While we're still clinging on to the month, it seems fitting to report back on Cambridge CAMRA's excellent Octoberfest (sic), the third in what I hope will be a long succession of such events.
Some thirty-odd real ales were on, including Milton Brewery's annual rauchbier effort. Lovely stuff.
But the real star was Olaf Schellenberg (pictured above, peering in from the right - I'm no photographer, eh?), a friend of the area who has imported German beers for more than 25 years. In addition to fest favourites from Augustiner, Hacker Pschorr and Spaten, focus turned inevitably to Bamberg's very own Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen. Olaf is keen to evangelise about this thick, gluggable, rich dark brown and powerfully smoky tincture. Served on draught, the body of the beer is certainly more viscous than from the bottle and this seems to enhance the sweetness of the malt, pleasantly balancing the smoke attack. But don't let this put you off buying it in bottle - to obsess over the difference is splitting hairs**.
Dark lager Nothelfer Trunk Dunkel on draught was my prize find. Richly, decadently malty with a hint of warming spice, it's a mince pie of a beer sporting Belgian dubbel characteristics. It seems pretty rare to find over here, so when I learned local beer paradise the Cambridge Blue would be having its own Oktoberfest, I pleaded with Olaf to send them some. He graciously agreed, though in the bottle (as it was at the pub), it was quite thin and seemed to have lost some complexity vs the draught. Still very good, though.
It's to CAMRA's credit that they have foreign beers at festivals but I am particularly pleased the Cambridge branch takes this opportunity to put them centre stage. Turnout was poor this year; last year's weekend was a washout while this year (and this is something a branch official conceded) it was both poorly advertised and scheduled. It was held 2-3 October; two weeks later and the students would all have been back and chomping at the bit.
I sincerely hope this doesn't mean the event will not run again in 2010. The first fest in 2007, correctly scheduled and well advertised, was a big success. My personal view is that CAMRA should keep its focus on cask but do much more to celebrate good beer from all countries and - yes - all dispense types. My key example is this - that CAMRA could not bring itself to showcase Taddington Brewery's superb Moravka lager, even on a special stall, just bemuses me.
So big congrats to the branch for getting the balance right. With some logistical tweaking, it'll run and run. After all, their May festival - the third largest in the country - is an absolute stormer, with a very diverse following.
** I should add the Schlenkerla Helles is terrific - no smoked malt is used at all, but as it's brewed in the same vats and kettles as the Märzen and other of their beers it has a light peaty aftertaste. Absolutely superb.
Olaf is an experienced importer and an absolute gent. Here are his contact details:
Olaf Schellenberg (U.K.) Ltd., P.O.Box 71, Perth, PH1 5YG. Tel: +44 (0)77 537 1750
Boak & Bailey - the UK's beer blogging dynamic duo - have written about Trunk here and on Bamberg and Schlenkerla here.
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