Farewell to a friend

The Dubbel, approaching its BBE date, poured without any problems, with a decent amount of condition but no head. Mouthfeel was light, even thin, and the flavours were unchallenging with no noticeable alcohol heat; no way did this drink its strength (6.5%). A light fruitiness at the front of the mouth gives way to a finish which I could only describe as “aromatic caramel”. There’s treacle and cake spices in there – I was reminded of gingerbread, and of speculoos in particular – plus a buzzing top note of raw ginger, or perhaps even of sulphur, to keep it interesting. The whole experience is a bit like taking a pinch of snuff, then eating a plum coated in dark chocolate followed immediately by a shot of brandy. (Those of you without experience of the poor man’s cocaine may substitute sniffing pepper. Those of you with experience of the rich man’s cocaine may want to keep quiet about it.) I’ve had a few Dubbels over the years, but I can’t think of one I’d definitely say was better than this one.

We shall not see their like again. Apart from the Pale bottle, I’m keeping that one.

The Blonde has caused me trouble in the past, on one memorable occasion in particular. I was at a fairly staid social gathering, where I’d been advised to bring my own beer but hadn’t been warned that I might be the only one drinking. (There were two of us in the end, to be fair, but still.) I sloped off to the kitchen mid-evening, already feeling like a conspicuous reprobate, and took the top off a bottle of the Blonde – which gushed. O, how it gushed. Once I’d poured out what remained in the bottle and mopped both the floor and the worktop – no easy task in a strange kitchen – it was a simple matter of waiting for the beer to settle in the glass. And waiting. And waiting. I watched a churning, peaty liquid, with great globs of yeast being hoisted up on bubbles of gas and then dropping to the bottom of the glass again, for what seemed like half an hour, before realising that it wasn’t going to get any better (and that my hosts would be wondering what the boozehound was up to out there). Reader, I poured it, and opened the bottle which (luckily) I had in reserve.

So it was with some trepidation that I opened this, my last bottle of Blonde (over a year past its BBE date). I needn’t have worried. It’s true that a collar of foam formed in the bottle the moment the edge of the crown cork lifted, and stood half an inch proud of the bottle by the time I could start pouring; it’s also true that the beer was a bit on the cloudy side, and that the carbonation was strong enough to give the aftertaste a distinct carbonic edge. As over-primed beer goes, though, this really wasn’t. Nor did it have any of the faults which have sometimes beset the Blonde. It’s hard to say much about the flavours, though, other than that it was a really good blonde; I had a St Feuillien Blonde a while ago, and this could stand alongside it without any trouble. It’s got a light texture, offset by an odd, creamy density – a bit like golden ale crossed with cream soda; it’s got a witbier’s topnotes of coriander and creme caramel, together with the throw-it-down drinkability of a Czech lager. I remember its cask incarnation, which – if memory serves – was slightly less strong (5.5% as against 5.8%), but had a sharpness which gave it a rough, rangy edge; I remember getting through three pints of it one night with a friend, finishing off with a bottle of Köstritzer Dunkel. Alas, while the bar still serves Köstritzer Dunkel, my friend’s gone back to Germany, and this bottle was the last time I’ll taste the Blonde. (There’s always St Feuillien.)

As for the Pale… I was particularly hesitant about opening this bottle; the Pale and I have some serious history. The first time I tasted it – and the second, and the third – I unhesitatingly named it my beer of the year: the way the beer unfolded seemingly endless depths of flavour, while recognisably working in the style of a traditional English strong bitter, struck me as unique and fascinating. But the second time I tasted it wasn’t quite the same as the first, and the third was different again. The sharpness I would later detect in the draught Blonde was there, and it grew stronger day by day (and I know, because I went back day after day).

Here’s the thing, though: that sharp edge – which almost certainly shouldn’t have been there, in either the Pale or the Blonde – didn’t spoil the beer; if anything it gave another side to what was already a multi-dimensioned flavour profile. That was on draught, though; the bottles weren’t always so fortunate. Overall it was a fault, and it had to be fixed – and it was; from the outside it looked as if the brewery had a bright future. But what would this last bottle – possibly the last bottle of Pale anywhere – taste like? Now cleaned up, and after ageing in bottle, would it be a pale shadow (no pun intended) of its mighty but problematic former self? There was only one way to find out.

Also over a year past its BBE date, this bottle was even more lively than the Blonde, but poured pleasantly clear. The flavour profile is – still – an absolutely outstanding combination of delicacy and depth. Although I’ve drunk these beers in descending strength order – the Pale comes in at a mere 5.6% – this is by far the most complex of the three, and evokes aspects of both of the other two. It opens light and fruity, developing briefly into a banana-tinged sweetness, which leads into a malty, tannic finish with just enough bitterness to back it up. That finish would be strongly reminiscent of an old-school brown bitter, if it wasn’t for the lightness of the malt body and the aromatic notes which – as in the Dubbel – come in right at the end: is that sage, or even mint? It’s a walloping great conundrum of a beer – like the Dubbel – with session-worthy drinkability – like the Blonde; the balance of all these different elements, and their delivery in a beer that’s crying out to be drunk by the pint, is truly extraordinary.

And now it’s gone.

So, farewell then, my last three Ticketybrew beers. You never got the appreciation you deserved, even though there’s nothing out there quite like you. I’ll miss you.

PS It’s longer than I realised since I last updated this blog; not sure what happened there, although I suppose the subject of my last post offers one suggestion. Fanboy or no, I hope not to leave it anywhere near this long before blogging again. In the mean time,

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