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St Austell’s Celtic beer festival – a raucous celebration of great beers

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There is a labyrinth of cellars and corridors underneath the St Austell Brewery. Once the vaults were used to store hundreds of barrels of wine and spirits, today for most of the year they are empty or just used as a place to put things that no one can decide what to do with.

But, for one day in November the Victorian vault becomes the location for one of the south west’s if not the country’s best beer festivals.

For twelve hours the brewery rocks to a celebration of beer and music. This year 178 beers were available to try, but the real treat is the opportunity to sample some of “experimental” beers produced by St Austell’s head brewer Roger Ryman and his brewing team.

Ryman arrived at the brewery in 1999. A very modern brewer he was he bought with him from Scotland, where he was assistant head brewer at Maclays, the ability to make a new beer every two months “and then just move on”. He also had an appreciation of what brewers in other countries were doing. He was undoubtedly influenced by the books of beer writer Michael Jackson, who was one of the first to describe to a wider audience brewing trends from America, where many brewers were using citrusy, tangy hops from Washington and Oregon. Suddenly English hops seemed so sober and staid.

So each year at the festival, people can expect the different and the unexpected as the brewing team draws inspiration from around the world. The only boundaries are the knowledge, imagination and cultural enlightenment of the brewers. The air is full of malt of malt, hops and spice. Warm soft flavours seem to hang from the subterranean crypt’s ceilings.

The festival is a university for new beers – it is a fame academy for different ingredients. One of the festival’s earliest graduates was Clouded Yellow, which was created by Ryman for the first Celtic Festival in 1999. It seems almost unimaginable that a seemingly somnolent regional brewer should produce a German style wheat beer full of spice apples and banana flavours. But it was produced and has gone on to be a regular brew.

Each year there will always be something different – this year’s freshers included the tropical fruity Experimental 622 made with an unknown hop; the robust Hopped Up Lager; a smooth 1913 Stout and an authentic 14th century ale called Gruitlyn’s.

Other highlights included a warming Rum & Raison brew, a luscious Old Smoked Porter and Goss Moor Best, made with locally picked gorse and heather

This festival is a raucous celebration of the ability of brewers, which is as loud and exciting as the music playing on the stage. It has become one of the country’s must visit festivals.

I was a guest of St Austell at the festival

www.staustellbrewery.co.uk

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Written by timhampson

November 24, 2014 at 9:23 am

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