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.

Rating Sites, Hype & the Real Influencers

Good King Henry Special Reserve (bottle).

If you want to get your brand name on the radar don’t send samples to bloggers, send them to RateBeerians.

That’s the conclusion we reached after researching this story on the weird prominence of Good King Henry Special Reserve, the only British beer in the RateBeer top 50, for All About Beer:

The flurry of high rankings that followed that summer gathering—most awarding 18, 19 or 20 out of 20 and accompanied by profuse thanks to ‘Chris_O’—put the beer into the Top 50 chart. That might have been a blip except those events brought it to the attention of Edinburgh beer lover Craig Garvie. He is an enthusiastic character often to be seen at beer festival in a colourful bowler hat, steampunk shades and with his beard dyed one shade or another. A particular fan of strong stouts, he knew he had to get his hands on GKHSR.

We were prompted to research and write that piece because we, despite paying fairly close attention to British beer, had never heard of Old Chimney’s brewery or come across any of their beers on sale anywhere, ever.

On a related note, we were pondering writing something longer in response to this Tweet…

…to which our initial response was, yes, marketing is important, but word-of-mouth about great beer is the best marketing you can get.

But the GKHSR story demonstrates very clearly that you don’t need fancy graphic design, expensive advertising or squads of PR people to make a splash.

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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Why Not Bitter Pils ’73 Before Bad 2002-style IPA?

We were interested to read an article in The Economist about the latest trend in Eastern European beer: Cold War retro.

One of the most interesting, Zlaty Bazant ’73, is a version of the biggest Slovakian lager brand based on a half-century old recipe, from the, er, good old days. We’ve heard that one reason larger breweries are reluctant to do this kind of thing is because it acknowledges the truth in the idea that ‘fings ain’t wot they used to be’. We suppose that might be an issue for brands trading upon their history, e.g. Guinness, but Zlaty Bazant (Heineken) seem to be dealing with it: the modern beer is a modern beer, for modern tastes, and good in a different way. There’s no conflict.

Zlaty Bazant 73 bottle.
SOURCE: Zlaty Bazant website.

(We’re not saying ZB is good — I drank a fair bit when I lived in Poland travelled and around Eastern Europe a decade or so ago; it was fine, but not one of my favourites. – Boak.)

This is happening in Western Europe, too. Through the fog of PR and junket-based razzle-dazzle it’s possible to discern genuine admiration for Carlsberg and Heineken’s experiments with ancient yeast strains. As one noted beer writer suggested to us recently, paraphrased, these breweries don’t like being unpopular and seem to have made the decision to distinguish themselves from AB-InBev by making decent beer again.

In short, we don’t understand why established breweries everywhere aren’t doing this as a way of offering an accessible ‘premium’ product. We’d have loved to have tried the recent 1955 London Pride brewed by Fuller’s in collaboration with Sierra Nevada – wouldn’t Pride ’55 that be a great thing to see as a regular beer in their pubs? Or Young’s Ordinary ’77 with a whiff of The Sweeney about it? (As long as they taste decent, and noticeably different, obviously.)

Bass in particular is a brand crying out for this kind of revival – a pep up (Bass ’65) rather than a total reinvention (Bass Sour Lime Flavourbombz®) — preying on nostalgia for the days of full-employment, World Cup wins, Pop Art and Beatlemania.

On a related note, this trend also indicates a way forward for European ‘craft beer’. While we don’t object fundamentally to Germans brewing IPA, as some people do, it does seem a shame that the reaction of ‘alternative’ brewers to ever-blander industrial lagers isn’t more often just really good takes on native styles. Old recipes, old yeast, old specifications might get people excited about Dunkel again, for example. (Yes, we know you’re excited about Dunkel already, but you’re a massive nerd.) And imagine an indie pilsner that is dead clean and traditional — no elderflowers or citrusy hops — but so bitter that it makes Jever taste restrained. That’d go like a bomb among craft beer fans, wouldn’t it? Or maybe Jever themselves will get there first with Jever ’83.

N.B. We’ve said most of this before in one form or another so consider this a premium retro-ironic post under the sub-brand B&B ’09.