23rd Sussex Beer Festival

So this weekend saw the return of the annual Sussex Beer and Cider Festival (with CAMRA)  held in Hove Town Hall, now in it’s 23rd year.

The festival is the Sussex beer drinkers Glastonbury, showcasing over 220 real ales and a variety of ciders and perry too, in two sections- the Main Hall housing breweries from across the nation and the Sussex Bar giving home to the best of the local brews.

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Turn out was strong and the beers were selling fast with many of them selling out on the Friday. Unfortunately, I was too slow to catch some of the stand out beers on the beer list- Amber Ales’ Chocolate Orange Stout, Baldy’s Smoking Barrel (a limited edition whiskey porter), Trawler Boys from Green Jack and the offerings from Tiny Rebel being a few.

I was more than happy with what I did sample though (all in thirds), the quality of beer on offer was of a very high standard. I started out in the Sussex Beer room and made ‘Imperial Pale Ale’ from Isfield brewery my first of the day, a 4.2% best bitter with a notable toffee hit and balanced hoppy-ness. Being new to the Isfield beers I opted to try their ‘Toad in the Ale’ next, a 4.8% dark bitter, heavy on the malts with a rich, roasted and almost dry finish. A stand out beer for me and brewed from October to mark the start of the Toad in the Hole season- even more reason to like it!

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After the malty Isfield I was wanting something a bit more fruity so, sticking with the local brews, I opted for ‘Mary’s Ruby Mild’ by Kissingate. It’s a 5.5% award winner described as having a Port like aroma. It had that sweetness and light hoppy-ness that I was after. A smooth, very drinkable beer.

Next up was the Main Hall, a much bigger selection and more people to compete with for the good stuff. After checking the notes I decided to hit the ‘Incubus’ by Hopdaemon, a Kent based brewery. A bronze bitter at 4% with a nice maltiness. Cascade hops are used which appear in many of my favourite ales. This third didn’t last very long.

Weighbridge brewery provided me with my next, a dark copper ale at 4.5% in the form of ‘Aunt Sally’s Old Ale’- a well balanced ale, boasting both chocolate, malty notes and blackcurrant which is something I’ve not knowingly sampled in an ale before. That third didn’t last long either.

My final third was from another Kent based brewery, Old Dairy, a dark 6%er called ‘Snow Top’. Slightly spiced and having a more savoury note than any of the others I tried. A good beer that would work well with many foods.

In between sampling and staggering I had a snack stop, being pleasantly surprised by the food on offer. The catering came courtesy of The Real Meat Sausage Co. providing me with an r.s.p.c.a freedom food certified, free range pork sausage roll. They had other high welfare meat on the menu and vegetarian and vegan options too. The sausage in a roll was full of flavour and perfect for soaking up the ale. The Snow Top ale from Old Dairy would’ve been a perfect pairing to it.

Also on the food side of things were Merry Berry Chocolate Truffles, selling chocolates that worked well with the beers. The Scorpion Death Chilli Chocolate was certainly drawing in the crowds (more on that to come in a separate post later on in the week).

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All in all, a winning festival, well organised (by volunteers) and showing some truly exceptional beers, from breweries that are continually pushing boundaries, craftspeople  that are obviously passionate about their industry- an industry that we can all be proud of as part of our British heritage.

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