This is not a mockery of the very respectable caption of Uncle Sam’s quarter. But an ode to my Beer Festival, my first one last October, after missing 2 consecutive annual events in UK. I took Sonia, my elderly British friend as my beer connoisseur accompaniment; along with our free pass (working in a pub has its great perks and motivational package) we hailed into an Odyssey of Authentic English Beers and Authentic English Drinking.
First Stop. Buy or hire your drinking apparatus. Which in here comes in a half a ton of glass shaped in a mug. I doubt if I will be able to physically hang on to this on my third pint, with my body mass and my locomotion abilities post-alcohol, but we’ve no choice, so I chose the half-pint and so did Sonia. We grab the program, which is like a Graduation Ceremony Booklet with the list of the beers and its description, origin, and alcohol content, and a tick box right next to it. Something Like an Alcoholic’s Guide to Being Drunk, systematically. It runs for three days, and I really really wonder if anyone hands-in a perfectly and completely marked, ticked program -consciously. Ah, enough wondering, the beer’s getting cold. I was never a beer drinker, but Im looking forward to my initiation into the culture of English Beer Festival.
2nd Stop. The Grand Hall. The Grand Hall looks like a lobby with a stage but hundreds of barrels of beers and ale and perry on the walls, arranged in alphabetical order. Well, I guess people could still read A,B,C and manoeuvre their way in a tricky 3-Floor Beer Festival under the influence, but I wonder why they can’t drive. We start off with an ale. A Real Ale from my Beer 101 Program according to the Campaigners of Real Ale (what would Campaigners of Not so Real Ale would say?) is a “beer made from natural ingredients: malted barley, hops, water, and yeast which, after primary fermentation in the brewery, is put into casks where it continues to undergo a slow secondary fermentation, then produces a gentle carbonation, it is unfiltered and unpasteurized, and is a living product”. Its antithesis (probably this is what campaigners of not so real ale would drink) is keg beer or as the industry would call it “brewery conditioned” which after primary fermentation is filtered pasteurized and sold freezing cold using extraneous gas to produce the excessive fizz and little taste (Beer Festival Guide et al, 2009). I was reading this while holding my first half pint of the day, a Devon Dumpling Bays, 5.1% of the unpasteurized living thing from Devon. It was a strong bitter taste when it first hit my senses, but I unusually love the undertone of hop and barley, and the way it plays at the back of my tongue. I am not particularly keen with the smell or the main tang of it, but I was looking forward to gulping it because the aftertaste was a good-natured lightness of hop and barley that was lost in the fizz of my usual lager of Carlsburg. Tick the box, 200 to go.
3rd Stop. The Stage Bar. We decided to go for cider next. Tumbling through my Beer wikipedia, it defines cider as fermented apple juice. One adult rating higher than the breakfast liquid accompaniment, two adult rating higher than the thing that keeps the doctor away. Me and Sonia looked at the towers of kegs confusingly as we try to pick our cider. Then an intervention came in a form of a veteran Englishman that picks for us a 7.1% Hertfordshire Brewed-Cider which is amazingly deceitful of its ABV. It has that lovely stink of a fresh brew, It’s non-fizzy, and bordering on medium dry. Hands down the best cider my rookie palate came across. Quarter of a pint later I managed to carelessly tumble my stranger seatmate’s beer with my hand bag. I am quite disappointed with myself as I knew my tolerance for alcohol has been fine-tuned and trained by the more lethal cheap Uni vodka and half-filtered tequila. Nonetheless, I profusely apologized and asked the gentleman if I could buy him the same drink. He said I don’t have to, but I insisted and he seems genuinely appreciative of the gesture. Anyway, me and Sonia discussed my absolute disability to pass the UK Practical Driving Test, I will not embarrass myself with how many tries I’ve done but as of this writing I am still trying. My hands-eye coordination is normally within the median bounds, and I’ve never failed anything in school, so this is a humbling experience, bordering on annoying and frustrating. Sometimes I just wanna scream discrimination. I did try all the moves though, dressing up a bit more sexier than one would in a driving exam, begging, reasoning out, laughing it out. Oh well. Me and right-hand driving don’t get along well, no actually I always say that every time it get jinxed (excuses). Nonetheless, my failure as a driver and my inability to stop trying was our cider topic. Then we decided to go to Germany, at least for a beer, which is a flight of stairs away.
4th Stop. Germany. At least where the beer was from. We got a bottled 500ml of “Oktoberfest Beer”- a gigantic bitter fizz that is a tad too macho for me. We sat and talk about my other work, and a call from a supplier from my office work cuts in, I have to excuse myself from Sonia and find my sobriety. Quite confident that my alco tolerance didn’t betray me this time, I picked up the call and manage to book a meeting with him and my boss the following week. When I put down the phone, I asked myself in panic if I booked a Wednesday or a Thursday. I dropped my doubts and carry on Oktoberfesting. We struggled to finish this German concoction but still we decided that we could carry on with one for the road, from the topmost floor.
5th Stop. I could just remember a few notes from this one. I knew it’s on the top floor and that we had a stout that I could also remember I don’t like it and I had mixed too much of too many different drinks that my usual 40% threshold is slumped by a quartet of single-digit ABV potions. I didn’t finish the drink and neither did Sonia. But I could remember going to the loo and meeting my mishap victim along the way, the English gentleman whose drink I have managed to spill on my 2nd half pint. I first looked at him confusingly and so did he, and he laughed and he asked if I remembered him, and I smiled and beg for a salvation of memory, and he said that I bought him a drink today and he sincerely thanked me for that. Chivalry lives on. Let’s drink to that.
We cap off our little trip by buying Lily, my pub boss, one mug Glass with a souvenir program just in case she wants to check out the list of the guilty liquids that put our town in a drunk state for 3 days. I came home with a lovely feeling that even though I will always be Asian, today, my quartet of half-pints had taken me into an afternoon of being English and English gentlemen who manage to multi-task drinking and niceness, and it was bloody fun.