Monthly Archives: June 2014

Mixing it

Late contribution to The Session #88.

There’s only one beer mix I’ve drunk at all… well, I was going to write ‘at all regularly’, but now I think of it the last word isn’t necessary; there’s really only one beer mix I’ve drunk at all. I was introduced to it one time when I was travelling and bought a round for some people I didn’t know very well. This was at a time when for some reason I thought it would be terribly uncool to actually ask somebody what they’d been drinking – either that or I was just shy – so some guesswork was involved. Mostly people were drinking straight lager or bitter, but one guy was mixing his drinks. I took a stab and ordered him “a half of Guinness in a pint glass with a bottle of Guinness poured into the same glass”; it took a bit of explaining to the barmaid, and came out looking all wrong (about six inches of cumulo-nimbus head, apart from anything else). Next round someone else was getting them in, & I heard him asking the mixed stout drinker if he wanted a “black and tan” – which turned out to be a half of bitter with a bottle of Guinness on top, and no massive head. I tried it myself when I got back to civilisation and found it a great improvement on Holt’s bitter without the Guinness, although on reflection I found I couldn’t say exactly why. The closest I could get was that it didn’t taste of anything at all. I’ve never much liked sourness in beers, and in the Guinness/bitter mix the citric sourness of the bitter and the burnt-grain sourness of the Guiness somehow cancelled each other out, leaving me with this big, rich, mouth-filling… nothing very much. I alternated bitter & B&T for a while, then started reserving a B&T for the last drink of the night and eventually gave it up; by this timeĀ I was drinking in places that offered a bit more choice than Holt’s bitter and bottled Guinness.

So the idea of the Session #88 didn’t appeal to me very much. But the round-up made it sound interesting enough to make me want to give it a go, particularly when I noticed that – while B&B had tried a couple of Burton & Bitters – nobody had had a go at a ‘mother-in-law’, a.k.a. old and bitter (ho ho). So I pulled out a bottle of Landlord and one of Old Tom and set to.

Timothy Taylor’s Landlord (4.1%): light, thin-bodied, big tannic bitterness, very drinkable.

Robinson’s Old Tom (8.5%): heavy, sweetish, complex, superb.

Lord Tom (2/3 Landlord, 1/3 Old Tom): surprisingly thin. There’s a bit of sweetness there but without the oomph of Old Tom, and almost all the bitterness of Landlord seems to have gone. There’s not much flavour there at all, to be honest. Tastes like a mix, in a bad way – or else it just tastes like a rather bland bitter with some kind of syrup dropped in it.

Old Landlord (1/3 Landlord, 2/3 Old Tom): a bit more successful. The sweetness of the Old Tom is more in evidence in this mix, but oddly enough so is the bitterness of the Landlord; they combine & conflict in some fairly interesting ways. In a blind tasting I think I would have taken this for an actual beer, perhaps a relatively light Belgian dubbel – although not a particularly good one, if I’m brutally honest. If you were determined to mix Landlord and Old Tom I’d recommend you did it in these proportions – but only after I’d tried to talk you out of it.

How was my mother-in-law? Well, I wouldn’t say my mother-in-law’s thin, but… it was; also, just a bit bland and uninteresting. Perhaps the problem was using two beers which have such a strong character of their own – or perhaps the problem was just using two beers I like.

All in all, the experiment confirms my initial view of beer-mixing: that it’s something you do with two beers whose taste you don’t much like, to mask those flavours and leave you with something that’s drinkable but doesn’t taste of much. And the only time you’d want to do that is when there was nothing to drink whose taste you did like. I’m as nostalgic as the next CAMRA member for the world of pubs serving two bitters and a mild from the brewery down the road, but that lack of choice – unless you got on your bike – obviously had its disadvantages. Beer-mixing was, perhaps, a way of mitigating those disadvantages; it solved a problem, but a problem that we don’t have any more.


…thou art my darling

Here are my tasting notes from the Stockport Beer and Cider Festival, as composed at the time (mostly).

Conwy/Dobbin Yakima Grande **** 5=7.5 Oh yes. Very bitter indeed, in a good way.

Red Bank Crackin’ Pear Perry ** 6.5 -> 14 Yeah but no but… Bit on the sour side.

Red Willow Faithless XXXII ***** 6 -> 20 The good stuff has arrived. An IPA only more so; one to explore.

Bootleg The Real McCoy *** 9.2 >> 29.2 A decent barley wine, which is a good thing.

Buxton Moor Top *** 3.6 = 5.4 >> 34.6 Very very dry, not much more.

Squawk Pomegranate Porter **** 3.7 >> 38.3 Does exactly what it says.

Ticketybrew Black IPA **** as ever 5.5 >> 43.8 Weirdly, not much like a black IPA – more like a dubbel porter. V drinkable.

Nook Liquor-ish Stout 5.2 >> 49 **** Rich, fruity, a bit mad.

Alechemy 10 Storey Malt Bomb *** 4.5 >> 53.5 OK but not as brilliant as it would like to be.

Day’s Cottage Butt perry ??? 7.5 >> 61 Insanely cloudy, sweet attack, v v dry finish. Also strong.

Blackjack Farmhouse Brown *** 4.8 >> 66 Good but not actually likeable.

Kirkstall Dissolution *** 5 >> 71 = just under 6 pints. Very nice but really quite drunk now.

The numbers, if you’re interested, were my way of keeping track of how much I’d had; add up the a.b.v. of each third of a pint and divide by 12 for the equivalent number of pints at 4% (my personal ‘reference pint’). (A couple of them are multiplied by 1.5, because in those cases I had a half rather than a third.)

So, how was it? The beer was generally good, and some of it was very good indeed. I missed out on a few beers which had gone off, hadn’t gone on yet or (in one case) had never arrived, but – possibly because I was there on Friday evening – fewer than on some past occasions. In any case, the big question in these situations isn’t what’s not on but what is, and in this case there was more than enough. I went straight for the much-trailed Yakima Grande Pale Ale, which was reassuringly superb. While I’ve got fond memories of some West Coast beers, I don’t remember ever having the original version of this one, so I can’t judge it on that basis. But any concerns that it might seem a bit tame by 2014 standards weren’t borne out; it was very hoppy. For me, though, the beer of the festival was another pale ale, Red Willow’s latest Faithless: a really complex beer, in the sense of having a flavour that develops the more you drink (rather than in the sense of having multiple flavours thrown together).

This year saw the introduction of Bar Nouveau, a bar serving beers which had never been on sale before. This calls for a brief digression about the layout at Stockport. The beer, the cider and most of the other stalls are set up in a long, narrow concourse (a broad corridor, really) running behind the main stand. Seating is in the main stand itself, while food, entertainment and the bottle bar are in a function room on ground level. It’s a bit of a walk from the concourse to the stand; from the top end of the concourse to the stand is about twice as far as you’d take your drink even in a large pub. It’s not that far, and there are only a few steps to deal with, but it’s a big enough disincentive to produce a lot of milling around and standing around – particularly when you’ve only got a third in your glass and you think you’ll be getting another in a couple of minutes anyway. By 7.00 on the Friday the concourse was heaving. I took my half of Moor Top downstairs to get some food, and while I was down there I made the acquaintance of the aforementioned Bar Nouveau. As you can see from the list above, I had five four- or five-star beers on Friday, and three of the five (from Squawk, the ever-reliable Ticketybrew and Nook) were on at Bar Nouveau. Very fine beers, the Ticketybrew in particular. The arrangement also meant I could drink my beer while sitting at a table and listening to a covers band, which isn’t a bad way to do it.

A word about the perry. I hadn’t had any cider or perry at Stockport for a few years, but I decided to branch out this time – not entirely successfully. My first visit to the cider & perry end of the room was early doors, while business was still slow, and the volunteer I spoke to gave me three samples before I settled on one; even then I was the one who called a halt (I think he would have been happy to carry on until I found one that was just right). The whole thing made me feel a bit like Goldilocks, rejecting one for being too sour and one for being too sweet; the one I settled on wasn’t that great, either (not too sour, but still basically a sour flavour). The second perry I had, much later in the evening, carried a hand-written label saying “Cloudy. Very cloudy”, and it was; in fact it was opaque. Flavour-wise it was an odd combination of a heavy, honeyed sweetness on the lips and a harsh, screamingly sour finish. I think it was probably meant to taste like that; not sure it was meant to look like that, though. What I was really looking for was something light and floral, and not really on the sweet/sour continuum at all – although, on consulting some ancient tasting notes, this seems to be an effect you’re more likely to get from cider than perry. Anyway, it was interesting, and I’m sure I’ll be back.

Afterwards, finally, I didn’t really feel all that drunk. Six pints (equivalent) is a lot for me; I think my all-time giddy limit is seven, and I’ve been properly drunk on less than that. But I wasn’t falling-down drunk on Friday night – or throwing-up drunk, or world-going-round-and-round drunk, or falling-asleep-on-the-bus drunk or even having-difficulty-focusing drunk. I was quite poorly the next day, on the other hand – although this may have something to do with mixing beer and perry. Opaque perry in particular, perhaps – although I can’t say I wasn’t warned!