Opaque Bitter, 1986

“We like to think that Nicholas Breakspear, the only English pope, was a member of this race of inspired brewers, for Brakspear’s draught bitter is undoubtedly the best to be had in England. It is not, of course, clear and cold or thin and gaseous. It is flat, opaque, warmish and tastes of hop fields in the English summer. It also has the supreme advantage of making you slowly, but not too slowly, drunk.”

John Mortimer, ‘That Elusive Ideal: The Perfect Pub‘, New York Times, 5 October 1986

(N.B Original has American spelling of ‘draft’.)

A Surprise Infatuation

We didn’t expect to like this beer but, blimey, we really do.

We found it on our local Wetherspoon, The Tremenheere, where we go a couple of times a month in search of something a bit interesting. Quite often we end up turning round and walking out, unexcited by the choice of Abbot, Doom Bar or Ruddles. We nearly did that this time but something told us to stop and give Jenning’s Sneck Lifter a try.

They’re not a cool brewery, Jenning’s, not least because they’re part of the Marston’s empire these days. We’ve always found their bottled beers a bit dull and the cask — most often Cumberland Ale — fine without being thrilling.

Perhaps it was the fact that we felt sorry for them having been flooded but more likely it was the realisation that, despite having it mentally filed under ‘usual suspects’, we couldn’t remember actually having tried Sneck Lifter from cask. We’ve heard the name, of course, and we think we’ve had it in bottles, when it barely registered, but, no, we’re pretty sure never cask-conditioned.

It’s hard to say, really, why it excited us. Something about it suggested those Fuller’s Past Masters beers so, to a certain extent, it’s that it tastes antique — like a pint of mild that’s made it across the gulf of time from before World War I. (The brewery pitches it as a ‘winter warmer’ but it could just as easily be branded ‘strong mild’.)

More specific tasting notes feel a bit redundant because, really — it’s just a satisfying beer — but we’ll try.

It’s strong by British standards at 5.1% ABV, and fairly dark — so red it’s almost black, from certain angles. It’s easy-going but rich, in the same territory as Adnam’s Broadside. That is to say, plummy, raisiny and rich without being full-on luxurious. It’s sweet in a way that feels nourishing but before it has chance to become sickly, a countering dry bitterness starts to build up in the mouth: it is balanced in the sense of having flavours tugging two ways rather than as a synonym for bland.

What we’re saying, we suppose, is that if you see Sneck Lifter on cask, you should give it a go, even if you’re a Jenning’s/Marston’s sceptic.

Young People and Bottled Beer, 1958

“[The younger generation] tend to prefer bottled beer; perhaps because it is widely advertised, perhaps because it is ‘packaged goods’. Moreover, draught beer is ‘what Dad drinks’ and, presumably, he cannot be right.”

From ‘Pleasing all Palates’ in Beer in Britain (1960), based on a 1958 special supplement of The Times.

Cornwall Update: Falmouth Levels Up

Falmouth’s already thriving beer ‘scene’ has a (relatively) new addition in Mono, a music-focused bar and gig venue on the corner of Killigrew Street.

We first spotted it in July but didn’t actually get chance to sit down for a drink until last weekend. This doesn’t constitute a review — we had one pint each during a quiet Friday lunchtime — but though it worth flagging.

It looks a bit like a BrewDog bar — doesn’t everything these days? — even down to those ubiquitous ‘craft’ light-bulbs, and has 10 keg taps as well as four for cask-conditioned beer mounted on the wall behind the bar.

Lightbulbs and interior at Mono, Falmouth, October 2015.

On our visit, the keg offer included beers from Brew By Numbers, Wild Beer Co and Harbour Brewing, all priced at between £4-£4.70 per pint. The cask tended more to the traditional and featured Timothy Taylor Landlord and Bass (a Falmouth staple) at a rather competitive £3 a pint, alongside Siren Liquid Mistress (£3.40) and Harbour Amber (£3.10). The Landlord was in good-as-Yorkshire condition.

Its owner, Peter Walker, is also behind the nearby Hand Bar and runs his own beer distribution operation. We visited both bars on Friday and were pleased to find different draught beers on offer in each. When we spoke to him briefly at Mono, he was keen to stress that it is a gig venue rather than targeted at beer geeks, but if you’re pub crawling in Falmouth, and craving up-country beer, you’d be daft not to take a look.

Why Brew Gose Instead of Mild?

https://twitter.com/PrettyBeer/status/649392005559242752

There’s a simple answer to this question: because no-one in Britain actually likes mild.

Of course that’s not quite true — a few people are obsessive about it, and quite a few others like the occasional pint for a change. In the Midlands through to the North West, it seems there are even some regular mild drinkers left.

In general, though, it’s a style that the Campaign for Real Ale has been trying to get people excited about for 40 years with little success. First wave CAMRA members prefered cult bitters; in more recent years, they’ve turned their attention to hoppy golden ales.

And many (most?) post-2005 craft beer enthusiasts think like Tony Naylor — what’s the point of it?

[Mild] as it developed in the 20th century, was a low-strength (around 3%), very-lightly hopped beer, that became a staple thirst-quencher for miners, factory workers and anyone keen to sink eight pints and still get up for their shift the next morning… Flavours… were deliberately dialled-down to an innocuous level. Even its most misty-eyed fans admit that this was a beer designed to be undemanding, easy drinking.

They’ve got a point, too: if ‘connoisseurs’ rejected Foster’s lager and Watney’s Red because they were weak, sweet, bland and fizzy, then mild’s only point of superiority is that it isn’t usually highly-carbonated. Not much of a sales pitch.

“But no-one likes Gose either!” That might well be true but, if they dislike Gose, it’s because it tastes weird, which is preferable in marketing terms to tasting bland. And, as it’s usually bottled or kegged, not that many people have to like it for it to be worth brewing or stocking. Cask mild, on the other hand, needs a few people to drink several pints a night if it’s to be any good at all.

Nor does it help that lots of milds are, regrettably, bloody awful. We do like mild (mostly, it must be said, for sentimental reasons) but even we struggle with pints of sweet bland bitter dyed black with caramel or, worse, mislabelled, watery stouts that taste like the rinsings from a dirty coffee percolator.

We’d love to see more mild around — we can go months without a taste of the stuff — but let’s not kid ourselves that, if only, say, Magic Rock would make one, it could be cool again.