Goose Island Brewery Yard Stock Pale Ale

A meticulously recreated 19th Century pale ale produced with the close involvement of beer historian Ron Pattinson? Yes please.

As with the Fuller’s Past Masters beers, there was never a moment’s doubt that we had to taste Goose Island Brewery Yard, but the talked-about price — £20 for a 750ml bottle — did give us a moment’s pause. Fortunately, when we asked around for where it could actually be bought (lots was given away as, essentially, marketing bling) we were pointed toward Clapton Craft who had it at a much more reasonable £12 a bottle. We ordered two, along with some other interesting stuff to justify the postage, intending to drink one now and leave the other for at least a couple of years.

Brewery Yard in the glass: beer foam.

First, putting aside matters of history, expectation and industry politics, how is it as a beer? The aroma is unmistakably ‘Bretty’, which is to say very like Orval. (It’s a different strain of Brettanomyces, apparently, but, until we’ve had more practice, the distinction seems lost on us.) There’s also something like hot sugar. In the glass, it looks like an extremely pretty bitter, at the burnished end of brown, topped of with a thick but loose head of white. The taste was remarkably interesting with, once again, Orval as the only real reference point: Brewery Yard is thinner, drier and lighter-bodied despite a higher ABV (8.4%). There was something wine-like about it — a suggestion of acidity, perhaps, or of fruit skins? There was also a strong brown sugar tang, as if a cube or two had been dissolved and stirred in. That’s a flavour we’ve come across before, in two of the Fuller’s Past Masters beers — 1966 Strong Ale and 1914 Strong X — and not one we’re all that keen on. So, as a beer, we didn’t love it wholeheartedly, and probably wouldn’t spend £12 on another bottle.

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Magical Mystery Pour #15: Durham Brewery Bombay 106

A 7% traditional English-style IPA designed to evoke the 19th Century? Yes please.

This is the second beer chosen for us by David Bishop (@beerdoodles — website here). He says: ‘Big boned and no nonsense. I think this will be a nice beer for you to share — 250mls each that will leave you checking the bottle for one or two more drops.’

A couple of years ago Durham Brewery was all the rage thanks in part, it seemed to us, to a certain generosity with samples for bloggers, Tweeters and raters. We had a few of their beers here and there and found that they ranged from decent (White Stout) to shoddy. So we were pleased at the opportunity to give them another go although our hopes weren’t high.

We bought our bottle from Beer Ritz at £4.02 for 500ml. It is bottle-conditioned and so, with our last messy Durham experience in mind, we kept it chilled. It actually poured beautifully, the yeast sticking to the bottom of the bottle through multiple dips, depositing a whipped-white head on a body a shade darker than standard lager. The aroma wasn’t huge but there was something fruity — peach-like, perhaps?

Durham Bombay in the glass.

The taste was, frankly, startling. It took us by surprise and left us momentarily disoriented. Then we got it: strawberries. Not mango or passion fruit or grapefruit or any of those other modern IPA navigation landmarks but soft, sweet English garden fruit. People sometimes talk about this as an off-flavour but we’ve always quite enjoyed it in, for example, the stronger BrewDog IPAs.

That was laid over a snappy Great British Bake Off background of biscuit and bread — wholesome stuff, though, with grains to chew on — followed by a solid but not overwhelming bitterness, with a slight seasoning saltiness.

The flavours seemed to unroll distinctly, checking and highlighting each other — it’s too sweet, no it’s not, or is it? Not so much balance as an energising back and forth. Stimulating.

Altogether, we liked it. It tasted absolutely English, old-fashioned without being mummified, and just boozy enough to feel like an adventure. The website tells us it’s all Maris Otter and Goldings so definitely the kind of beer the 1990s IPA revivers had in mind before C-hops took over.

So that’s Durham out of the sin bin and back on the worth-a-try list.

Magical Mystery Pour #14: Magic Rock Inhaler + Special Guest

This fourth round of Magical Mystery Pour was chosen for us by David Bishop, AKA @broadfordbrewer, AKA Beer Doodles (@beerdoodles), and kicks off with a new beer from Magic Rock.

In case you’ve missed the previous instalments Magical Mystery Pour is where we ask someone else to select a few beers which we then buy with our own money. The idea is to broaden our horizons and get ourselves out of a rut we may or may not have been in. (We admit nothing.)

Most of the beers David chose for us are from Yorkshire and he suggested we order them from Leeds-based retailer Beer Ritz, which we did. Inhaler (4.5%) was £2.66 per 330ml can and David says:

It’s new to the Magic Rock range and one that fits the bill for a post-bike-ride beer. Refreshing, juicy, session beer…. packaged for portability, or something.

The can, like almost all craft beer cans, is very pretty and tactile. Magic Rock beers initially followed the BrewDog colour-coding system — green for pale ale, blue for IPA, red for amber, pink for prawn cocktail and so on. This one is a luxurious black and red which made us expect cherries and chocolate until we read the label: JUICY PALE ALE.

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Too Fancy to Drink: Gadd’s Russian Imperial Stout

These two bottles have been sitting on the shelf since March 2015, throbbing with sinister energy like the crate containing the Ark in the first Indiana Jones film. Last night, we decided to vanquish them.

They are non-identical twins — the same base beer (a 12% ABV historic homage) with two treatments, one aged in bourbon barrels, the other given a dose of Brettanomyces lambicus.

We didn’t buy these but we weren’t sent them by the brewery, either: when he worked at Beer Merchants, Phil Lowry snuck them into one of our orders as a bonus. His advice at the time was (a) to be careful with the Brettanomyces-spiked version and (b) to try blending them.

Even without any chilling Brett, as we’ll call him, was no trouble at all. He hissed but didn’t gush, and gave us a thick, steady caramel-coloured foam. It smelled exactly like Harvey’s Russian Imperial Stout, which is perhaps not that surprising, and in our book a high compliment.

‘We should put the other one in a different glass so we don’t get them mixed up. Use the St Bernardus one. Because Bernard. Bernard Matthews. Turkey. Wild Turkey.’

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Yarrow, Alecost and Nightmares

Old illustration of yarrow leaves.
Yarrow leaves. SOURCE: Köhler’s Medicinal Plants, 1887, via Biodeversity Library.

I’m all about Harvey’s at the moment. It’s all I wanted to drink in London the other week, and about all I’m interested in drinking now we’re back in Penzance.

Last night, I pulled something of theirs from the back of the stash that, somehow, I’ve never got round to tasting before even though we got several bottles as part of a mixed case last year: Priory Ale.

This beer isn’t on sale anymore but think of this as general commentary on beer with weird herbs rather than as a review and it might have some use.

It’s 6% — a bit indulgent for a school night but not madly so — but the kick is in the small print. It was released in 2014 to mark the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes and was ‘brewed using ingredients that were available to the Cluniac Order at the Priory of St. Pancras in 1264’. The mash included barley, oats and wheat and it was boiled with both hops and yarrow. It was then dry-herbed with alecost, rosemary and thyme during fermentation.

I can’t lie — on reading the blurb, my first thought was, ‘Uh-oh.’ Thyme and rosemary don’t really work in beer, or at least I haven’t yet acquired the taste, making everything a seem bit sickly and savoury.

On tasting it, my first thought was of medicinal shampoo, then of cough sweets, which I guess must mean some memory of menthol firing in my brain. Alecost is sometimes known by the name ‘Mary’s mint’ or variations thereon so perhaps that’s what I was picking up? The rosemary and thyme rose up as the beer went on, overriding everything by the end, like some kind of cotton bag you might hang in a wardrobe to give your bonnets a pleasant fragraunce. Or a leg of lamb.

Most disappointingly from my point of view, it lacked that distinctive Harvey’s character on which I am hooked.

It was not a relaxing beer. Being kind, I’d say it was stimulating, but maybe nerve-jangling is more honest. It put me on edge. ‘I think this is going to give me nightmares,’ I said on turning in.

And do you know, something certainly did.