Ahh, summer. A time for sunshine, holidays and, if you didn’t manage to get either of those, a beer festival or two.
Last month I attended Ales Tales, a beer festival focused entirely on beers hailing from Belgium. I am, as you might know, a lover of Belgian beer and have made it part of my life’s mission to find and drink as much of it as possible. That said; with a brewing history as long and rich as Belgium’s I just knew I was going to be surrounded by the exciting and unfamiliar.
Ales Tales was held at Oval Space; a gorgeous old warehouse overlooking the Bethnal Green gasholders. On a warm summer’s evening it was the perfect location.
Inside the festival had been decked out in the colours of Belgium, with breweries serving from behind rustic wooden bars. The vibe was relaxed, reminiscent of a Sunday farmers market.
Tickets were £9, and tokens could be bought for £1.50 (1 token = 1 10cl pour), but for £40 you received unlimited pours plus a choice of chips or meatballs. I’m not usually a fan of ‘all in’ tickets, but the latter did seem to be the best value and we found the pours to be particularly generous.
When drinking Belgian beer it’s best to line the stomach lest you end up somewhere in Middlesborough at 6am wondering what on earth happened (this did actually happen to a friend – not me I PROMISE). I opted for croquettes (one cheese and one shrimp) with fries and a lot of mayo. A little pricey, admittedly, but please remember that we were in Hackney so it was nice just to receive something that wasn’t served on a slate/bread board/in a shoe.
But oh, the beers! So many exciting discoveries to be made, so many people to meet and stories to hear. Particular highlights were the small family run brewery Bertinchamps, whose 7% dubbel was nutty and delicious, and the incredible Saison d’Erpe-Mere by Glazen Toren, well balanced and a delight to drink (and look at).
But then I saw it out of the corner of my eye. His little bald head and glasses drew me in like a moth to a flame (I should probably clarify that I’m referring to the label rather than the man serving). “Do you like sour beers?” asked the man behind the bar, “I should warn you this one is very sour.” Well if that wasn’t a challenge I don’t know what is. And, as I sipped it, a big toothy smile crept across my face and I felt warm and full of happiness. And why? Because Cuvee Jeun’homme, by De Leite, is My Beer. It is just incredible. Aged for 4 months in oak wine casks, the taste is of pickled lemons and barnyards and sea salt and a lingering finish so dry you need a shower afterwards. Just wonderful.
For me, Ales Tales managed to bring together the perfect combination of beer, food and atmosphere to produce an ideal beer festival. What could be better than spending an afternoon or evening sampling some of the finest beers known to woman, paired with delicious food, and then to discover one that blows your socks off? Well, that’s the dream. It’s got a lot to live up to, but I can’t wait to do it all again next year.