Small beers

A few years ago I posted a ready reckoner on here, for the benefit of people who wanted to know how a third of a litre at X% compared with a pint at Y%:

Third Half 330 ml 12 oz US 2/3 pint
500 ml Pint
Third  = 2/3 4/7 8/15 1/2 8/21 1/3
Half 3/2 = 6/7 4/5 3/4  4/7 1/2
330 ml 7/4 7/6  = 14/15 7/8 2/3 7/12
12 oz US 15/8 5/4 15/14 = 15/16 5/7 5/8
2/3 pint 2/1 4/3 8/7 16/15 = 16/21 2/3
500 ml 21/8 4/7 3/2 7/5 21/16  = 7/8
Pint 3/1 2/1 12/7  8/5 3/2 8/7 =

Here’s an updated version:

Third 275 ml Half 330 ml 12 oz US 2/3 pint 500 ml Pint
Third = 16/23 2/3 4/7 8/15 1/2 8/21 1/3
275 ml 23/16 = 77/80 33/40 16/21 23/32 11/20 11/23
Half 3/2 80/77 = 6/7 4/5 3/4 4/7 1/2
330 ml 7/4 40/33 7/6 = 14/15 7/8 2/3 7/12
12 oz US 15/8 21/16 5/4 15/14 = 15/16 5/7 5/8
2/3 pint 2/1 32/23 4/3 8/7 16/15 = 16/21 2/3
500 ml 21/8 20/11 4/7 3/2 7/5 21/16 = 7/8
Pint 3/1 23/11 2/1 12/7 8/5 3/2 8/7 =

Well, that’s a bit of a mess. The 275 ml row and column are an absolute fright – and they aren’t even very precise (I took an editorial decision not to use any numerators or denominators of more than two figures, which keeps the mental arithmetic just about doable but also means it doesn’t quite work).

Still, this does tell you instantly (well, I say ‘instantly’…) that a 275 ml bottle at 7.5% is the equivalent of a more conventional 330 ml at 6.5%; more approximately, it’s in the region of a pint at 3.5%, which is nothing really. A 275 ml bottle at 9% is a bit punchier, but you’re still looking at the equivalent of a standard 500 ml bottle at 5%, or a pint at a sessionable 4.3%ish. So you might as well, frankly.

What am I burbling on about? Nip bottles, dear reader, and in particular some of the finer beers sold in nip bottles by Harvey’s of Sussex. As I mentioned in another post, I began lockdown by ordering a mixed case of nip bottles – the Elizabethan Ale (a barley wine devised for the coronation of the current Elizabeth), Christmas Ale, Imperial Extra Double Stout and Tom Paine (the runt of this particular litter at 5%; I would have completed the set with Prince of Denmark, but that combination wasn’t on offer). I liked them so much, I reordered the Elizabethan and the IEDS – and I considered going for the Christmas as well, even at this time of year.

What are they like? The Elizabethan tastes deceptively simple; not only that, it tastes sweet, almost syrupy. You get the flavour straight off, and it’s a mouth-filling, lip-coating malty sweetness; to that extent it reminds me of Wells‘ Dragoon, a 10% monster which I’ve only ever seen in Italy, on keg (strange but true). But the similarities end there. A relatively basic barley wine like the Dragoon starts with heavy sweetness and finishes with cough syrup and a blast of alcohol (vodka and Benylin?), but the Elizabethan Ale develops the way that a best bitter develops: the sweetness lightens with vanilla and floral notes, there’s a tannic mid-mouth bitterness to weigh the whole thing down and a bitter, drying finish with no discernible heat. It’s extraordinarily well put together; I mean, I’ve had worse tripels. It’s for all the world as if someone had set out to condense a pint of bitter into a 275 ml bottle (which, as you know, is a mere 11/23rds of a pint); it’s sweeter, it’s denser, it’s twice the strength (viz. 7.5%), but recognisably the same thing.

As for the Imperial Extra Double Stout, where do I start? Here’s a history lesson which goes some way to explaining why this beer is so distinctive. Probably the best way I can describe it is to say that it tastes like every stout you’ve ever tasted, combined. So there’s roast-grain bitterness with that slight sharpness that you get from a standard stout; at the same time, there’s a heavy-textured, dark-chocolate bittersweet character that says “imperial”. On top of all that, there’s a definite savoury umami note which somehow binds it all together, even while odd notes of almost gastric sharpness cut through. What you don’t get – as with the Elizabethan – is heat; you’d never know it was 9%. It tastes as if it comes from an earlier time (when they liked their beers strong); it tastes barrel-aged; it tastes as if debaryomyces has had a good old chew at it, as indeed it has; and with all of that, it still works. It’s a beast.

Having a few bottles of each of these to play with, inevitably I wondered what would happen if you mixed them – would an Elizabethan plus an IEDS add up to the ultimate black-and-tan? Well, no, not really. I tried the combination in different proportions, but the IEDS is such a monster that it overwhelmed the Elizabethan in a 50/50 split, while 2/3 IEDS to 1/3 Elizabethan just tasted like a slightly fruitier, slightly weaker(!) IEDS. 2/3 Elizabethan to 1/3 IEDS, though – that was something else. With two such big beers, the combination didn’t work the curious jigsaw-puzzle trick I remember from my days as a black-and-tan drinker, where the rough edges of the two beers cancel each other out and produce something blander than either of them. What you did get, though, was the biggest, darkest old ale you’ve ever imagined, or possibly the biggest, fruitiest porter.

If you ever find yourself with two bottles of Elizabethan Ale and one IEDS lying around, there are worse things you could do. Might be one for sharing, though; 275 ml at 9% a.b.v. plus 550 at 7.5% is the equivalent of 275 ml at 24%, which is the rough equivalent of a pint at [consults handy ready reckoner] 24 * 11/23 = 264/23 = approximately a pint at 11.5%.

(Sanity check with calculator: 275*0.24 = 66; 568*0.115 = 65.32. Once again, I thank you.)

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