10 January 2013

Yuletide miscellany

It wasn't all fancy pub-hopping in England over Christmas. I was well looked after by my sisters who sourced a selection of bottles for general drinking.

Among them was a box set from Adnams, one of my favourite English breweries. While I'm familiar with most of their output, there were a couple of new ones in here. Most of all I was keen to get my hands on Ghost Ship, their new pale ale. It's so pale as to be golden, but branding it a golden ale would be an insult: it's a style that few breweries do well and tends to be more of an attempt to catch the lager market than to make genuinely good beer. Not so with Ghost Ship: no grainy malts or bubblegum stickiness here, just bright and snappy peach and pineapple flavours sitting atop the signature Adnams crispness. That balance of dry minerals and New World hop candy makes for a fantastic flavour combination.

Also new to me was Gunhill, a sweet red ale with a thick off-white head. First sip reveals bags of milk chocolate plus some brown-maltish roast coffee dryness. A subtle bit of hop spice in the finish offers a little seasoning on what's otherwise a very much malt-driven beer. Though heavy, it's only 4% ABV. A warmer at this strength is a rare and welcome find.

The official warmer from Adnams, however, is Yuletide, which I found on draught in The Moon Under Water in Watford. On Christmas Eve afternoon this crammed JD Wetherspoon put a new spin on the phrase "Orwellian nightmare". Having elbowed enough uncollected plates aside to have somewhere to put my pint, I found Yuletide to be not all that dissimilar to Adnams Bitter: brown and quite crisp with just a little bit more of a dark taste, a sweetness which includes some bourbon biscuit and plum. Reasonable fare, though I'm sure the ambiance didn't help my appreciation. I should have gone to The One Crown down the street. I know this now.

Keeping it seasonal, I got to try Innis & Gunn Winter Ale 2012 which boasts of being a porter with molasses. The stout last year was passable so I engaged the benefit of the doubt for this. But really, they have a cheek calling it a porter. It's a pale ruby red colour and is powerfully sticky-sweet with awful plasticky plasticine flavours roaring out of it. Tough work to drink and really not worth the effort. Wood's of Shropshire manage something in a very similar style, only not disgusting, with their Christmas Cracker. Again, this is a dark red and the flavour is gently dusted with liquorice and treacle, lightened up by some sweeter strawberry flavours. A less jarring jar altogether.

And while we're on a liquorice kick, here's Bad King John from Ridgeway, a 6% ABV stout and former winner of Sainsbury's's annual beer competition. Reuben found it silky and chocolatey, but it tasted much drier to me, with lots of almost harsh bitterness, leading to that liquorice quality. Lots of roast and a big hit from the 6% ABV, it's a bit of a monster and I'm not at all sure I liked it.


Leaving winter aside altogether, the last bottle for now is Up 'n' Down, brewed by Hobson's as a fundraiser for the Walking With Offa pub walks promotion, hence the change from their usual minimalist label style. It's an easy-drinking 4.2%-er, pale and pithy with some assertive orange sherbet and grapefruit sharpness. With the carbonation kept low it makes for a very refreshing experience, which I guess is the whole point of a walkers' beer.

An eclectic bunch there, but a clear indication that pale 'n' hoppy is where it's at with mainstream British beer, if I'm any judge.

4 comments:

  1. Got my first go at Ghost Ship over Christmas, too. Wish I'd bought a lot more, and Boak is sulking because I didn't bring any back.

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  2. Well in that case I hated it.

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  3. I finished off my Adnam's christmas selection box on Monday night. Having sampled all of the six beers previously I knew what to expect. I had planned to leave the best until last so without question it had to be the Ghost Ship.
    A New Year's roast beef dinner washed down with the Broadside was another highlight.

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  4. Ghost Ship is wonderful. For me, it's the balance of abv and flavour that it absolutely nails, proving that something sessionable doesn't have to be bland. I've enjoyed a lot of it, both in cask, bottles and cans, over this last summer. Wonderful stuff.

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