It's St George's Day. A day to celebrate all the great things about England. Like Marks & Spencer, Yorkshire and bitter. Can you guess where I'm going with this?
Last year I complained bitterly when M&S brought their older line of beers to Ireland just as they were launching shiny new bottled conditioned ones on the UK market. I said I didn't hold out much hope for us ever getting them over here. When Yorkshire Bitter (a rebadge of Cropton's Yorkshire Moors) appeared on the shelves in Dublin last week I prepared to use it to wash down my words. But then I noticed the date on the label: Display Until End April 2008. My guess is that this is leftover stock from the UK, thrown to the paddies as an alternative to binning it in a couple of weeks' time. They're asking €3.29 for this elderly ale which, given the current exchange rate, is exorbitant. But obviously there was no question of me not buying a test bottle.
I've come out into the grounds of Beer Nut Towers to enjoy this as the first al fresco beer of the season. It's a lovely orange-brown colour out of the bottle, with quite a bit of sediment in there. Bottle conditioned, dontcherknow. A big foamy head sits on top, thicker than you'd get on a (non-sparklered) cask bitter, but of a similar off-white colour and bumpy texture. Not much on the aroma, or the foretaste, but a lovely smooth mouthfeel, again a lot like you'd get from a cask. The malt and light English hops kick in beautifully next, for three seconds of beery bliss, but it ends with a massive jarring off-note: a powerful hit of galvanic metallic sourness that hangs around for much too long. I'm used to a metallic tang in this style of beer: I've come to accept it as part of what many English bitters do, but this is in a whole different league and I very much doubt if the brewer intended it to be there. So promising, then throws it away at the end. Shame.
It wouldn't put me off trying the other beers in M&S's bottle-conditioned range, but I still doubt that they will be making a regular habit of stocking them in Ireland. And at this sort of price I doubt even more that I'll be buying anything other than one sample bottle of any rapidly-expiring excess stock they deign to export for our benefit.
That said, I should be thankful that I can get any beer in the supermarket at all. In one of the fastest pieces of knee-jerk policy I've ever seen -- and this country is world-class at turning hysteria into public policy -- a draft bill published today and due to be enacted by the summer will force all off licences to close at 10pm each evening and make supermarkets and other mixed traders keep alcohol physically separated from their other stock. Nanny says "Don't touch: bad". Northern Ireland has had this law in place for all of my lifetime at least, and to be honest I don't think they present a good example to follow.
Ireland's main government party are well-known to have the vested interests of the nation's publicans at the heart of many of their policies: it was the reason an attempt to liberalise the licensing regime by the junior government party was shot down a couple of years ago. So here we have an attack on the off trade -- a move to make sure more people crowd into already-packed pubs to drink crap overpriced beer while standing up -- pretending to be responsible social policy. And more drink legislation is to follow in the autumn.
Drinking at home to the patron saint of England: this is my two fingers to the Irish government and their nitrostout-dispensing paymasters. Cheers.