Cask Jousts with Keg at Hampton Court Beer and Jazz Festival

It was Ron’s idea, another beer festival to nicely wrap up August, neatly closing the bracket opened by the Great British Beer Festival in the first week. It was the bank holiday weekend, there would be jazz, a decent range of beers, and it was his birthday. Nothing earth-shattering on the jazz line-up, but we decided we liked the idea, even if we didn’t really know what we were in for.

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The Hampton Court Beer & Jazz Festival would be a different bushel of malt from the Great British Beer Festival, which is run by CAMRA. I couldn’t really see who ran HCB&JF. I had visions of Tudor-style hog roasts in the garden of the Palace, crumhorns brimming with foaming ale. Somewhat disappointingly, the actual venue turned out to be a field across the road from Henry’s pile. A big field, nevertheless, and a sizeable queue to get in, even at 3.30 in the afternoon. A decent-size stage and PA too.

Pint glasses bought, hands stamped for re-entry (club-style), amusing beer sign photographed, the first job was to size the beer up. There was a whole tent devoted to Greenwich’s Meantime Brewery, a Belgian bottled beer tent, a marquee with a line of casks, and the first sign that this was not a CAMRA do; some flavoured bottled ciders. And all the Meantime draught beers were… keg. Definitely not CAMRA friendly. Interesting.

Unlike yer average CAMRA member, the champions of so-called “real” ale, I am not an exclusive cask-conditioned beer person. I’m a card-carrying CAMRA member, but I don’t frown and spit on anything that doesn’t come out of a cask. I’ve had so many great keg beers from American craft brewers like Flying Dog, Sierra Nevada and Great Divide. Scottish enfants terribles BrewDog even sent out a blog saying that keg was the future of beer in the UK. Although I think that was designed to give Great British beer writer Roger Protz apoplexy (again), rather than a pure mission statement.

Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter and BrewDog Hardcore definitely ain’t Guinness Extra Cold nor John Smith’s Smooth. And once you’ve got over years of your own cask conditioning: that these beers, ought to be served from a hand pump to be worth anything, you can start entertaining the idea that maybe some beer styles could actually be more suited to filtration and delivery under pressure. This was perhaps what Meantime’s game plan was; to showcase a range of beer styles from London Stout to Oktoberfest lager to London Pale Ale.

Deciding to save the Meantimes for later, we went to the more conventional (for Britain) cask ale tent. There were 30 beers on offer, rather than the 100 or so on the list. This turned out to be a logistical problem of not enough hand pumps, however, there were enough interesting local micros, like Twickenham Fine Ales, and some from outside the South East, for it not to be too much of a disappointment.

On closer inspection, and indeed sampling, most of the beers turned out to be low to mid-strength golden ales. Too many variations on a safe theme. Sure, this had a wheaty tang, another a citrusy aroma, but it was like a stream of Katie Melua and Jamie Cullum – nothing wrong, but it left me wanting a bit of Acoustic Ladyland or Led Bib to spice things up.

And so to the Meantime tent to supply variation if not improvisation. London Stout was deeply bitter choclatey, the Kölsch malty and slightly nutty. The Oktoberfest was refreshing, if a bit bland, and I preferred the cask Oakland India Pale Ale to Meantime’s keg London Pale Ale, but it was served very cold.

Ron was duly celebrated. A cracking set from Ruby Turner, enhanced by savouring the earthy hoppiness of  the Oakland, couldn’t be dampened as the expected Bank Holiday shower passed. There was enough for us to consider giving Hampton Court another go next birthday. But today, Hampton Court felt like an unsettled score between cask and keg. Nothing that Henry would send anybody down the river to The Tower for, but next time, bolder champoins from both sides to the challenge, please.

Hampton Court Beer & Jazz Festival
BrewDog Blog about keg
My posts about The Great British Beer Festival