Wigan beer festival hits the right tone

Volunteer Barman Joel Garnett at this year's Wigan Beer Festival
Volunteer Barman Joel Garnett at this year's Wigan Beer Festival

Our beer expert Andrew Nowell discusses the highs and lows of Wigan's latest celebration of all things hoppy...

After last year’s Wigan Camra Beer Festival received an unwelcome visit from an eastern weather beast the first thing to note when walking in on the Friday is how packed Robin Park is.

Tables are taken, the stairs are full of groups chatting over a selection of real ales, ciders and perries and there are large numbers in the standing room too.

It’s the same story when I venture in on Saturday afternoon, with plenty of people supping their way through a rapidly-dwindling array of barrels.

So, how did the selection of ales for the 32nd Wigan Beer Festival stack up?

There’s a disappointing start on the Friday night when I discover Hawkshead’s glorious-sounding Tiramisu Imperial Stout has already been drunk dry.

However, everything is soon soothed with a third of Dark Mystic byVocation.

This is an imperial chocolate stout and it’s like a hugely-indulgent dessert with massive flavours of sweet cherry. Luscious.

There’s good news on the local beer front too as I track down Clay Brow Nano Brewery’s Billy P’s Breakfast Stout.

This is the Skelmersdale concern’s first Wigan beer festival and the strong, rather bitter coffee notes make a good impression.

In fact it’s a good weekend for the Wigan brewing scene all round as Wily Fox scoop up the awards for Best Pale for the ever-popular Karma Citra and the best dark with their rum porter Dark Flagon.

Speaking of award winners, though, the beer that makes the biggest impression on our group is the Great British Beer Festival’s champion of champion, Siren’s Broken Dream.

Whether sampling for the first time or returning for just one more half, this wows the dark beer fans we’re sat with thanks to its complex combination of dark and roasted coffee, creamy oatmeal and smoke.

Though one pale ale fan instead described it as “like treacle”, so it’s horses for courses really.

Anyone who likes some sweetness would be well rewarded with North Riding’s Tiramisu Porter, which combines the flavours of the Italian dessert into a beer flavour quite well.

On the keg and foreign beer bar it’s more of a mixed picture. Wander Beyond and Marble’s collaboration on a sour gets tastebuds salivating but somehow
the reality doesn’t live up to the idea.

There’s also a queue on the imperials keg so I don’t get to try Dutch brewery De Molen’s divine Russian strong stout Mooi and Mendogenloos. Instead another monster from the Netherlands, 84 by LOC, is on but its flavours of damson and plum should make more impression.

That leaves Supernova, a lovely chocolate stout by Nightjar, to lead the way.

In a year celebrating Northern Soul, it’s fair to say the festival hit top note.