All this History is Making us Thirsty

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale 1981.

Researching, reading and writing about the history of beer can feel rather remote from the important business of actually drinking the stuff but, nonetheless, it has made us crave some very specific beers.

We want to drink Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in the California sun, ripe with Cascades, with yeast ‘an inch thick in the bottom of the bottle’, and flavour so powerful we can ‘taste it on the bus home’.

We’d like pints of Marston’s Pedigree in Burton on Trent, bursting with orange aroma, and so profoundly brilliant that they seem to make time stand still.

Or how about a shared four pint stoneware jug of the local brew on a village green in Cheshire?

Timothy Taylor Landlord, tasting of grapefruit and tangerine, without having been near a ‘New World’ hop, would hit the spot.

Actually, what would be perfect is several jars of palate-stripping, bone-dry Young’s Bitter — too much for most people to handle — or of a similarly grown-up-tasting Boddington’s.

The problem is, few of these beers exist any more. Yeast strains have been ‘cleaned up’, bitterness levels have been reduced, and breweries have closed, moved or been refitted. All that remains, in most cases, is the name, and whispers of the flavours and aromas which once inspired people. Some of these beers are, today, embalmed corpses.

Fortunately, there are living, exciting beers — descendents of those listed above — which we can drink. You can’t, after all, get much flavour from a trademark, but the spirit lives on.

17 thoughts on “All this History is Making us Thirsty”

  1. “Some of these beers are, today, embalmed corpses” Love that phrase – I may “borrow” it.

  2. We’d like pints of Marston’s Pedigree in Burton on Trent, bursting with orange aroma, and so profoundly brilliant that they seem to make time stand still.

    “Timothy Taylor Landlord, tasting of grapefruit and tangerine, without having been near a ‘New World’ hop, would hit the spot.

    Actually, what would be perfect is several jars of palate-stripping, bone-dry Young’s Bitter — too much for most people to handle — or of a similarly grown-up-tasting Boddington’s.”

    Ah. I was puzzled by this until I realised that’s how you’d like these things to taste. Clearly they don’t taste that way and never have. That’s what got me puzzled.

    1. This is how they were described to us (starry-eyed) by people who drank them in the seventies and early eighties. Sean Franklin told us about Pedigree and TTL (specific pints of, mind — not in general); Michael Hardman and others recalled Young’s and Boddington’s; Brendan Dobbin, SNPA.

  3. Not even the Bod’s?

    I’m old enough to remember out-of-town visitors’ reaction to the prospect of getting a pint of Boddies’ (“You didn’t say it was a Boddington’s pub! Lead on!”. Living in South M’cr I never had that much of it myself, but I gather it was pretty memorable.

    Pint of Buckley’s Best would hit the spot for me. Fortunately they’re making it again.

  4. Bailey: Just shows you can’t always depend on these “experts”. Taylor’s? Maybe just about, though distance may have enhanced the memory. It was certainty very good indeed, with many layers of flavour, though not sure about the predominance of citrus. Pedigree? Never as described in a month of Sundays.

    Boddies? Yep that used to be superb and maybe Young’s too.

    Seriously, for it is a bit tongue in cheek, Brendan based his version on what SNPA used to taste like. Or rather, what it tasted like when Brendan brewed his clone. Him I believe. It was revolutionary for a UK brewed beer.

    1. Ah, yes, well, that’s the problem — we can only ever get second-hand reports of how things used to taste, and there’s no way to know who to trust. I guess the post is (a) saying that we’d like to have experienced these beers as did the people describing them to us and (b) that we’re beginning to accept the idea that some beers might actually have got worse.

  5. This was a much played advert in the North West during the mid-1980s for Greenall Whitley.

    As I said in the comments, if I got to the stage where I was missing Greenall Whitley, I hope the guard would shoot me.

  6. Taste is subjective, though. If someone says they thought TTL tasted of this and that in 1985, then you have to accept that to them, it did. Likewise, if you only have a certain beer once or twice, then it’s more likely to stay with you. It’s part of the puzzling, undefinable quality that beer has that keeps us searching/hunting it, if you ask me.

  7. I’m pretty rubbish at tasting note sbut I don’t recall TTL bursting with orange and tangerine. What I definitely recall was a distinct floral hoppiness that made the beer hugely appealing. Brendan’s beers though – well now you’re talking.

    And of course, what many younger geeks and bloggers overlook (or more likely don’t know) it that these hop forward American inspired beers were being brewed here in Manchester something ike 20 years ago. That may be one reason why those of us here in the North West who have been around the block once or twice tend to lok a little askance when geeks and bloggers start raving about something they’ve just discovered when some of us were drinking something similar (and brewed in the UK to boot) two decades ago.

    1. some of us were drinking something similar (and brewed in the UK to boot) two decades ago

      What he said, although I don’t think Brendan Dobbin was anything like as single-minded on the pale’n’oppy front as Marble/Abbeydale/SWB/Pictish have been. But I’ve certainly been drinking hop-forward beers in the modern style since 2000, even if I didn’t actually start enjoying them until relatively recently.

      1. Phil
        He certainly wasn’t – Brendan brewed a whole range of styles. His Guiltless Stout was exceptional and the house beer he made for the Crown In Stockport (a very hop forward little number by the name of Green Bullet) was glorious. Funnily enough though some of his more malt accented beers (e.g. North County ESB and Big Heavy Wee Jimmy) didn’t appeal to me but I’m guessing you would have loved them.

        1. I would argue that Young’s Bitter was indeed much less dry and bitter than in later years and it had changed even before the merger with Wells Young. Michael Jackson in his earliest books lauded the steely and bitter character of the beer, but noted in later writings that some of the character had fallen off. My own early 80′s memories of the beer were that it was much as Michael had originally described, but this had changed by the 90′s. Can’t say for Landlord, but it always tasted great to me.

          Twenty years ago Holt’s in Manchester was much like that original Young’s Bitter, but whether this is still so I can’t say.

          I think Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is as good as ever. I know the beer since its inception and it has always tasted the same to me. Indeed, a draft version consumed in London three years ago in one of the pubs near the open air food market on the south side of the river – near that modernistic tower being built – astonished me by its authenticity. Some things really don’t change, including Pilsner Urquell!

          Gary

          1. Gary — thanks for commenting. We’ve not noticed any decline in the quality of PU either, though we’ve only been drinking it for a few years, and have to give some credit to veterans who insist it’s less bitter now than it has been.

            Having said that, though, the fact that very bitter beers have become more common at the ‘craft’ end of the market must also have affected people’s perceptions of what constitutes ‘intense bitterness’.

    2. We’ve had chapter and verse from Brendan, now, so don’t worry — the North will get its due!

  8. Sorry, I meant to to say that IMO, Young’s Bitter became much less dry and bitter in later years, i.e. vs. when Jackson first wrote about it.

    Gary

Comments are closed.