12 February 2008

For the sake of argonaut

If aliens landed tomorrow and announced that they were going to eradicate one of Earth's beer styles you wouldn't hear me piping up in defence of British golden ales. They're an inoffensive bunch (the ales, not the aliens) but mostly very very dull. They were created, I assume, to draw the lager fanatics into proper beer, but when the Belgians tried this they created Duvel; the Brits gave us Discovery.

One beer gives me pause in my condemnation, however: Black Sheep's Golden Sheep. This is a rich dark gold colour and is properly malty with a lovely bitter bite at the end, accentuated by the powerful carbonation. It reminds me of nothing so much as the better class of Czech lager. This is how to ape lager with an ale.

Of course, when it comes to slightly darker ales, the English are world class. Take Emmerdale -- also from Black Sheep -- for example. This amber beer has the understated bitterness of English hop varieties but more than makes up for its lack of bite with a rich and satisfying warmth. No other nation's brewers can create this kind of flavour at such low levels of alcohol.

I tried the Emmerdale next to Betty Stogs, from the Skinner's brewery in Cornwall. This is a dark red-amber ale with a fresh hoppy aroma, redolent of an American pale ale. Sadly, it doesn't follow through to the flavour. The beer is labelled a quaffer and is light on gas and light on taste, disappearing quickly without doing much on the way.

I'm not a fan of Rick Stein. I think he has very preordained ideas about how food ought to be which lead him to make repetitive and often quite patronising television programmes. When I happened across another Cornish beer (in England: those are not my doilies) to which he lends his late dog's name, I was apprehensive. Reading on the label that Chalky's Bite is an attempt to recreate a Belgian tripel put me immediately on the defensive against Steinish little-Englanderism. So I'm pleased to report that the beer is rubbish. It has none of the spice and power of a real tripel, it's just bland and English and golden.

Hey, aliens: start the sweep at Cornwall.

18 comments:

  1. I must be mad because in summer I quite enjoy Discovery.

    I agree Golden Ales aren't exciting, but beer doesn't have to be to be good.

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  2. Each to their own, of course. Personally I have never found myself thinking "It's really hot today, I fancy a golden ale." A lovely pint of ale or stout is just as refreshing, IMO.

    Now who's mad?

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  3. Golden ale is probably my favourite style. I've never really enjoyed lager so I'm not drawn to them because of that. The west country do seem to produce some of the best. It's the subtle yet conplex flavours that I enjoy (e.g. hamster bedding® etc), rarely are they too bitter. I don't equate them with hot weather, they are a good all year beer. Your comment re the stout is not so strange as there are some brilliant stout brewed in some very hot countries. Lager brewed in hot countries always amuses me

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  4. Being stuck in Cyprus with just Carlsberg and Keo is anything but funny.

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  5. A lovely pint of ale or stout is just as refreshing, IMO.

    It takes a pretty decent pub to have stout on in the summer. I have to agree with your point though, a well put together stout is a joy to behold at any time of year.

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds Rick Stein a patronising smarmy git!

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  6. Agree with Paul about Golden Ales. I think you've missed the point slightly as they're not all about apeing lager. I love the style but hate lagers. IMO stouts can never be as refreshing-enjoyable yes but only the delicate hop edge of a good golden beer can refresh. Must also admit to liking Discovery as well, I'm afraid.

    Spot on with Rick Stein though-Chalky was the best bit of his show.

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  7. The Goldens rarely work for me either. Yet I keep drinking them. Discovery may be my least favorite.

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  8. Golden ales can be brilliant. They need a decent amount of hops though which rules Discovery right out. What they don't need Beer Nut is excessive carbonation, just the right amount. I am worried when anyone calls for beers to be highly carbonated.

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  9. Meant to add - yes more power to the Aliens if they start in the South West - with one or two honourable exceptions.

    OK I mean they should go to Plymouth!

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  10. Tandleman, sounds like you're veering close to the liking-a-beer-because-it-matches-a-preconceived-style notion, at which point I'm afraid I'll have to call the police.

    I liked Golden Sheep because it had a good texture and taste, very similar ones to some lagers I enjoy. It was much more carbonated than any other golden ale I've met -- to the point of being lager-like -- but it certainly wasn't excessive.

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  11. Well Guilty M'Lud if you can say words like "can" indicate veeringness!

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  12. Definitely with you on the disappointment of most English "gold" or "blonde" beers - I've given Discovery plenty of goes, and I just don't like it. I'm a fan of good lager and I would rather drink that than an ale pretending to be a lager.

    I don't think my alcohol habits change that much in the summer, although I feel less inclined to strong Belgians.

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  13. Anonymous4:34 pm

    The one English Golden Ale that I really like is st. Peter's GA, in the funny shaped bottle. I got one about a year ago in Redmonds and I though it was gorgeous, but they haven't had it in since so maybe it's improving in my memory as time goes by!
    Scothbheoir

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  14. Trust St. Peter's to get it right, eh? Show-offs.

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  15. I enjoy English golden ales, I would take one to anything bottom fermented. I'm a self professed bigot in this regard, the Aliens could take everything lager no argument here.

    And just to totally buck the trend Rick Stein is my hero. Own the books, watch the telly, cook the recipes. haven't tried the beer however.

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  16. I'm not saying I prefer yellow lagers, per se. But I do occasionally have use for them. I can't think of any cask beer I'd not choose over Discovery, and that includes GK IPA.

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  17. I've just had Chalky's bite and I think it's lovely. Not Belgian at all, more American, but really nice.

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