PIG’S EAR BEER AND CIDER FESTIVAL
Its kind of like an arctic mindbath
Cool and sweet and slightly rough
The lure of fine ale and pork scratchings on a cold and wet Saturday afternoon was all I needed to schlep out to the Far East, Hackney in fact and the Pig's Ear Beer and Cider Festival opposite Hackney Town Hall. HS was dipping his head into Whisky Vats up in Islay then flying a toy plane back to civilisation so I press-ganged my sometime dining and drinking companion Gavin ("The Preacher") into joining me. “I’ve had a Full English” he said when we met. It sounded like a threat.
After the Greater British Beer Festival, the Pig's Ear came as a bit of a shock. This was hardcore. This was the unacceptable face of the real ale culture (just joking). It's much smaller and seems to appeal mostly to the stereotypical ale drinker. Beards, large stomachs and too-tight comedic t-shirts were the norm, and that was just the women (boom boom). There were serious looks and simple requests about the beer brought forth frighteningly encyclopaedic replies. This was not a place to ask for Fosters. Having said that you do get to drink decent ale and where else in London are you going to get such a big choice of lovingly crafted, artisanal products for £1.20 a half-pint ?
We tried a few of the ales which were fine but then Gavin dragged me over to the Cider bar he had spotted at the other side of the hall. The DH MO at beer festivals is always to slip in a half of cider or perry at some point but it obviously got good to Gavin because we ended up spending the rest of our time sipping a lot more of the same. And sipping is what you must do as the strength of the drinks on offer starts at 6.5% and goes up to well...Pitfield Brewery's Night on Mare Street II clocks in at 14.5%.
As the day wore on the place became busier and the hopheads began to be outnumbered by young people who like all young people everywhere only seem to get out of bed after two o’ clock, the little scamps. Odd too, that even though we were in the heart of Hackney – a culturally and ethnically diverse area - the majority of real ale fans appear to be White. Just like Trainspotters.
The effect of drinking strong Fruit-based drinks began to kick in evinced by me talking more gibberish than usual, so it seemed like a good time to tomamos la penúltima or have one for the road (you never want the last one). Somehow, we'd managed to spend over four hours standing, drinking and yakking. A very nice way to spend a Saturday lunchtime, anyway.
It was dark when we came out. The Christmas Lights were on and the red neon sign of the Hackney Empire shone though the fine London drizzle, drawing in the punters to see the pantomime Dick Whittington And His Cat. There was a large poster on the front of the theatre with a picture of the Cat, a nasty leer on its face, its claws raised menacingly. Something didn’t seem quite right. I stepped forward to get a better look but a hand on my shoulder suddenly stopped me in my tracks. “My bus is here mate, I’m off”. I said goodbye to The Preacher and turned back to the Cat. It was just a picture, that’s all, just a picture. Of a cat. I shivered, turned up the collar of my coat and headed home to meet the returning HS.