Category Archives: Small brown bottles

0, 1, 2

it looks as if the period when my beer drinking consisted mostly, or entirely, of bottled beers at home may – touch wood – finally be coming to an end, I wrote here back in April (new Covid cases in England: 20,000/day and falling). Two and a half months later (new Covid cases 20,000/day and rising) I caught the damn thing myself, which was no fun at all for about a week and left me wondering if I was “back to normal” yet for the next… well, I’ll tell you when it stops. (Was I always this unfit? Was my capacity always this low? Did I always get that weird weak panicky feeling at odd moments? And so on. That said, I have been sitting in front of this computer too nervous to go out for two years, which may also have had the odd knock-on effect.)

Anyway, I didn’t get a bad dose (people I know have been knocked flat both by Covid and by the after-effects) – and Omicron infection is supposed to give your immunity a boost – and besides, new cases in England are currently 4,000/day and falling – so I’ll cautiously venture back out on that limb and say that, now, it looks as if the period when my beer drinking consisted mostly, or entirely, of bottled beers at home may – touch wood – finally be coming to an end.

Still got this stash, though. 50 beers at last count. Run out of Westmalle Tripels, too – ought to do something about that…

Bulk buying is a habit that’s going to die hard, and for some beers I can’t see myself giving it up at all: I don’t know if there will ever be a time when I don’t want to have a De Ranke XX-bitter to hand. Or a Westmalle Tripel; or an M&S Czech lager; or an Orval.

As it happens I’ve been bulk-buying Orval – and reordering before my stock runs out – since the first lockdown. As a result I’ve ended up with, oh, more than one or two bottles of it, including… this:

 

 

What do they taste like, though? Specifically, what do they taste like in comparison?

Let’s find out.

Bottle 1: 9/6/2022; just under three months old

Reminds me oddly of an old-school English bitter, but deconstructed. The flavour seems to have the same overall ‘shape’, beginning with a bit of citric freshness in the front of the mouth, developing into something denser and heavier in the bitter/sweet region and finishing with tannic bitterness in mid-mouth, but without any bittering-hop aftertaste. There’s no big hit of malt, though, just a bitterness that gradually develops, accompanied oddly by a vague milk-chocolate sweetness.

But the big flavour element – the one that really drives through and carries the other flavour elements, in the way that bittering hops drive through a pale bitter (or De Ranke XX-bitter) – is the Brett. After drinking this I spent an hour looking at secondhand books on the Internet, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Think old books, think dry leaves, think socks left unwashed, think last night’s tobacco smoke; you can even think horse blankets, if (but only if) you know what one of those smells like. Whatever you call it, there’s a lot of it in this beer: it’s there in the aroma, it’s there almost immediately after the start, and from there on it builds to the finish. The other elements – initial sharpness, hint of milk chocolate, dense bitterness – make this quite a complex flavour, but there’s never any doubt which element is in charge; balanced, this is not.

But then, it’s only young.

Bottle 2: 2/8/2021; a year and a month old.

Again, the flavour has that old-school English bitter profile, but in a much smoother, more integrated form. Grapefruit bitterness and a bit of citric fruit in the foretaste, but not in overpowering amounts; then there’s something sweetish – maybe even malty – with a bit of weight and body; then the whole thing is rounded off with mid-mouth bitterness, charcoal and dark chocolate. Again, it’s not a hoppy flavour – no flowery aromas and no back-of-the-throat bitterness.

As for the Brett, it’s there, but it’s behaving itself; it binds to the main flavour elements and hangs over them like a wisp of smoke (or sweat), only really making its presence felt in the aftertaste. At this age it only tastes of Brett in the same sense that chips taste of salt – which is to say, it doesn’t, except that you’d miss the Brett if it wasn’t there. The overall flavour profile is much better put together than in the fresh beer – you could even call it balanced.

Bottle 3: 6/6/2020; two years and three months old

This time the citric opening hit is in charge, slightly to my surprise, with a sharp note dominating almost all the way through. (I remember ‘old’ bottles I’ve had before being a lot mellower, and wouldn’t entirely discount the possibility of this one having a fault. But you can only review the one you’re drinking.)

If the fresh version was “an old-school English bitter, but deconstructed”, two years later the flavour profile’s well and truly put itself together again; there’s very few fireworks or surprises between the sharp opening and the mid-mouth bitter finish. The wispy, smoky, old-books-y Brett element is definitely there, but it’s back in its box, mainly serving to make the mid-mouth flavour a bit more complex and bulk up the finish.

It’s a fascinating beer; my only slight regret is that I haven’t organised my stash better and rotated a few more older bottles to the back. If any of my current stash makes it to three years old, I’ll let you know how they turn out.

Front line, back line

In the last week I’ve drunk about twice as much beer in pubs as at home; it looks as if the period when my beer drinking consisted mostly, or entirely, of bottled beers at home may – touch wood – finally be coming to an end. Let’s hope so.

Still, I do want to talk a bit more about the bottles under the stairs (and in the garage); specifically, about the front line and the back line.

Over the last two years I’ve ordered a lot of “mixed cases” (mostly from Thirst Class, Marble, the Petersgate Tap and Rotsaert – not the Belgian beer merchant I was using a couple of years ago, but the one that was first off the blocks in resuming deliveries to Brexit Island). I’ve also done a lot of bulk ordering – either beers that I knew I’d get through or beers that were only available in multiples, or in a couple of cases both: Jaipur, Boltmaker, Batham’s, Harvey’s Elizabethan… Perhaps especially during lockdown, I found it very reassuring always to know that any time I fancied an X, there an X would be. (I only got the Batham’s once, though – they just went down too quickly.)

Over time I’ve refined the bulk ordering process, generally by a process of realising over a period of time that (e.g.) six Ram Tams was one too many. (It goes out as Landlord Dark these days, seeming to endorse the old rumour that it was just Landlord with added caramel – which is odd because a side-by-side tasting confirms that they’re totally different beers.) But there’s been addition as well as subtraction; in fact I’ve now got six beers that are my ‘go to’ example of a particular style & which I’ve bought in quantity. So my stash has a definite front line of multiple-purchase reliables, along with everything else that catches my eye (the back line).

What’s in my front line? There are six (or seven) beers involved, and in ascending total alcohol content order (doesn’t everyone order their stash by total alcohol content?), they are:

1. The bitter: Marble Pint and Bitter (3.9% and 4.1% @ 500ml = 3.4% and 3.6% pint equivalent)

For some reason I largely went off hoppy beers during lockdown; I drank quite a bit of Boltmaker and indeed Landlord, but the Jaipur took a long time to get through. More recently, though, I’ve reacquired the taste for Bitter, Marble‘s contemporary stripped-down refit of a best bitter. More recently still, I’ve started finding even that a bit on the malty side, and preferred to go pale’n’oppy with Pint. To cut a long story short, when I fancy “a bitter” at home what I reach for is a 500 ml can of Bitter… or sometimes Pint.

2. The… well, the Orval: Orval (6.2% @ 330ml = 3.6% equiv.)

It’s Orval. There isn’t anything else like it. You can get it in bulk from Belgium. (Mind you, by Belgian standards it’s on the expensive side for a Trappist beer, making the differential with sterling pricing less steep than it is for many beers; if you can find it in bulk at a British beer merchant it’s sometimes worth a punt.) It does tend to be ‘young’ when you buy it from Belgium; for the last year or so I’ve been attempting to buy enough Orval to allow some of it to age in the garage, but I’ve never got much beyond a year. Young Orval’s still pretty good, though.

3. The Czech lager: a supermarket Czech lager (almost invariably 5% @ 500ml = 4.4% equiv.)

There’s nothing quite like a světlý ležák, even in the inevitably less than stellar examples that British supermarkets stock. That said, both Marks and Spencer’s own-brand Czech lager and, bizarrely, Lidl’s (Staravice) are pretty good examples of the style, IMO – and Sainsbury’s own-brand isn’t bad. (All three are brewed in the Czech Republic, for what that’s worth.) And even the Marks’ is cheap enough to buy four at a time.

4. The stout: Shepherd Neame Double Stout (5.2% = 4.6% equiv.)

Like a lot of people, I sampled Shepherd Neame‘s ‘brown label’ revival recipe beers when they appeared, and like a lot of people I found most of them a bit underwhelming – not bad, and certainly a cut above Sheps’ standard supermarket fare, but not particularly memorable either. The exception, as far as I’m concerned, was the “Double Stout”. (It’s certainly not a historically accurate Victorian double stout: they would have been a lot stronger, as well as having a relatively thin body and more than a touch of Brett. But then, if I want one of them I know where I can find it.) What this is, is a strongish but still “pintable” stout, big in body and flavour but without the sharp roasty edge of a Guinness. When it appeared in Lidl I stocked up.

5. The tripel: Westmalle (8.5% = 5% equiv.)

Got to have a tripel in there somewhere… I’ve had several orders from Belgium over the last couple of years and tried quite a few tripels, but very few of them come close to Westmalle. It’s oddly hard to describe: it’s dry, but with no sharpness (which is where a lot of other tripels fall down); there’s some sweetness, but it’s not sweet; it’s got herbal notes to it but no flowery or tropical-fruit overtones; it doesn’t exactly drink its strength – it’s certainly not ‘hot’ – but it doesn’t hide its strength either. It’s a really fine beer. (Honourable mention: De Ranke Guldenberg, which is even drier but perhaps not quite as complex.)

6. The quadhigh-end abbey beer: Rochefort 10 (11.3% = 6.6% equiv.)

I don’t call Rochefort 10 a quadrupel, if only because it had been brewed for some time before anyone thought of extending the dubbel/tripel naming convention up another level. It’s just… Rochefort 10: a third of a litre of beer that’s stronger than a pint of Wobbly Bob and tastes like plums in brandy – although, again, without any alcohol heat to speak of, despite its considerable strength. I don’t fancy this kind of beer all the time, but when I do there isn’t a better option. (Unless it’s Abt?)

There’s room for refinement – not least because the Sheps’ stout won’t last forever. I haven’t yet identified “the mild” (not enough candidates) or “the IPA” (too many candidates); “the black IPA” might also be worth a punt (and at the moment would probably be Thirst Class Penny Black). “The old ale” and/or “the barleywine” would be good – but as with milds, the field is small. I might replace the stout with “the imperial stout” if I can identify a good candidate (I had twelve of Harvey’s Imperial Extra Double Stout right at the start of lockdown, but that’s a bit too much its own thing). I have had “the porter” in the past (it was Thirst Class Any Porter In A Storm), not to mention “the old-school BB” (Boltmaker) and “the low-end abbey beer” (Rochefort 6); none of them made it past the first six, though.

Or I might just go back to drinking actual pints in pubs. Who knows, it could catch on.

 

Fancy a pint (or equiv.)?

Back in August 2020 – when Covid deaths were running at 9-10 a day, I was unvaccinated (like everyone else), the pubs had only just reopened and I was mostly drinking at home – I came up with this table as a device for comparing beers of different sizes and strengths.

Third 24
275 ml 35
Half 36
330 ml 42
US 12 oz 45
440 ml 56
US pint 60
500 ml 63
Pint 72

So you’ve had a 440ml can of something at 7% and a 330ml bottle of a 9%er – what’s that in pints? Simple: it’s the equivalent of a pint at ((56 * 7) + (42 * 9)) / 72, or 770 / 72, which is very slightly more than 768 / 72, which is 10.75, so call it 10.8.

(Well, I say ‘simple’.)

Now, I’m triple-jabbed, Covid deaths are running at 90-100 a day, it’s too damn cold to sit outside and I’m mostly drinking at home. And I wonder if that table – marvel of concision and information-density though it is – could be improved. Perhaps we could focus on the main can/bottle sizes and redo the whole thing as fractions of a pint?

275 ml 35/72
330 ml 7/12
US 12 oz 5/8
440 ml 7/9
500 ml 7/8

Then how about extending that into a table of pint equivalents for different sizes? The principle’s simple: 500 ml at 6% is the equivalent of a pint at (6% * 7 / 8) = 5.3%; 440 ml at 6% is the equivalent of a pint at (6% * 7 / 9) = 4.7%. I’m limiting the table to (strengths corresponding to) the range from 3.4% to 6.8% – over 3 and under 7, broadly speaking – because that’s still the kind of strength I’m looking for from a single beer. (Not that I don’t occasionally buy beers outside that range, but they do tend to hang around for longer.)

Here goes then. The numbers along the top are the strength of the beer; the numbers in the table are the equivalent strength of a pint delivering the same amount of alcohol.

4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
275 ml 3.4 3.9 4.4 4.9 5.4 5.8
330 ml 3.5 4.1 4.7 5.3 5.8 6.4
US 12 oz 3.8 4.4 5 5.6 6.3 6.9
440 ml 3.9 4.7 5.4 6.2
500 ml 3.5 4.4 5.3 6.1

From which we learn that

  • 275 ml bottles (7%+) are good for the upper reaches of loopy juice but not for much else.
  • 330 ml (6-11%) is ideal for anything less than entirely sessionable; also, a lot of those punchy-looking Belgian beers are really fairly weedy when you take the bottle size into account. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
  • Those American 355 ml bottles… they’re fine, too.
  • Conversely, 500 ml (4-7%) is ideal for anything you’d drink when you’ve got a thirst on.
  • 440 ml (5-8%) is a bit betwixt and between – and besides, in practice people are putting stuff that’s much too strong into big cans (10% at 440 ml is a pint at 8.6%, which is… not a pint).
  • And don’t even get me started on 660 and 750 ml.

Admittedly, it’s not currently possible to filter the beers on any of my friendly local Webstores by strength and container size, but a table like this is handy as an aide memoire. And it’ll be handy until I’m mostly ordering over the bar again, which hopefully will be sooner than it currently looks like.

Ceci n’est pas un Orval

IMG_2573

We see here:

  • one 33 cl bottle of Orval (bottled September 2020)
  • one 275 ml bottle of Harvey’s Imperial Extra Double Stout (bought December 2020, probably not much older)
  • one Orval glass

Let the dance begin (one for the proggies out there)!

I didn’t pour this one quite as clean as I’d like, but it’s not actually murky. Only six months old, so pretty lively. Tasting notes, as if I didn’t know what an Orval tastes like by now:

Sharp, but with an accessible, fruity best-bitter quality, together with a musty, old-books overtone that never becomes overpowering; the finish brings the sharpness and mustiness back, together with a big throat-drying bitterness, making it weirdly quaffable.

So I drank a bit of it, and when I’d made a bit of space I topped it up with the Harvey’s IEDS. This is what resulted:

This was quite the transformation. All that Bretty mustiness disappeared, replaced by – well, here are my notes:

Black coffee Orval? Orvalspresso? Black coffee and marmalade in one? Bitterness and some sweetness in the body – although oddly the bitter finish is muted now.

I’ve found the IEDS a bit of a beast in the past – a brandy-dark-chocolate-and-Marmite beast, admittedly, but with rough roasty edges, and flashes of the kind of sharpness you can only call gastric. None of those negatives now; just an espresso martini made entirely of beer. Really very nice indeed.

But I wasn’t going to stop there…

How much more black could it get? I asked myself.

This version – more or less a 50-50 mix – was a bit of a let-down. In fact it tasted of very little at all, transporting me back to the days when I used to take the rough edges off Holt’s bitter with a bottle of Guinness:

Black and tan! A light, oddly savoury start, followed by a full-textured but light-tasting body; dark-chocolate bitterness on the finish.

Very little going on at all, really; alarmingly drinkable for a beer in the region of 7.5%, but nothing particularly surprising or, to be brutally honest, interesting.

There was only one thing to do now:

“None. None more black.”

At this stage the IEDS started to get the upper hand, and things started to look up on the tasting front:

Fruity start blending into a chocolate milkshake body, blending into a dark-chocolate finish

is all I wrote, but I can assure you that it was really impressive. That word ‘blending’ is the key: it seemed to combine three quite distinct flavours (none of them very ‘beery’), but in a way that seemed perfectly natural and without any incongruity. Full-bodied – almost but not quite to the point of drinking its strength – and smooth; really very smooth.

Was it worth it? A cautious Yes, I think: the 3:1 and 1:3 mixes were terrific, even if the 1:1 left something to be desired. At least, it was worth it as far as the IEDS was concerned. The stout was very much in charge throughout: even at 3:1 Orval to IEDS, you’d never mistake what you were drinking for a pale beer. The ‘black and tan’ effect – where two very different beers effectively shave off each other’s sharp edges – took the roughness out of the IEDS, making it drink smoother and sweeter; but the Orval wasn’t smoothed so much as muted, losing the Brett and some of the bitterness. In fact I’m wondering now whether it would be worth repeating the experiment with a less special pale beer – perhaps a plain ordinary, common-or-garden Harvey’s Sussex Best?

PS Apologies for the enormous images. WordPress used to handle this kind of thing rather well, but now – thanks to the whizzy new ‘block editor’, which I’ve avoided for as long as possible but is now the only one available – it really doesn’t. Anyone got any recommendations for alternative blogging platforms?

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.)

Forgotten beers

As I write I’m closer to my 60th birthday than, well, any other. Being of mature years isn’t exactly unusual among CAMRA members – any more than it is in my other social group of choice, folk musicians. But what does sometimes make me feel a bit atypical – in both contexts – is that I only became an enthusiast relatively recently; I started going to folk clubs in 2003, and started thinking seriously about beer (seriously enough to remember what I’d been drinking) in 2008. Before then… not.

(What was I doing all that time?)

But of course I didn’t start drinking in my late 40s. As a matter of fact I started drinking at the age of 12, when my parents let me and a friend see in the New Year at home with a bottle of Woodpecker each. (I remember telling them the next day that it had made me feel “very lucid”. They said it did have that effect.) I had got through a fair bit of beer before I started going to festivals, taking notes and generally thinking about what beer I did and didn’t like. I just… didn’t notice it so much.

This post is about two beers I know for certain that I didn’t notice – two gaps in my memory that I’m sure are there. One dates back to 1986 or 87, the other to some time in the early 00s.

We get to 1986 via 1976 (when I fell blissfully in love with London Pride and Buckley’s Best); 1979 (when I could drink legally but discovered that I didn’t actually like bitter after all); 1982 (when I came to Manchester, encountered Marston’s dark mild and fell in love with that instead, but mostly ended up drinking Hyde’s lager*); and 1983 (when I got a job and drank two pints of Greenall Whitley bitter every lunchtime and three on Fridays, because that was what you did). Beer could still be amazing, sometimes – but how often did you see London Pride on a bar in Manchester? Or Marston’s dark mild, come to that. Usually it was just… beer; something you drank when you went out, and you chose it because it was what they had in the place you’d gone out to.

The place we went out to, one day after work in 1986, was a proper working men’s pub (in the enthusiastic words of my friend Mike, whose idea it was) and a bit of a walk from the office. (This wasn’t a two-pint-a-day office, incidentally; I didn’t do much lunchtime drinking at all in that job, not least because when the people I worked with did go out they invariably went to the Vine (which was Greenall Whitley), despite it being right next door to the City (which wasn’t). So I guess I must have developed some taste in beer by then.)

Anyway, the pub Mike led me to was the Old Garratt. And yes, it was a “proper working men’s pub”; at least, I remember the place being full of blokes, and the two of us being the only people there in a suit and tie. I also remember glancing upwards and being unable to see the ceiling for a blanket of cigarette smoke. And I remember one other thing, which is the first of the two gaps in my memory I wanted to talk about: the beer. That evening in the Garratt, before I left to get the bus home for my tea, I had two pints of Boddington’s Bitter.

And I have no memory of it whatsoever. It could have been bright blue and tasted of cranberries for all I know. (Except, of course, that I know it wasn’t, because if it had been I would have remembered it.) I don’t remember it being particularly bitter, I don’t remember it being outstandingly drinkable, I don’t even remember it being dull. 1986 was pretty late to be discovering Boddington’s, admittedly – the early-80s bland-out referred to here was pretty much accomplished by then. But at the end of the day it was still Boddington’s, still being brewed at Strangeways, and if I ever have grandchildren I’ll be able to tell them that I did, indeed, once drink it. I just won’t be able to tell them what the hell it was like.

In the 90s I did start to get interested in beer, although not the kind that you get from a hand pump. There was a holiday in Barcelona, where I discovered Franziskaner Weissbier (not available in supermarkets at that point) along with bratwurst and sauerkraut; there was a holiday in Amsterdam, where (slightly more conventionally) I discovered witbier; and there was a holiday in Scotland, where I discovered Trappist beer (the hotel bar had overstocked on Chimay – which is to say, they’d bought some – and they were selling it off cheap).

After that I was away; Belgian beers were pretty cheap at the time**, when you could find them. In the 90s and early 00s I discovered blonds, red ales, dubbels and tripels, tried lambics and even one or two gueuzes, and ticked off all the Trappists I could find. Sometimes the big hits are big hits for a reason, and discovering Trappist beer was a bit like discovering Sergeant Pepper: I discovered that some of the beers everyone was raving about were, in fact, beers worth raving about. (If there’s a better beer anywhere than Westmalle Tripel… it’s probably an old-ish Orval.) Eventually I’d worked my way through all the available Trappist beers – which was to say, four of the big five Belgians, plus Koningshoeven – as you can see here.

IMG_2424

(Wait a minute. That isn’t four of the five big Belgians.)

Version 2

(I’ll be damned.)

Dredging my memory, I have the faintest of faint memories of buying those bottles of Westvleteren. It was in the Belgian Belly in Chorlton; my curiosity was aroused by the unlabelled bottles, and aroused some more by the relatively punchy price tags (although I can’t remember what the prices actually were, and I’m pretty sure they were considerably cheaper than you’d ever see them today). I can picture Jason telling me that these particular bottles really were a bit special, and I can hear him sounding entirely sincere and very persuasive, as indeed he generally did in that situation.

Or maybe I’m just filling in that last part because I know that the sales pitch worked. Anyway, evidently I bought them – presumably on the same occasion, although the BBE dates are rather a long way apart. And evidently I drank them, given that the bottle tops are all I’ve got left.

(Best beer in the world, they say it is. The strong one, especially.)

(Might be, for all I know. I have no memory.)

(Only one way to find out, now. Road trip! I could do that. When this is all over.)

There aren’t any big gaps after that – at least, none that I’m aware of! There is one other beer I’d like to remember more about: I went to Brendan Dobbin’s King’s Arms once around this time, and – while I remember the pub vividly – I’ve no idea what I had to drink. But I do have fond memories of a couple of West Coast beers, so let’s assume it was one of them. By then, anyway, the Marble Beerhouse was open. It wasn’t long before I became a regular and started taking a ticker’s interest in the Marble beers they served*** – and that put me on the path to keeping tasting notes, starting this blog, joining CAMRA and generally thinking about beer far too much.

(Still wish I could remember those beers, though.)


*For years I was convinced that, around 1982-3, I used to drink a pale yellow, sourish bitter at the Vic in Withington. Nobody else can remember this beer, and the simplest explanation is that it was in fact Hyde’s own lager – and that I really wasn’t into beer back then.

**Something to do with Black Wednesday, possibly. Or something to do with EMU. Or not.

***Despite the fact that at this stage I still didn’t like most of them. That didn’t change till some time later.

Lockdown beers

Time in lockdown behaves strangely. I was about to write “I remember the early days of lockdown” but then felt ridiculous – of course I remember the early days of lockdown, it was less than two months ago!

Things did feel very different, though. The first Saturday of lockdown, I remember we ordered a pizza instead of the usual Chinese takeaway, then had to wait two and a half hours for it to arrive. (I even chased them up.) The worst of it wasn’t the wait, but the sinking feeling that this was what it was going to be like from now on. Similarly with beer; after watching my under-stairs stash dwindling for a while, I took the plunge and ordered a case from Thirst Class and a mixed case of nip bottles from Harvey’s (of which more another time). When those started to go down, I looked at the breweries’ Web sites and found, to my mounting horror, that Thirst Class’s range had been greatly reduced since I’d ordered, and Harvey’s – although the Web site did say they were continuing to brew, to give their yeast strain something to do – had nothing at all on sale. Was this what it was going to be like? Were breweries going to stop brewing, one after another – then run down their existing stock, one after another – and then there would be no more beer? Was I going to have to start drinking gin?

Happily, I can report that Thirst Class currently has an extraordinary range of beer on sale – quite a lot of it isn’t their own, so presumably there has been some running down of stock, but it’s still a very fine range. As for Harvey’s, I don’t know why absolutely everything was marked as ‘sold out’ on that one alarming evening, but it certainly isn’t now; either they’ve been re-brewing quite a few of the weird and wonderful beers in their range, or they’ve found a lot of bottles somewhere (pub cellars, possibly) and assigned them to the Web shop.

So that’s the first effect, or the first two effects, of lockdown on my beer drinking habits: 1. buying in bulk and 2. panicking periodically. (Mind you, 2. is so familiar a feature of lockdown in general that it hardly deserves its own ‘beer’ sub-heading.)

My bulk buys to date are:

  • 12 assorted bottles from Thirst Class (free delivery)
  • mixed case of nip bottles (3 x Imperial Extra Double Stout, 3 x Christmas Ale, 3 x Elizabethan Ale, 3 x Tom Paine) from Harvey’s (courier)
  • 12 bottles of the Batham’s plus 3 x Enville Ale from The Wine Press of Stourbridge (courier) (hat tip to the Pub Curmudgeon)
  • a case (12 nip bottles) each of Imperial Extra Double Stout and Elizabethan Ale from Harvey’s
  • a case (12 33cl cans) of Jaipur and a mixed case of 12 bottles and cans from Thornbridge (free delivery on orders over £30, but orders by the case only)
  • 6 bottles of Orval and 12 other mixed Trappist and Trappist-ish beers from biere-speciale.be (international delivery, but bottle prices low enough to make orders of 10+ bottles cheaper than buying them locally)

The first Harvey’s case is long gone, as are the Envilles and all but one of the Thirst Class (you need to pick the right moment for a 9% black IPA); most of the Orvals and the IEDSs are for ageing, or at least that’s the plan. The rest should keep me going for another few weeks.

Or perhaps for longer than that, considering another effect of lockdown: 3. reduced consumption. I was never a huge pub-goer, but in the average month I’d probably fit in

  • 8 swift ones after work (15 minutes, 1 pint)
  • 4 trips to the pub to order the takeaway (30 minutes, 2-3 pints)
  • 2 folk sessions (2-3 hours, 3-4 pints)
  • 1 pub quiz (2 hours, 2 pints)

On one hand, when I stop work these days it’s because it’s time for tea (or to make tea), and it’s hard to fit in the swiftest of beers on my way from one room to another. On the other, following one beer with another beer – let alone following that one with a third – seems like a much bigger deal at home than it does in the pub. When – the week before lockdown – we switched to ordering the Saturday takeaway for delivery, I tried to make the effort to have two drinks in the half-hour before it came, but an effort is what it was. One beer in an evening – even one 33 cl bottle or can, which generally packs less of a punch than the weediest of pints – is not at all unusual these days; and the more I get out of the habit of session-style boozing, the less I’ve got the capacity for it. I hardly ever have an even moderately heavy session now; on the other hand, I also have fewer completely dry days – not least because I’m hardly ever hung over. It’ll be interesting to see whether I go back to how things were, whenever this thing is finally over.

Note I’ve been disinclined to write on this blog lately – along with most other things – but I’m planning to crank it up again. I’ve currently got another three posts planned; hopefully inspiration will strike again after that.

 

 

 

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,

Say goodbye

I recently bought some beers from my personal favourite brewery, TicketyBrew.

What’s wrong with that statement? As we know, TicketyBrew closed down in early to mid-2018 (May? June?). There was no announcement, so I didn’t get the news till a couple of months later. After that I bought their beers whenever I saw them in shops (which, by that time, didn’t happen very often), and laid in stocks of the three greats – the Pale, the Dubbel and the Blonde – from an online beer merchant which still had a few bottles.

I worked my way through those over the next couple of months, and didn’t think much more about it. It was only the other day – on noticing Grimbergen Blonde, which never fails to remind me how much better TicketyBrew Blonde iswas – that it occurred to me to wonder if any other beer merchant still had any bottles in stock.

And so it came to pass. Sadly, the beers Flavourly had in stock (and still have, at the time of writing) don’t include all the ones I would have liked to stock up on, but the fact that they’ve got any of them, seven or eight months down the line, is worth celebrating.

Drinking them is an odd experience, though. There’s a distinct Mary Celeste quality about TicketyBrew’s closure – this post about their exciting new label designs dates from June 25th this year, by which point I suspect the brewery had already closed; certainly some of the new labels never seem to have made it into production. The impression is strengthened by some of the label copy on the bottles I bought, as we’ll see.

The Dubbel seems to have had a redesign (see previous link), but the bottle I bought came with the old-style label (black lettering on single-colour background with no spot colour, label copy reads “THE TICKETYBREW COMPANY”). As soon as I started to ease the crown cork there was a loud hiss and a thick collar of foam formed in the bottle; some careful work with the bottle-opener was required to avoid any gushing. Once open, it all went into a 355 ml glass without any fuss, though. As for what it’s like, it’s a beautiful beer. It opens with red-berry jamminess backed by malt loaf; at 6.5%, there’s no alcohol burn to speak of, just a pleasant density and warmth. There’s bitterness on the finish, but it’s smooth and unassertive, more like dark chocolate than coffee and perhaps even more like high-cocoa milk chocolate. It’s a really good dubbel, and I hope the world hasn’t seen the last of it. (I know I haven’t, as I bought several bottles, which are stamped BBE Feb 2020.)

Carrying on down the strength scale, the Black IPA – also with the old-style label – comes in at 6.1%, and I’d class it as good rather than great. I drank another black IPA earlier the same evening for comparison, and this one was certainly the better of the two; it just didn’t set off the piney fireworks that I remember from some black IPAs, back when they were new and some were referring to them as “Cascadian dark ales”. What you get is something like a best bitter, but with a smoky, tobacco-like edge, which builds to a charcoal bitterness and an overpowering ‘roasty’ finish; lots of bitterness, then, or different bitternesses. It is good and it is interesting, but it doesn’t score high enough on either count to make me want to bag the remaining stock. (BBE Jan 2019, so if it does appeal to you, the clock is ticking.)

Both Viva La Stalyvegas and Gertcha! are in the new livery, with spot colour (although, oddly, the VLS label has an amorphous blob of colour where publicity photos suggested the number 9 should be); both are listed as being in the ‘Staly Series’, complete with collect-the-set “Stalyfacts” (##1 and 3 respectively; I assume #2 was on the bottles for the US-hopped Yanks for the Memories, which coincidentally was the last cask Ticketybrew beer I ever drank). My VLS, like a lot of TicketyBrew bottles, was on the fizzy side of well-conditioned, but a careful pour into an oversized glass was all that was needed. It’s a 6% IPA and it’s terrific. Citra, Rakau and Ekuanot hops give a complex fruitiness, dominated by grapefruit – particularly on the long aftertaste – but with a distinct pineapple-ish sweetness in the mouth. Interestingly, the label says the beer was based on the Summer IPA, which was made with added pineapple and mango. I was positive about that beer when I reviewed it last year, but noted “I still can’t help feeling I’d rather be drinking an IPA that had got pineapple and mango flavours out of hops and malt”. I guess Viva La Stalyvegas is that IPA. If you like fruit-salad IPAs that don’t compromise on bitterness – and why wouldn’t you? – this is a fine example. (The BBE date for this, and for all the remaining three beers, was Feb 2019.)

The new label system included two-tone labels for short-run beers; one such is the Pink IPA, labelled in two rather fetching shades of pink. The label copy announces that this was the second in TicketyBrew’s “rainbow series of IPAs for 2018”; second and last, sadly. It’s a 6% IPA, like Viva La Stalyvegas; unlike VLS, it was made with fruit additions – strawberry, raspberry and hibiscus, in fact. It’s not pink to look at, though, or particularly fruity to taste. Initially it tastes like a pale ale, albeit with a faint raspberry overtone; something else rapidly takes over, though, and the flavour is dominated by a rather overpowering bitter finish. Being bottle-conditioned (as all these beers are) and close to its BBE date (as most of them are), I wonder if it had dried out since it was fresh. For whatever reason, I didn’t think this one was a success.

The aforementioned Gertcha!, its label featuring a large spot-colour number 11, is a 4% pale ale, and as such falls foul of my scepticism about putting 4%ers – or anything much under 6% – in a 330 ml bottle. The label copy retrospectively sounds a particularly sad, Mary Celeste-ish note:

This is a pale ale which showcases two different hops each month, utilising the hop back. Just check on the Web site to see which hops are in your bottle! http://www.ticketybrew.co.uk/doublehop

Needless to say, that URL won’t get you anywhere now. So I’ve no idea which two hops were featured in the bottle I’ve drunk, but the end result was perfectly pleasant. Like VLS, it’s very much in the grapefruit zone, but with a simpler and more straightforward flavour and a lighter texture to go with it. More of a sessioner, I guess, although that brings us back to the vexed question of bottle size. (Stalyfact #3, in case you’re wondering, is the fact – or rumour – that the Courage advert based on Chas and Dave’s song “Gertcha!” was filmed in Stalybridge Buffet Bar, standing in for an East End boozer of old. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s a fascinating thought.)

Lastly, Mocha Mild (a short-run beer, also in a two-tone label) is a bit of an oddity. This is another beer with additions: coffee, cocoa nibs and lactose. Uniquely (in my experience, at least), what these sweet coffee and chocolate flavours have to contend with isn’t the depth of an imperial stout or the weight of a porter, but a thin-textured, 3.9% dark mild. The oddest thing of all is how well it works: it doesn’t put you in mind of an Irish coffee so much as a mochaccino, but that’s no bad thing. The beer underneath isn’t swamped as you might expect, but works harmoniously with the additions; as well as giving you a blast of coffee and milk chocolate, they effectively tweak the flavour profile of a dark mild in that direction (and away from the more familiar malt loaf area). I’ve never had a coffee mild before, and I hope this one won’t be my last – although it may well be my last Mocha Mild.

So, farewell then (again), TicketyBrew! Although even this isn’t likely to be my very last look at their beers; as well as a small stash of Dubbels, I’ve held back one each of the Blonde and the Pale, for drinking when the Dubbels are finally down to the last one. (Also, at the time of writing the beer merchant I mentioned has 20+ bottles of all of these beers except for the Mocha Mild, so I might just restock.) As the man said, How can I leave you when you won’t go away?

 

Some beers in

I’m a bit of a solitary drinker – particularly at home – and I like a bit of variety, even if it’s only alternating Landlord with Proper Job and Ghost Ship. So the only quantity I usually buy bottled beer in is 1. I have occasionally wondered what I’d offer a beer-drinking visitor – or rather, not what I’d offer them (I’d offer them a beer, quite clearly) but how I’d phrase the follow-up question: “What would you like, there’s a Boltmaker and a Harbour Pale and an ESB and an 1845 and a Champion, it is a bit strong that one, although you’re welcome if that’s what you fancy, or if you want a smaller beer there’s an Old Tom and a Duvel and a Guinness Foreign and… What am I having? No, you choose first, I really don’t mind…“. But I only ever seem to meet beer-drinking friends and acquaintances in pubs, so as yet the problem hasn’t arisen.

So I’ve never really “got some beers in”, or not until recently. My first multiple buy was around the beginning of the year, when I bought six bottles of Greene King‘s limited-edition bottle-conditioned Vintage Fine Ale after being rather impressed by the first bottle. This wasn’t a huge success, as I promptly went off it; too malty, too heavy, too much like beer with a cough-mixture depth charge (I imagine). That said, I’ve gradually worked my way through the batch since then & can report that it’s starting to dry out; by the time I get to the last bottle it should be pretty good.

More recently, there was the Aldi promotion which saw bottles of Holden’s XB, Felinfoel Dragon Heart and – in at least one store – Dark Star Hophead going cheap. I bought six of each – why wouldn’t you? Shortly after that we got the sad news about TicketyBrew, which naturally made me want to grab whatever beer of theirs I could still find; an online beer merchant obliged with six bottles each of the Pale and Blonde, and four of the Dubbel. The same retailer had a deal on Tynt Meadow – six for the price of five – so I went for some of those as well.

So for the time being I haven’t just got beers, I’ve got a stock of beers; I can get out a couple of beers, or have a beer and replace it with an identical example of the same beer. It’s a novelty. The main use I’ve made of it is to drink nothing but Hophead, at least as far as low-strength beers in large bottles goes; any time I fancy a pint of bitter, or the closest thing to it in a bottle, I’ve gone for the Hophead. It’s given me a distinct sense of what a pint of bitter tastes like: loose in texture, thin yet oddly oily or soapy; strongly aromatic, herbal (rosemary? sage?); a fresh-tasting attack, sharp but not sour enough to be citric; then a long, bitter finish, persisting almost long enough to be unpleasant, then fading away, leaving your mouth dry and ready for a repeat.

It’s a lovely, lovely beer – and it is, quite definitely, what bitter tastes like. Although I may feel differently when I’ve drunk nothing but XB for a couple of weeks. Watch this space…

UPDATE Three weeks and six bottles of XB later, I can confirm that what a pint of bitter tastes like is… hard to describe. It’s not a complex flavour as such, it’s just hard to pin down. What you taste to begin with isn’t sharp or citric, it’s not strongly bitter and it certainly isn’t aromatic – but I wouldn’t call it bland, either. It just tastes like beer – or rather, it feels like it tastes how beer ought to taste. Perhaps the texture is what’s most striking to begin with; it tastes heavy, like a much stronger beer. It’s not especially sweet, though; it certainly doesn’t taste ‘malty’ or have that slug of caramel you get with some stronger old-school beers. The finish is much easier to describe: it’s bitter, in a complex, lingering way; not tannic (yet another negative!) but herbal, medicinal, a clean-tasting contrast to that heavy start. It’s then that you really taste the sweetness of the beer, in an odd sort of front-of-mouth aftertaste. Like the Hophead, it’s very much a session beer – one mouthful sets you up for another – but in a very different way; I don’t know when I’ve drunk a pint (well, 500 ml) so quickly while being so unsure what it was I was tasting. Lovely stuff. Not like anything else (apart from Batham’s), but lovely stuff. Now for the Felinfoel…

UPDATE Another three weeks and six bottles down, and I can confirm that what a pint of bitter tastes like is, in fact, remarkably easy to describe. It tastes like beer – you know, beer, that brown stuff, puts hairs on your chest. Beer. Beer like it always was. When brown meant beer, and darker meant sweeter but also stronger… You wouldn’t say ‘fruity’ exactly, and ‘malt loaf’ isn’t quite what it is, but if you take granary bread on one hand and damsons or black cherries on the other, and aim for somewhere right in the middle, you’d be about right. It’s well-conditioned and lively, but it’s big – heavy-textured almost to the point of tasting thick. No surprises – this isn’t one of those beers that do one thing on the nose, one on the tip of your tongue, another in your mouth and another again in the aftertaste; what you taste is what you get. It’s brown, it’s heavy-ish, it’s sweet-ish, it’s strong-ish… it’s beer.