After I had met Matt Brynildson brewmaster at the Firestone Walker brewery in Paso Robles, California, on his way to make a Californian-style pale ale at Marston’s brewery in Burton upon Trent, for this year’s Wetherspoon’s International Beer Festival, I was eager to try Matt’s brew.
The problem with the Wetherspoon’s festival, though, is that with 50 beers on offer and no one pub able to do more than eight or so at a time, finding the one you want in any random ‘spoons outlet is, at best, five to one against: indeed, some pubs, I found last year, weren’t carrying any festival specials at all.
But since I was on the eastern side of the City on Friday night I decided the Masque Haunt in Old Street was worth a punt: despite the poor reviews you’ll find at that link, this is, as pubs underneath office blocks go, not bad, I’ve been drinking there for a dozen years and the condition of the beer is generally good, the customers are no more wacky than anywhere else in the City after 8pm when anyone normal has caught the train home*, and, most importantly, it offered a very good selection of beers during last year’s festival.
Result! Not only was the Haunt stocking Matt’s California Pale Ale, it also had two of the other three “international guest brewer” beers on tap, Baron’s Black Wattle Original Ale, with the Sydney-based brewers coming to Banks’s in Wolverhampton to recreate their beer (two more different places than “Sinny” and “Walverampton” it would be tough to think up) and Yona Yona from the Yo-Ho brewery in Kitasaku, Japan, being brewed at Banks’s.
Matt’s beer, at 4.5 per cent abv, was lower in strength than I had been expecting (though if I’d checked the brewery’s website I’d have seen the American version is only 4.6 per cent alcohol) and the promised floral character from the specially imported American hops came through, for me, as roses more than anything else. There was a hint of sulphur, typical of a Burton-brewed pale ale, and a sweetness that became more apparent as the beer warmed up in the glass. It was an oily, complex beer, one I need to try again, I think, to get a better measure of.
The Yona Yona was meant to be another American-style pale ale, but in the half-pint the Masque served me it had a fruit-drop sweetness and an unimpressive, uncomplicated mien. The Baron’s Black Wattle Original, however, was interestingly dry, and though it looked like an ale it tasted half-way to being a stout, with plenty of roastedness, as much from the roast wattle seeds used in the brewing as roast malts, I’m guessing. There was a slightly vegetal tone running alongside blackcurrant on the nose: another one to try again, if it’s on.
*Except that I was there on Hallowe’en, which has increasingly become an excuse for English people to put on the fancy dress, and made the Masque Haunt the haunt of masks: I saw one guy with some very realistic little horns glued to his head, and alongside the many zombies an Amy Winehouse, with fake tattoos – she should have kept the beehive, put on a red jacket and glasses and come as Sarah Palin, that would have been scary.