In the not-so-glitzy world of student journalism, it is rare that you get commissioned an article that really feels like a win. Rare, that is, until around February time, when the Boar gets to report on the glorious annual Warwick Real Ale festival, the largest student-run ale festival in the UK.
Having never been to the Real Ale festival in all the many years I have been at Warwick, I felt that it was high time I got myself down there before I graduated and my knowledge of ale forever floundered at the Least Than Passable In A Good Pub mark.
Saying that, I really thought my grasp of ale was, on the whole, pretty damn good.
My experiences as a bolshy girl in the company of a whole family of male ale aficionados had trained me well in the art of bullshit tasting rhetoric. “Oh yes, excellent notes of coffee”; “my, what strong hops!” and suchlike.
At least, I thought so until I arrived at the launch of Warwick Real Ale Society’s very own ale, Third Degree (incidentally the best name for an ale I think I have ever heard).
The launch took place on Wednesday 9 February in the Dirty Duck, who are stocking the ale and retailing it and the perfectly reasonable price of £3.00 a pint. The Duck were excellent hosts for the event, planning shout outs at peak times to advertise the ale, and letting the society exec behind the bar to pull a pint for the paps (me with my iphone).
Around 30 people were there to taste the new ale, which made Warwick Real Ale Society only the third student society in the UK to have its own ale. The atmosphere was friendly, jovial, and proud – exactly the kind of society atmosphere that immediately makes you regret not joining it in Freshers.
This is, of course, not least of all because exec members of this society have particularly excellent names. Gone are the dull formalities of “social sec” and “president”, in are the enigmatic accolades of “chairman” and “cellarman”.
I spoke animatedly to the cellarman, and found that my ale knowledge failed me almost immediately. The ale of the hour was a dark IPA (India Pale Ale) – a rare and acquired taste in the world of ales that mixes the dark colour and flavours of stout with the hops of a pale ale. Having been asked by cellarman Matthew Lougher if I had ever tried a dark IPA, I decided that I had, and ventured that “wasn’t Doombar a dark IPA?” For reference, it isn’t.
Luckily, Matthew was really friendly and informative, it being he who had actually designed the ale. He told me, “it’s a hybrid of the full flavour of the dark malts to give it a nice sort of chocolatey flavour to start with, and then we’ve got the very strong hops – we’ve got Australian hops which are quite citrusy and fruity, so it’ll be a blend of the dark initial flavour going in to the bitter hop. We’re hoping that it will be something anyone will like, because normally people only like the light beers or the dark beers.”
He also added, “it’s been in the pipeline for like a year and a half, it’s just about getting to say “right, we’re going to do this”… it’s about time.
Elwinder Singh, CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) Liaison (told you about the fancy exec positions), and third year Economics, Politics, and International Studies student added, “given that we run the largest student ale festival in the UK, I think this is going to be a stepping stone for things to come. It’s really exciting: obviously this is going to be the centrepiece for the Real Ale Festival.”
Matthew. A final year MOAC phD student, also added that it was great to be on exec when the ale was coming out. “It’s my fifth year on exec, sixth year helping at the festival, and it’s just a really good atmosphere down there… it’s good fun, you get quite a bit of pride when you see people enjoying the beer – we get 1,200 people through the door, it’s quite a good feeling!”
So, with a bit of that good feeling, I cheerfully bumbled off to pretend to work totally soberly in the library, dreaming of the gallons of ale waiting to be tasted that Thursday at the festival.
Thus I found myself, in the very early hours of the morning of Friday 13 February, eating pizza in half my pajamas and half my daytime outfit, and, in the later hours of the morning of Friday, nursing an absolutely stonking hangover.
I had managed to try – all in the name of good journalism, you understand – over 23 ales. Since I had decided to try all 120 different ales upon arrival, I had drunkenly decided this was an underachievement, but the slightly horrified looks on the faces of my friends when I told them cemented my pride.
I tried everything from “Alpha Acid”, a vile concoction so strange I didn’t see them serving a single full pint, to the beautiful “Nero”, a coffee-flavoured dark ale, to glorious elderflower and raspberry noted liquids, to one ale brewed with oysters. I thought I knew ale, but I never knew how astoundingly different it could be.
The festival itself was one of the first genuinely pleasant experiences I have ever had in the Copper Rooms – everyone was cheerful, smiling, sharing pints, dancing to the bonkers live music. Happily, there were more women than I expected (although still a minority), and there was plenty of chatting with strangers about the ale you were drinking, which ones you’d recommend.
Warwick Real Ale society not only threw one hell of a festival, but also taught me an enormous amount. Safe to say, I definitely regret not joining in Freshers.