When I grow up I want to be like John Keeling

The Great British Beer Festival* has been a whirlwind of people and laughter and celebration of all that is amazing about beer and brewing. The cornucopia of flavours and aromas that beers from not just the UK but around the world has been mind and palate blowing and even though I still have another day there, I don’t want it to end.

My left leg and recently snapped Achilles tendon has another agenda though… So I sit here now in Knightsbridge, wallowing through an inbox of emails, my ankle wrapped in an ice pack and a large egg-sized lump of scar tissue pulsing away under my skin where the healing continues. Stupid rugby!

The flipside is that there have been a couple of highlights already in this manic week. Firstly, having around 150-200 people turn up on Monday night for a Meet the Brewer event at the Cask Pub and Kitchen in Pimlico was absolutely awesome. I’ve never had to shout myself hoarse to such a group of enthusiastic imbibers before, and the brilliant Martin from Cask even put ten of our Thornbridge brews on tap, meaning there was something for everyone. Just when I thought the night was as good as it could get, Doug Odell from Odell Brewing arrived and we got to taste our recent collaboration brew, the 5.9% Colorado Red together and discuss what subtle improvements we could make. I was also really pleased with how well the experimental Bolvig went down… a little decadent twist on Saint Petersburg with the addition of coffee beans, vanilla pods and coconut.

Tuesday afternoon saw another beery highlight, with Tony from Fuller’s inviting me along to the release of their second Brewer’s Reserve. This time expertly aged in Cognac barrels (the first Brewers Reserve had its time in Glenmorangie casks). Beer writer extraordinaire Adrian Tierney-Jones does a lot better than I do at explaining the event, but needless to say, it made me want to be just like John Keeling

The legendary John (photo from the Fuller's website)

Sure, I’d never have the telltale Mancunian accent, that Northern drawl on the last enunciated words that is characteristic of John’s delivery, but I’d love to be able to hold an audience like John does. To enthuse and quip and amuse with brewing anecdotes and the voyage of discovery that creating beer holds. Hell, the patience to save as many Vintage Ales as he can to do parallel tastings is a gift in itself isn’t it!?

I’ve just looked through the brief notes I put into my phone about the beers we tried… The 2009 Vintage Ale with its concerto of cereal, barley sugars (the sweet that is – sucked and sniffed, not straight from the wrapper as John explained), tangerine and subtle lemon. The slightly vinous finish, whisper of almond and clean bitterness. It was a cracker and one to put in the cellar for a few years for sure.

The 2006 Vintage Ale showing the benefits of the aging process with an almost creamy texture, even a shade of Highland whiskey, some yeasty goodness and undercurrents of, well, currants actually. It was mouth poetry.

It didn’t stop there and the Brewer’s Reserve No.1 was brought out, having been aged in whiskey casks. I remembered trying a bunch of John’s experimental beers back in 2007 at a Barrel-Aging seminar that the British Guild of Beer Writers had held. Culminating from this research, it had been expertly blended… a mixture of the wood aged brew, Golden Pride, ESB and 1845. I tasted this when it first came out last year and was amazed at the  difference the year had made. From something that had shown a lot of whiskey character, this now came out all caramel malt-like, with warming wisps of boozy heat, sherry and fruitcake. Adrian Tierney-Jones picked up a hint of Brettanomyces which I also noticed. For those that don’t know what this is, I recommend you all go and buy a bottle of Orval from Belgium and you’ll get the finest hints of horse-blanket and funk and medicinal band aid that characterises this fascinating yeast.

Last was the Brewer’s Reserve No.2 aged in Cognac casks and coming through with perfumed pear drop and apple esters (my notes say Pink Lady Apple juice, probably helped that I’d had some of this the day before!), warming alcohol and the finest hint of marzipan. This was an exquisite beer and I already look forward to tasting it again in a year or two.

Brewer's Reserve No.2 (from the Fuller's website)

You can probably see why I want to be like John. To have the ability to craft beers that can stand the test of time and do it in a way that shows the innovation that has been lacking for too long in British Brewing. This year the GBBF had the ever-popular BSF bar, showcasing the great beers from the US and the rest of the beer world. It was always busy and seems to get larger every year with people waxing lyrical about the quality and diversity of the beers.

Let’s see this begin to happen for British beers too! Cheer John, you’re an inspiration.

*Our Jaipur took out Gold in the Strong Bitters section at the Champion Beer of Britain competition at this year’s festival… yay for us!

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