21 June 2010

My dearest England...

We two have been intimately acquainted for many years now so it is with a heavy heart that I compose this melancholic missive. I cannot escape the feeling that, as we have come to know each other better, our relationship has changed. Perhaps it is a maturing, a sign that our youthful frolics are now properly put away to be replaced with a more cerebral mutual understanding. I hope so. But all I can say now is that things between us are unlikely to ever be the same again.

I began to suspect this when I visited you last summer, but it only really came home to me during our most recent meeting, little over a week ago in Brighton. It is my newfound belief, England, that to be a ticker in you is pointless and unfulfilling.

Please don't take this the wrong way -- I still have the greatest respect for your beers and will uphold to the death your reputation for making tasty and sessionable ales. It's just, so many of them are so similar to each other that I now find little joy in picking new ones arbitrarily in the hope that they will excite my senses and inflame my passions. Maybe it's my advancing age which speaks, but they so rarely do either.

Let us start, as I did that sunny Wednesday afternoon, in the rustic bare wood surrounds of The Evening Star. From the Dark Star range available I opted for Solstice, expecting little more than irrigation for my travel-parched throat. In fact, it's quite a beautiful hop-forward golden ale: full-bodied and satisfying, redolent with succulent peaches and nectarines. Indeed it eclipsed even the Hophead which followed, a beer which has truly delighted me in the past but proved rather watery on this occasion.

Over the following days I sought out as many of the Dark Star range as I could find. Original is a seemingly quite strong porter at 5% ABV, though tastes light with a pleasant roastiness to it, let down by a nasty metallic buzz on the end. Festival is a brown bitter, endowed most unfortunately with a flatulent egginess redeemed only by a fruity raisin complexity. Returning to the pale, there is Argus, a very bitter pale ale which wears its hops deep, offering the drinker little by way of flavour or aroma. Solstice and Hophead i would return to willingly, and while I didn't feel I'd wasted my time with the others, I did begin to suspect that perhaps sticking to what I know and like may be a useful rule of thumb in your company.

Beyond this local fare, the Evening Star was also serving Thornbridge Hopton. "Ah", I thought, "here's a brewery whose beers deserve special ticking attention, so distinctive and tasty are they, by repute". But, while there's nothing wrong with golden Hopton per se -- it's earthily bitter with a hint of jaffa oranges, chalkily dry and finishing on burnt toast -- it's not terribly interesting and certainly wouldn't have me singing the praises of Thornbridge by itself. At the opposite end of the tickable scale, elsewhere in Brighton, there was cask Bass. Not expecting much from this I actually quite enjoyed it: dry again, sulphurous as a Burton bitter should be, but balanced by a sticky caramel fruitiness. As a solid and drinkable beer, it's streets ahead of its stablemate Marston's Pedigree. That I accord equal status to these beers -- one artfully crafted in small batches, the other mass-produced under contract for a large corporation -- shows me that your beers are not be be judged by their rarity or the craft credentials of the brewery. An unsettling realisation for the travelling ticker, I hope you'll agree.

The other Brighton pub I spent a bit of time in was The Victory, a charming little L-shaped hostelry with a tempting range of draught beers. Hepworth Pullman was probably the best of them: a nicely hoppy golden pale ale with some tasty bubblegum notes. Much better than the tired by name and nature Arundel Footslogger: flat, grainy and completely uninspiring. I had finally forsworn my ticking tendencies for our future dalliances by the time I got Gatwick, offering them one last chance with Exmoor Gold on sale there. The sharp-tasting eggy-smelling beer decided me that sticking with what you like is definitely the most apposite behaviour when venturing to imbibe beyond the Irish Sea.

Of all the beers I drank on the trip, I enjoyed none so much as the two pints of Harvey's Best I had on separate occasions. I will be turning to this, and Landlord, and Adnams Bitter, and Proper Job whenever I see them. I now need a reason to stray to the other handpumps.

I must bring my ramblings to close, fair England, and bid you adieu until next month when we shall be united once more. And please rest assured that I still hold your beers in the highest regard and you have a great deal to be proud of.

Your most humble, obedient and thirsty servant,

The Beer Nut

24 comments:

  1. You echo my thoughts more or less entirely. Sticking to what you know either by beer or by brewery is to me essential. Otherwise you will surely encounter disappointment.

    See also my comments on Young Dredge's site.

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  2. As much as finding good, new beer is enjoyable, I do so with tentative steps, usually treading on the names I know of. There is a lot of me-too beer and unfortunately what they ape is not something I necessarily want to drink.

    Cask beer is a moveable feast. Breweries also cater for wide tastes so inevitably there will be some on their menu which don't always hit the mark, Thornbridge and Dark Star included.

    My trouble is that I find beers like Harvey's Best and Landlord boring. They do nothing for me unless they are in their optimum condition. For this reason I'd take the chance on something else. Russian roulette, I guess - if you want to play you have to risk a bad result.

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  3. I guess I've been lucky with Harvey's: I've never had a less than superb pint of it. Can't say the same for Landlord, though. Took me a while to find out what it's supposed to taste like.

    And I'd take boring over eggy any day of the week.

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  4. My views on this one have varied over time and I've swung from one exteme to the other and am now probably somewhere in the middle! I'm quite happy when I see Harveys or Landlord though ...

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  5. If you find Harvey's boring, I suggest playing Russian roulette with all the chambers filled.

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  6. i'm glad you sampled the Bass, actually!!

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  7. Me too. I've found I really like those cask living fossil: Bass, John Smith's and Tetleys. Cask Boddington's is next on my list.

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  8. You should have said that time you were in Manchester.

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  9. John Smith's on cask? Boddington's too? So much hunt out when I get to the UK next summer.

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  10. Tandleman, I don't think it was until later on that trip that I fully realised these things existed. I think it was the John Smith's in the Punchbowl in York that set off my sudden need to tick them.

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  11. Disappointment is adventure, bring it on by the truckload. And that one rewarding fantastic pint will be every bit the heaven you were searching for.

    I'd rather be disappointed a few times than live a life on one pint (although I take your point on eggy)

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  12. At no more than 10 to 20 pub and festival visits per year, I don't get any English beer by the truckload.

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  13. The Bloody Tan11:25 p.m.

    I got a similar feeling at GBBF last year - endless rows of golden ales all masquerading as weak piss and tasting exactly the same.

    No-one does golden ale better than the Hopback Brewery - Summer Lightning, Crop Circle and GFB are head and shoulders above the rest.

    Worth a trip to Salisbury for those alone.

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  14. I'm afraid that Sturgeon's Law applies as much to the products of new small breweries as it does to everything else.

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  15. Only English ones, though. It doesn't seem to be case in Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and (I would hazard) the US.

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  16. Sure it applies over here, there is an awful lot of mediocre beer swilling around from craft breweries. The difference is that the mediocre over here isn't in a single style. Many craft pilsners are awful, whilst lagers are uninspiring (perhaps if they lived up to their names and were actually LAGERED longer it would be better), amber ales are in danger of becoming the boring beers of the US scene, and many a wheat beer can't compete with something like Schneider Weisse.

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  17. John Clarke7:49 p.m.

    Doesn't seem to be the case in the Netherlands? You've got to be joking. While there are an increasing number of excellent beers brewed or commissioned by Dutch firms, there is an awful lot of junk around, from the tediously dull to the simply undrinkable. I think Ron reads this blog so I'm sure he will concur.

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  18. In my (extremely limited) experience I have to call out John Smith's on cask as my personal favorite. Which I see you and a commenter have both called out in the comments.

    Other than Hophead and Solstice, is there anything on your list of let-downs that is interesting enough for your readers to try if they happen to be randomly in a pub where it's offered?

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  19. Also I agree generally with Velky Al. We have a TON of craft breweries so trends are a little tougher to pin down in the US. However in my experience pilsners and lagers, specifically, are very uninspired as Velky Al says. I see much less experimentation with those styles than occurs in other styles for some reason.

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  20. I'd never tell anyone not to drink any specific beer Royce, particularly something as variable as cask ale. But really it's impossible to recommend any of these if there's a pint of Harvey's Best anywhere within shouting distance, which there generally is in Brighton.

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  21. Yeah, there's lots of junk around in Holland. As a visit to the Bokbierfestival will confirm. On average about 25% of the beers at the festival are undrinkable. Another 50% are just crap.

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  22. Do you know how far afield Harvey's Best makes it outside the Brighton area? Or is it impossible to say? My interest has been piqued.

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  23. Professor Pie-Tin6:12 p.m.

    The Hole in the Wall Bar next to Waterloo Station has been sending commuters home pissed on Harvey's Best for donkey's years.
    I know - I am the soldier.

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  24. The Harp near Covent Garden can also be relied on. It's where I lost my Harvey's Best virginity.

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