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Posted: 05 November 2011
Process Development Engineer, Rupert Hodgkins, talks about his trip to Karakterbier Festival with Lab Manager, Jemima Vickers:
Poperinge, West Flanders, is the hop capital of Belgium – 80% of the country’s hops come from the surrounding farms. Local hop grower Joris Cambie is one of the worlds few successful producers of organic hops, and his produce regularly finds its way into our 100% organic ale, Whitstable Bay. The town is also home to a large hop museum, which a delegation from Shepherd Neame previously visited.
Thanks to these connections, the local beer tasting society offered us a stall at the Karakterbier Festival, which is primarily a showcase for local beers, so off to Belgium we trundled in a small white van laden with beer bottles, t-shirts and other trinkets to sell or give away.
Now, Belgians aren’t known for their love of British beer. In their national consciousness, our beer is weak, warm, flat dishwater only fit for consumption in the direst of emergencies. The strength of their distain is almost equal to the contempt for British wine held by the average Frenchman. Anticipating their concerns, we brought only well-carbonated bottled beers and served them cold, straight from the fridge, in freshly-washed glasses. We also perfected the Belgian pour – two thirds beer, one third head!
The effect was rather pleasing. Over the course of two days, and nineteen hours of drinking, each of the five beers we brought developed its own little fan club. Spitfire was popular with younger people, both men and women, looking for something light and hoppy. Late Red appealed to those looking for a fruitier, sweeter and more subtle approach. Bishops Finger, which already has a small following amongst the local beer cognoscenti, appealed to those who enjoy a more assertively bitter flavour. 1698 was appreciated for its delicate aroma, derived from the lashings of East Kent Goldings we apply throughout the brewing process. Last, but not least, Christmas Ale showed what a luxurious, well balanced strong British ale can do, both to the tastebuds and the legs.
The only murmurs of complaint were from fellow Brits, and were generally along the lines of “why would I drink that here when I can get it at home?” – a fair point really, but that didn’t stop a few from trying our less ubiquitous offerings.
In all, there were 1500 visitors to the festival over two days, which was up from 1200 the previous year. We served a total of 860 glasses of beer. Not bad!
Our neighbouring stalls were Rodenbach, one of the most renowned Belgian brewers and winners of the World’s Best Ale award in the World Beer Awards, and Craig Allan, a Scot brewing superb craft beer and based in France. The rest of the hall was packed with mostly small and local brewers selling an astonishing range of beers. We found that there is a notable trend amongst the newer breweries towards drier beers with more of a hop-lead flavour, which are more refreshing drinks than the traditional abbey-style Blondes, Dubbels and Tripels, which also remain very popular.