It wouldn’t be a complete trip to England without a beer festival, and thanks to my friends Jay and Katie Miller, the Reading (pronounced Redding, of course) Festival was on my “must do” list. After seeing the weather revert to dead-of-winter for a few days, the weather Gods smiled on us this last weekend. After finding the somewhat-local spray wash for the Jag, I set off on Thursday for Reading.
As usual, after a few stop offs for supplies and to get my GoPro “fixed”, I took the very scenic hour drive south to Reading. I had booked the Crowne Plaza Hotel, situated right on the Thames River and within a fifteen-minute walk from the Festival grounds. Did I mention they have a great gym, hot tub and spa? Ok, sort of a luxury, but quite different from my little converted barn gym in Churchill.
Thursday night was nothing special, I needed to be primed for the beer experience on Friday. Jay’s good friend in England had recommended that I attend on Friday to avoid the weekend crowds, and that was the perfect choice. Just the right amount of people and no crowds at the bar.
LOOK AT ALL THOSE KEGS LINED UP AND THIS IS ONLY HALF THE TENT
Your admission ticket gets you a souvenir glass and four half pint tasting tickets, plus the program listing over 400 beers and 100 ciders and “perrys” (more later). The whole event was held in a great green space next to the river with a huge tent and plenty of outside seating as well. Being the first day, the grass was still green underfoot and the toilets were clean (and all the casks were still full…. when they go they are gone).
Having been to Oktoberfest twice, I would call this “Oktober fest with more beer and fewer people”. The great German beer fest has become so popular that there are huge crowds day and night with long lines, boisterous drunks and nowhere to sit. By comparison, this event was “posh”. Enough seating, at least for a single, no lines at the bar, food and traditional games and lots of friendly (and not too drunk folks, but then I left a 5pm!).
Everyone seemed to take their beer very seriously and were studying the guide book with intensity, marking out their plan of attack. One old biker next to me must have marked at least 20 beers. I left him after four, I hope he made it home! Sensibly, the beer is offered in 1/3, ½ and full pint sizes (2 pounds for a half pint once your tokens are gone). Very good idea as it allows for a wider tasting without overconsumption.
I started with a couple of nice amber ales, to which I am prone, and then before I got too deep, had a great pulled pork sandwich (see below) and then got daring. First is was a glass of Mead. Mead was the predecessor of beer, made from fermented honey, and dates to Egyptian times (if not pre-historic times). Not bad. Would make a wonderful topping for pancakes or waffles! The Medieval breakfast of champions. Then it was on to the Ciders and Perrys. Ciders (apple based) I have had, so I threw myself on the mercy of a knowledgeable bartender (they all were amazing) and got a dry perry. Made from fermented pears, and with an endless variety of other fruit (and other crazy stuff) flavorings, it was actually quite refreshing.
OVER 100 CIDERS AND PERRYS
If you are counting, I am now somewhere around six half pints, so I am getting really bold. The beers are broken into four types…. golden (lagers and pilsners), amber, dark (like Guinness) and “specialty”. The specialty beer descriptions would boggle your mind. Anyway, I couldn’t resist the peanut butter flavored ale. It was AWFUL. I asked my new best friends at the table what to do with it, hoping one would say “I’ll take it”. They pointed under the table! I now know for sure that beer should taste like beer. Fruits, vegetable, spices, tree bark and fungi do NOT belong in beer.
Bottom line, great event, nice people, good beer.
TYPICAL “BEER WENCH” WITH TWO SOCIALLY REDEEMING VALUES (her eyes and her smile of course)
After a little nap, I took a ride (in the Jag this trip) to Sonning, another place recommended by the Millers. Lovely little village on the Thames near where George Clooney and the Prime Minister have residences. The Thames really is a special river, both historically and aesthetically. Swans everywhere, scullers paddling along, river boats with champagne parties’ float by, willow trees overhanging the banks. Just “brilliant”.
Saturday was get out of town day, but not without a few stops along the way. Bright sunshine, temps in the 70’s. Polo shirt driving.
First stop was Dorchester Abbey (no not Downton Abbey). I am a bit of a church and abbey fan as you know by now and couldn’t resist this one. Lovely old village and church made a great coffee stop. (I think if you click on the images below you can enlarge them to read the signs).
Then to the old market town of Bicester (Bister) and on to a hidden gem almost in my backyard, the Rollright Stones. The pictures tell the story of this stone age worship site. Not a grand as Stonehenge, but you can actually still touch the rocks (and have only a dozen or so people around you). One lady was enthralled as she held her crystal necklace over the stones and it made the crystal sway like a pendulum, or so she thought…. old hippies still live!).
Finally, in today’s food news, my lunch at the Festival of roast pulled boar meat (which they serve with applesauce and a smear of what they call dressing, sort of like turkey stuffing). Just the thing to soak up the beer. And some gherkins and mozzarella…. interesting. Next, I will be eating pork crackings
SOMEBODY HAS A “PRIZE’ COMING!