01 June 2008

British Summer Time

I'm weekending up north at the moment and staged a minor beer raid on a local supermarket. Not Sainsbury's, so I wasn't actually expecting to find much of interest, here where a certain tonic wine from Devonshire is the tipple of choice for many. But there behind the stacks of alcopops and a veritable Aladdin's cave of tramps' brews ("I say, Jeremy, shall we go for the Tennents Super or the Carlsberg Special this morning?" "Why not something delightfully continental, Tristran, from the extensive Polish selection?") there was a well-chosen core collection of English ales: the best of Fuller's, plus Black Sheep, Young's Double Chocolate and the like. Hardly ground-breaking, but there was nothing like this when I lived in these parts. However, nobody wants to read more "Northern Ireland is making progress" headlines, so I'll stop.

There was an old favourite of mine, Bateman's XXXB, but I passed on it to try another from the same brewery: Combined Harvest. It would usually take a lot for me to pick an English golden ale out of a line-up, but a beer made from barley, wheat, rye and oats presented just enough of a gimmick to pique my curiosity. Unwisely, it's presented in a clear glass bottle, but there was only the very faintest whiff of skunking on opening. It pours to a limpid orangey-gold, with a big head that dispells quickly leaving just a light skim of foam. Marmalade is the governing feature here, both in the aroma and the foretaste. Big, tart, zingy orange notes turning to just a hint of citrus hoppy bitterness at the end. The fizz, while far from overpowering, is just right to add to the refreshment power of this beer, and I'm delighted to discover another member for that tiny pantheon of good, interesting, English golden ales. An instant beer-garden classic.

On Friday, before I left Dublin, I nipped in to the Bull & Castle to give another recently-arrived English summer beer the once-over. Raspberry Grand Cru is from Meantime, a London brewery I have a lot of time for, and whose darker beers I've particularly enjoyed. This one wrong-footed me from the outset with its pale orange hue. I was expecting something, well, pink, like a Belgian raspberry lambic. But they haven't gone for fruit here, preferring instead to aim for the sourer flavour I associate with mature fruit lambics, and Cantillon's Rosé de Gambrinus in particular. But really there's not enough of either characteristic for my liking. The sourness finishes up as dry, without any real lip-smacking tang, and the fruit flavour is on a par with that found in an ice lolly. These miniflavours are buried under a massive 6.5% ABV for which there is no excuse, not with this rather thin and gassy body. More Meantime beers have just arrived in Ireland, and I'm really hoping they've made a better fist of them than this one. Expect reviews soon.

Still, where UK summer beers are concerned, one out of two definitely ain't bad.

5 comments:

  1. And you picked a good weekend weather-wise for your trip up here.

    What retailer were you shopping in? There can be big differences in the stock carried between branches of even the same chain, eg Sainsbury at Forestside has a much better beer selection than their Ballymena branch. If you're in Belfast try to get to The Vineyard on the Ormeau Road, it usually has a decent selection.

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  2. I certainly did, Ed. I spent this afternoon in the beer garden of Fitzpatrick's, just across the border near Carlingford. Bottled Guinness was the best they had, but still damnably pleasant.

    The supermarket I went to was a locally-owned one-off, not part of a chain.

    So the beer selection in south Belfast is better than in north Antrim? Next thing you'll be telling me it's hard to find somewhere selling Lambeg drums on the Falls Road...

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  3. I agree with you about the ABV on the Grand Cru - it is completely unnecessary. But it is all the stranger that the blurb on the bottle states that punters in their brew pub enjoy the stuff by the pint. Hardly a session drink. I could do without the inebriation and heartburn.

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  4. The Meantime changes every time I drink it. When we last sampled it, we had very similar things to say as you - very little fruit, but still sour. And too strong. But it's been wonderful in the past.

    Thom - the blurb on the bottle probably refers to the non-Cru version in the pub, which is weaker (and nicer at the moment!)

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  5. In the Autumn look out for Bateman's Autumn Fall, a better beer again using 4 different grains with the added bonus of a brown bottle.

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