It was decent enough but I was alone, indoors, and hankering for adventure.

After watching the pure comedy of the tapping of the Papa Jangles stout from Totally Brewed I would have had it next even if I hadn't been wondering about it from the beginning. 4.5% ABV and not the 7% ABV monster advertised. Still, I thought a stout may be worth it after the paler entries.
It came with a good, whitish, head rather than anything biscuity. A deep darkness lurked beneath, and the light that did penetrate did little to betray any other colours within, making this a deep blackness indeed. There was chocolate and roasted coffee on the nose as one would expect of a decent stout with a heavy aspect to it that boded well for someone like me looking for something different. Enough of a velvet edge to speak of good and deep stout clearly. WOW! That was all I wrote at first on tasting it. Wow! It is full and thick chocolate with a good milky mouthfeel, deep and mild, and is not a little unlike a rather strong mild in terms of mouthfeel and with lashings of chocolate malt for good measure. This was good. I mean, it's no Mocha but an excellent addition to the festival so far. It was one to savour with a rich smoothness that would tickle your fancy (or anything else for that matter). Easily the best one at this point and it just kept on going with that rich, smooth, assured taste and feel so that it never stopped tasting right at home. My one regret was only having the one half.

It was downstairs then to the second, main, bar - the one that vast numbers of holiday-makers were flocking to. Here there was another good ale selection on pull, five real ales from the locality. I plumbed for the Ginger Ninja by Dancing Duck Brewery being a Pale 4.1% ABV.
As advertised the colour was pleasingly ginger but veering toward a more straw-like aspect overall as it settled. That may just have been the sunlight, who knows. The point is that I am highly suggestable and thought I could detect faint spicy ginger notes on the nose amongst the more obvious clear hops aroma that put me in mind more of the Citra or Inifinity from a couple of years back. The pulling implied a creamy nature but the head was almost non-existent from the beginning and all that was left was a thin skein around the edge. Once on the tongue this was a palate cleansing hops burst atop the sort of forgettable malt that allows pales to do their work in delivering refreshment and thirst-slaking rather than getting tied up in complicated flavours. Don't Stand so Close to Me by the Police was playing in the background. Despite a good full mouthfeel and the nice and light taste this was struggling following that awesome stout and this may have been a bit of an unfairness to a really nice pale ale that couldn't be more removed from the deep stout I'd just had. The whole thing fought a decent battle agin the smell of someone else's chips close by (and my growling stomach) so that I ended up preferring this to, say, Ay Up but it is as naught to the Dark Drake by the same brewery.

After that, I thought it time to shift myself. Ostensibly to look for something to snack upon, I left the Fishpond and wandered about in Matlock Bath. Eventually, after trying some rather hot chilli jellies in a craft fair, I went straight for the Midland, a pub at the station end of the main street that I had seen the previous day, and stopped in for a half somewhere different. Because why not?

Because it was 30p more expensive a half. Oh well, I went for Welbeck Abbey Brewery's Portland Black being a Porter at 4.5% ABV because it was the only dark they had on and the place looked like the sort of place one had a dark. I'd have had a mild, much more fitting, if they'd had one on.
This poured with a decent white head over a kind of deep chestnut colour, the kind that caught the wood paneling and decided to do battle with it rather than go quietly into a woody induced gloom, not too much activity from the carbonation and the pull did the job of making the whole thing rather creamy even by looking at it. It was mainly malt on the nose with the barest hint of the roasting effect that I have come to associate with porters in general which was odd but in a nice way. Creamy on the tongue, probably more from the pull than from the ale itself, that did the job of calming the chilli burn sustained on the way over but this was strangely thin and vague. It reminded me a bit of the Powerhouse Porter I had in London back in June at the Harp. Nevertheless, this is a decent ale, light on the smoke and roast with a light malt to match. Indeed, all a bit light for the strength and the fact that this is a porter but with light hops so that the malt takes centre stage. It's not at all bad and would make a train journey worthwhile to visit, certainly, but the power of it is lessened by the fact that I'd come from the beer festival down the road.

After that, being a bit too safe for my tastes, it was back down the lovely sunny main street to the Fishpond for more of their ales. It was a good walk, I stayed on the riverside this time, and I was back in a very short time to find the festival much busier and with a new music act that made people shout to talk to one another. Spoke to a couple up on an anniversary, she was being treated as ale was her thing, and then they left to seek out the Crow's Nest Bar whilst I was having the next one.

Next one, for me, was Swift Nick by Peak Ales at 3.8% ABV, a Pale that I'd seen on the way in an resolved to try before the day was out. It had been on tap up at the Midland as well (I also spotted that the Portland Black was on at the festival). There weren't many darks on, so another pale it had to be.
Again the pour was sans head with a pale copper hue but nowhere near as pale as the Glacier had been earlier in the day. Weak hops hit on the nose, attempting fruity rather than citrus but doesn't quite make the leap to full-blown fruitiness that would warrant a bouquet. More the kind of fruit aroma one encounters when wandering through the fruit and veg aisle in a supermarket. No, that's unkind, it's better than that: more like the scent one used to get before all the produce was packaged and held behind pointless plastic wrapping. Once on the tongue it is thin but hoppy in taste, opening with a weak malt surprisingly, before thrusting the hops over the top of the tongue and then falling free to further hopping on the aftertaste. Here they are bitter and a bit vague but decent enough for the company being kept. A light sweetness does intrude as the taste notes suggested but it is obliterated by the malt each new taste. Not a bad ale but, again, not quite what I was after. This would better serve a day mowing the lawn or down the park being a sort of standard golden copper ale on comparison with the other pales on the menu. It's a fine ale but I was now in need of some sort of finisher and was eyeing up a return to the stouts.

To that end I wound up ordering a Black Mass from Abbeydale Brewery which billed itself as a Ruby at 6.66% ABV (I see what they did there). It looked a heavy hitter for a finish and was close to where I was standing as a bonus. I had a couple of other ales I had my eye on but time was running out to get the last bus home.
This poured reassuringly dark with a small amount of activity that caused the formation of a big but quick head but, before I could assess this further, it was all gone due to a sloppy move from serve to point on the bench before me. Things were getting busy by this point and I do not blame the server for one moment. The ale had a darkness to it, enlivened by the lighting effects that were now in full swing, and caught the mood of the moment nicely, contrasting the bright and warm summer sunshine glimpsed through the far doors of the ballroom in which the festival was being held. A deep aroma awaited, roasted with heavy malt to tickle the senses and set the nostrils flaring nicely. It was much more a dark ale than a ruby but that was no bad thing to my mind. The taste was thinner than one might expect, but perfectly inkeeping with the ruby style that it was going for, and for this reason it actually worked better than the porters had been for the sunny and warm weather - being refreshing but not too thin or watery like the pales were (probably something to do with high humidity or my mood). A creamy softness was discernible to this one, not as much as a stout, but the burnt edge that I associate with my porters did persist. In the end, and it was getting hard to record aftertastes by this point, this was a decent dark ale but lacking the hop punch of the ruby ales I usually enjoy.

This next one was intriguing as it promised honey from the Chatsworth Estate and that's pretty darn local and also just a bit indulgent. This was the Peak Ales Chatsworth Gold, a Golden ale (however did you guess?) weighing in at 4.6% ABV.
This was a good pour with a minimal head despite plenty of activity, straight away proving that this was going to be a good golden ale. Copper-y rather than amber and a bit more orange than a standard golden ale but this was fizzing nicely without the need for external carbonation. Dry and hoppy on the nose with a minimal weight to it despite the extra strength implied by the 4.6%. A good floral hop too, unusual for the ales in the group that I'd had so far but most welcome as the afternoon warmed up. Sure enough, there was a honey sweetness on the tang and this transferred to the tongue on tasting as an opening that stuck around for a moment with a spear of yeast or two before the bittering down the gunnels of the mouthfeel. This is a definite summer ale with plenty of gold tricks to keep you interested. Decent hops on the opening, soft and floral reminding me of my garden at the moment, soft malt then takes over then the weak bittering toward the end and the aftertaste. I could discern the honey in the middle of the taste but that was a bit fleeting and there wasn't much going on in that middle, before a dry ending makes this the sort of golden you want on your side on a warm day. Even so, there was a missing something that just meant it was pipped by the stout from earlier. By this point I could feel the afternoon beginning to press in to mess up my tastebuds and mess up my writing.

I had just enough time to grab a final half, and mindful of missing the bus I plumbed for one in the main bar downstairs so that I could keep an eye on the bus-stop. This turned out to be 99 Red Baboons by Blue Monkey Brewery weighing in at 4.2% ABV and promising something special.
The first thing to note was the roasted aroma again, no coffee, but the same sort of effect that the porters were having throughout the day. This was borne by a ruby-hued, almost red, ale that wore a creamy head being hand-pulled. The bouquet had plenty of adventure about it, telling of plenty of bitter hops and some interesting malts bringing that roast but a low amount of chocolate somewhere on the very edges. There was something else on the wings waiting to take centre-stage but it was getting harder to keep an eye on the ball. Sweet and licorice on the tongue marks the opening, rapidly setting this apart from everything else I'd tried so far, with a definite feel of sweetness carrying through to the last part of the taste and the aftertaste too. I took some of this outside to wait for the bus, anxious as I was cutting things a bit fine time-wise, and was rewarded by a much more ruby aspect in the daylight. Sweet and strong, plenty of strength from the alcohol content but soft and subtle beyond the standard pale feeling to it. At this point my musing was interrupted by the arrival of the bus and the need to quickly finish it before getting on for the long trip home. It was that or wait for another hour and I was low enough on funds that this wasn't really an option. In the end I would have preferred to finish on a stout but the tyranny of the timetables meant that simply wasn't possible.

Derby looked pretty as I boarded the bus home.

In case it wasn't obvious, the winner of the festival was the Papa Jangles stout that was simply amazing and well worth seeking out again. However, the real winner, for me, was the Fishpond, who proved beyond a doubt that they are decent hostelry and would make the £6 bus fair (along with long journey) worthwhile on their own. Coupled with the Midland and two or three single real ales in pubs along the main street, this makes Matlock Bath a good place to consider pub crawling with company in the future should people visit. I finished the day by getting chips and gravy back in Ilkeston again and then wandering home, a very pleasant adventure all told (and no massive headaches the day after either, which was nice).

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