This weekend, Oxford Town Hall is packed out with Olympic standard beer bellies, all doing their best to get their way through 120 real ales and 18 ciders and perrys at the Annual Oxford Beer Festival. Mr. Butshesagirl and I went along last night to sample some of the nectar on offer. Well, it's only polite. We decided to start with cider (I spent my formative years in Bristol, and unlike many of my friends, didn't develop a learned aversion to cider from over-indulgence) - mixing beer and cider is a bit of a bad idea.
Our favourite was one by Brook in Gloucestershire, made from Kingston Black apples, but at 8.2%, you can't drink much of it and remain standing. I then tried a cider from a cider house called Mynediad Ysbyty in Gwent, which apparently means "Hospital Entrance" in translation. That was enough for me: "A half of Hospital Entrance, please". The smell very nearly put me off. It had a very strong aroma, which could only be described as sulphurous. Mr. Butshesagirl was more direct: "It smells like someone's farted in your glass". Charming. But I was not to be daunted, and I have to say that it tasted a lot nicer than it smelt. In fact, I kept saying that to everyone whose nose I thrust the glass under.
Still, it's really nice to see so many traditional ciders in one place. Real ale is making a bit of a comeback (a lot of a comeback, judging by the crowds at the festival), but you rarely see anything other than insipid Strongbow in pubs, which is a great shame. According to Capt. Sylas Taylor in Evelyn's Pomona:
"Cider does relax the belly... aid concoction, depress Vapours resist Melancholy, Spleen, Pleurisy, Strangury, and being sweetened with sugar abate inveterate Colds..."
So now you know. The interesting thing about the beer festivals is how well-behaved the average real ale drinker is. Unlike young lads tanked up on cheap lager, your average slightly inebriated real ale drinker just beams beatifically at the world, while resting his glass on his shelf-like belly. Granted, there are a lot of beards and Arran jumpers, but all good things come with some cost. Cheers!