Our primary motivation for attending distant CAMRA beer festivals is the chance to experience local ales; those that are unlikely to show up in Reading’s pubs. The recent Ealing festival offered such a Fueled by Beer opportunity, and then delivered a whole lot more…
The 25th Ealing Beer Festival kicked off on Wednesday with a starting lineup of over 300 different ales. It was set to run through Saturday, or until the beer ran out. By Friday’s close there were still around 60 casks left. Credit where it’s due: the local CAMRA branch provided regular updates via Twitter and Facebook. They also went to great lengths to source some late additions from local brewers and this is where the “whole lot more” came in.
Attending a beer festival on its closing day might dissuade many people from going but not Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer: we gravitate towards the darker styles, which are usually the last to go. This was certainly the case at Ealing and with the late additions from local breweries we had every reason to make a Fueled by Beer trip.
We enjoyed an easy train ride up to Ealing Broadway, shared part way by the throngs headed to Henley Royal Regatta. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Nigels and Wodgers dressed in their silly Blazers and Panama hats in one place at one time. A real life Upper Class Twit of the Year Show.
Anyway, from Ealing Broadway it was a short walk to Walpole Park, the venue for the beer festival.
On the surface this festival was like any other outdoor CAMRA festival we have attended. Massive beer tents containing the bars, a sprinkling of food vendors inside and out, along with some other concessions, and an outdoor seating area with obligatory cluster of portaloos stuck away in the least usable corner of the site.
Besides a good selection of remaining darks; our favored milds, porters and stouts, the late additions from Portobello, XT, and Dragonfly turned Saturday at Ealing into what amounted to a separate one-day festival, quite different from the preceding days. The most exciting part was the late addition of Dragonfly and Aeronaut, two new brewpubs in nearby Acton that opened in recent months. Aeronaut quickly sold out on the Friday evening but Dragonfly, with its larger brewing capacity, was still on when we arrived on Saturday. Here are our selections on the day with, as usual, smileys to denote our favorites:
Mr Fueled by Beer
- Bank Top Brewery, Lancashire: Dark Mild Ale
- Colchester Brewery, Essex: Metropolis Golden Ale
- Dragonfly Brewery, London: Saison Blonde Ale 🙂
- Portobello Brewery, London: Market Porter
- Portobello Brewery, London: American Pale Ale
- Portobello Brewery, London: Apache IPA 🙂 🙂
- Rebellion Beer Co, Buckinghamshire: Stepover ESB 🙂 🙂 🙂
- Sherfield Village Brewery, Hampshire: BHB Black IPA
- XT Brewing Co, Buckinghamshire: #1 Blonde Ale
Mrs Fueled by Beer
- Dragonfly Brewery, London: Dark Matter Stout 🙂 🙂
- Hop Back Brewery, Wiltshire: Entire Stout
- Phoenix Brewery, Manchester: Monkeytown Mild Ale 🙂
- Rebellion Beer Co, Buckinghamshire: Stepover ESB 🙂 🙂 🙂
Before making the trip we had read about Acton’s new brewpubs so right from the start we intended to visit them both after we were done at the festival. It was an easy walk from Walpole Park across Ealing Common to Acton High Street where the pubs are literally a few doors apart. Both occupy the sites of long established pubs but they have been recently renovated and today Aeronaut and Dragonfly offer very different experiences.
When you enter the Aeronaut from the street there are very few clues that this brewpub is *very* different. The main bar and brewery area is pretty standard brewpub however go through to the back and you’ll step outside into an amazing outdoor beer garden. There’s a quirky carnival theme going on with gaudily decorated booths lining all three sides. Each booth is unique and named for a typical English fairground attraction.
Back in the pub, off to one side, is another room which is the indoor ‘big top’. Here circuses are performed on a regular schedule. It’s not a lions and tigers, oh my, kind of show. More of a close quarters kind of thing with aerialists, contortionists, acrobats, jugglers, magicians, etc. The evening show contains off-color humor and slightly risque Burlesque elements, in keeping with a drunken audience, so is open to over-18s only. However there are plans to perform matinee shows suitable for kiddies. Check the website for dates and tickets.
The Aeronaut’s microbrewery is one of three started by Brighton-based Laine Pub Company. The other two are at the original Brighton site, The North Laine, and a third has opened in London’s East End at the People’s Park Tavern in Hackney.
There appear to be 4 or 5 core ales in the Laine lineup: Laine’s Best bitter, an ESB; a Porter; an IPA; and Crazy 8, a Black IPA – pretty standard stuff. There are also some specials and seasonals, like Hooker – commemorating 6 Nations Rugby, and Copa – for the soccer World Cup.
We tried the Porter and dark IPA – both OK but not memorable. The food however was very good. Respectable beer, good food, and a circus makes this a worthwhile trip on its own. We hope to return soon for the full experience.
The George & Dragon is the exact opposite of the Aeronaut: a very traditional pub in a beautifully renovated historic 18th century coaching inn. There’s no gaudy theatrics here, neither is there any attempt at hipster-modern, faux-industrial chic, stainless steel and glass, a la the 0° brewpub chain.
It’s just dark wood nooks & crannies, comfy seating, and all the way in back is the gorgeous Victorian bar featuring twin 6 foot tall art nouveau light statues on each corner. Behind the bar, at the very back of the pub, is the brewery. It sits in a brilliant white ceramic-tiled alcove with gleaming copper and stainless steel brewing vessels. Bringing together elements spanning the 18th to 21st centuries, the George & Dragon pub, and its Dragonfly brewery, is one of the most skillful uses of a historic space I have ever seen.
Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer started off their Ealing Beer Festival day with brews from Dragonfly, loved them, and so had high expectations for our visit to the source. And we were not disappointed. A very solid lineup awaited us on the handpumps and our pick for the day was the 2 o’clock Ordinary, a bitter that was anything but ordinary. This rivalled some of my all-time favorite pale ales from Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.
As a food destination I think it’s fair to say the George & Dragon is more of a lunchtime spot. Sandwiches on weekdays and Sunday roast on, well, Sundays. Dinner options are limited to bar snacks or some pub favorites like bangers n mash, fish n chips – that’s pretty much it.
However the beer – oh the beer – this is why any visit to west London would not be complete without including a trip to Dragonfly Brewery. The beer is that good.
Here are some photos from our trip…