Monthly Archives: August 2011

Nothinginsomethingparticular

A few miscellaneous thoughts, not long enough for separate posts but too substantial for Twitter.

Firstly, Marble. What’s going on there at the moment? They seem to have gone bottle crazy. The local CAMRA mag mentioned that they’d bottled a Tripel and a Weizen (the latter brewed at 5% and bottled in a 500 ml size, which is nice to see) – but that’s not the half of it. There’s also a re-brewed Vuur & Vlam (now labelled Manchester Vuur & Vlam), and – to go with the Tripel – a Dubbel. Sadly I’m unable to tell you what most of these are like – for me, Marble’s big-bottle prices tend to come in the wrong side of a sharp intake of breath. I did succumb to the appeal of the MV&V when I first saw it, but I’m afraid the D. and the T. are going to remain a mystery for a while longer. (Unless there are any bottles going for review…?)

Secondly, Morrison’s. I mentioned this on a non-beer blog, so I might as well mention it here too – Morrison’s are currently doing rather good things with beer, including an own-brand ‘green hop’ beer brewed by Titanic and selling at £1.50. (It’s a beer in the currently popular style of Hoppy Yellow Bastard, and very drinkable indeed. On the down side, clear glass. Worth a punt, though.) They’ve also got a “four for £5.50” offer, which is stupendously good value – particularly when the beers involved include Summer Lightning, Ringwood Fortyniner, Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Butcombe Bitter, Bateman’s XXB… the list goes on. If you’ve got one locally, get down there.

Finally, That London. Where’s a good place to drink in London, then? We’ll be staying in the King’s Cross area and spending most of the time wandering around the usual Zone 1 tourist-y areas, so don’t bother recommending anywhere in Whitechapel or Archway. Also, must be big enough to swing a cat, have adequate seating, not be rammed with men in suits & generally be (Mudge, look away now) family-friendly. Family-friendly pub, central London, good and/or interesting beer. As many as you like.

EPA! EPA! EPA!

Given that you’re interested in beer, and given that it’s 2011, I probably don’t need to tell you much about Summer Lightning. What a very fine beer that is – an early example of the pale and hoppy style, and such a good one that it won over people who didn’t even like pale and hoppy bitters (e.g. me). I like everything about it, including the fact that it’s still brewed at 5% (cask as well as bottle).

I had a pint the other night, following a perfectly decent Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, and thought I might as well follow it with another. I’ve never known a big beer taste so clean, or vice versa. That full but light body, that palate-cleansing astringency, that great big thud of bitterness in the aftertaste – glorious stuff. But there was still some evening left at the end of the beer, so I went back to the bar in search of something light and unassuming (and weaker, not to put to fine a point on it).

Then I noticed a pump I’d overlooked before, serving Marston’s EPA – English Pale Ale – at an unassuming 3.4%. I had a half (it was late) and was very pleasantly surprised. There’s hops in there – there’s a bit of biscuity malt, but it’s only there for background: the foreground is fully occupied with big, smoky hop aromas. It made the Summer Lightning look a bit unsubtle by comparison. It was the kind of flavour that I usually associate with much stronger & more specialised beers – if I’d tasted it blind and then been told I was drinking a limited-edition single hop varietal ale brewed at 6%, I’d have believed it without a question.

A pleasant surprise, then, but also a beer that changed my mind about a couple of things. I haven’t had much regard for the Marston’s name in the last few years, but EPA suggests that there are some interesting things going on there at the moment. It also suggests that the promised brave new world of sub-4% and even sub-3% beers might not be such a bad place to be: if you can put that much flavour into a beer brewed at under 3.5%, why go higher?

It Started With a Dobber

In the spirit of Private Eye, I’ve got an apology to make.

I may in the past have given the impression that pale, hoppy beer was not my kind of thing. When I suggested that certain brewers were “taking British beer up a flowery, lemony, smoky dead end”, and made comments such as “roll on the malt backlash”, this may have led readers to believe that I had a strong preference for tawny and malty beers. My tasting notes, in particular, may have given readers the impression that my favourite beers had “a rich mouth-filling flavour combining bitterness and fruit and a great big slug of malt”; this description contrasts with my verdict on Pictish Citra, for example, which merited the enthusiastic description “not really my kind of thing as such, but very well executed”.

I now realise that… oh, I can’t keep this up. The thing is, I’ve had a change of mind, or heart, or palate. Those pale hoppy beers? I get them. I see what they’re doing now. More to the point, I enjoy what they’re doing now (well, most of the time).

I owe it all to the Marble Brewery – and to the eponymous Beerhouse, whose staff have selflessly persisted in letting me order pale and hoppy beer for a decade now. My first turning point came when the Manchester Twissup visited the brewery last October, and we were served halves of bottled Dobber (I’d never really liked it, but it would have been churlish to refuse). Reader, I got it; I even went back for the other half. Then there was Marble Lagonda IPA, Dark Star APA, Holt’s IPA…

And then there was Marble Utility 6 IPA, on draught at the Stockport Beer & Cider Festival. (Which seems to have a bigger And Cider section every year – the only problem being that I’m more of an obsessive beer-ticker every year, & haven’t managed to fit in any cider the last two festivals I’ve been to.) I’ve always had a problem with the hoppier American IPAs, and I’ve always had a problem with the full-on “more hops, vicar?” approach that characterises all the paler Marble beers, so I’m not sure why I went for this – but I’m glad I did. Big dry flavour. Big dry smoky flavour. Big long dry smoky… you get the picture. It was fantastic.

Then the other day I had a half of Magic Rock Curious (not so much “hop-forward in the modern style” as “hops smacking you about the face, in the style of a demented alcoholic Tango advert”) – it was great. It’s all good. Pictish, Thornbridge, Summer Wine, Buxton – bring ’em on. Pale beer is OK by me.

(The only downside is that my tasting notes are now basically useless, even as an aide-memoire for myself. Maybe I’ll just replace them with a page saying “Any bitter: This beer is nice in its own way.”)