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