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 time 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.


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