Photographs: Paul Richards
The annual Celtic Beer Festival takes place at St Austell Brewery, in Cornwall, this Saturday, with a special celebration marking the event’s 20th anniversary.
If you’ve never been before, this is definitely the year to clear space in your diary and enjoy a range of some 180 beers and ciders, great food,and a day-long line-up of live music, including one special mystery act.
The day marks 20 years since head brewer Roger Ryman came along and effectively saved the company’s beer-making reputation from taking a dive into oblivion.
Solar eclipse special Daylight Robbery became so popular it was retained as a core beer and renamed Tribute, trips to the US ignited an interest in their burgeoning hop market and led to Proper Job, and HSD was given a kiss of life and transformed from a sweet, sickly frog of a beer to a handsome prince on the bar.
Beer Today editor Darren Norbury poses with some of the Celtic Beer Festival specials
The beer festival is one of the most popular one-day events on the Cornish calendar and raises funds for the brewery’s charitable trust, which last year meant more than £40,000 for local charities and good causes.
The beer line-up comes from all around the country, and there’s a special bar near the festival entrance dedicated to brews from our fantastic Cornish breweries.
But the stars of the show tend to be the specials that have been worked on for months by the members of St Austell’s multi-talented brewing team, some 15 strong these days when you include the guys at Bath Ales, purchased by St Austell in 2016. Expect 20 or so one-off brews, some of which will see distribution to pubs through the brewery’s small-batch project.
Talented brewing team
I was honoured, then, to be one of the first to try some of these, two weeks ahead of the event, in the company of Rob Orton, brewing and bottling manager — a man so enthusiastic about the brewery’s output and keen to trumpet the talent of his fellow brewing team members.
The big question, then: which are the beers to look out for? For me, the star of the show could well be Milkshake IPA (5.8% ABV), which takes its name from the lactose in the recipe, which is being exported as a keg beer to France.
Dry hopped twice and featuring Citra, Mosaic and Eldorado hops, I urge you to give this creation of Rob’s a try as it exemplifies that journey St Austell has made as a brewery over the past two decades.
Look, real shorthand notes … Darren talks to brewing and bottling manager, Rob Orton, and beer brand marketing manager, Laura Hicks
Big Orange (4.8% ABV), by Grant Coles, highlights the Manadarina Bavaria hop and has orange peel in its recipe, with a taste not dissimilar to an orange lolly, while Season’s Wheatings (4.6% ABV), sprung from the imagination of Barnaby Skerrett, makes use of 50% hefeweizen yeast for a spicy, herbal note – refreshing and really interesting.
Finally, it’s not just brewers who get a chance to show off for the festival. Beer brand marketing manager, Laura Hicks, wanted to try her hand in the brewhouse and has come up with Hoptastic, which pretty much does what it says on the cask, low-colour Maris Otter malt teaming up with Ekuanot, Cascade and Simcoe hops for a golden, fruity, refreshing session bitter.