Category Archives: Somerset

Saisons Pt 9: We Lied, But This Really Is it

This is absolutely, positively, really the last of the UK-brewed saisons we’re planning to taste before the big final ‘taste off’ and the subject is Cheddar Ales Firewitch.

“Seriously — this is still going!?” We meant to wrap up before we took our month off but… didn’t. And then, mucking about in Somerset, we came across bottles of Firewitch, and realised we’d have to include it. That’s not least because Adrian Tierney-Jones told us we really ought to. (He has written about it here and, we believe, will be including it in his tasting session at GBBF.)

We bought three 500ml bottles of this 4.8% ABV beer @ £2.50 each from the tiny shop attached to Millwhite’s Cider Farm in Rooksbridge, Somerset, not far from where it is brewed. The first we drank the same day, without taking notes, but had a strong gut reaction: THIS IS GOOD STUFF.

Ray Stantz from Ghostbusters in 'ecto goggles'.
Beer-tasting apparatus.

Back home, several weeks later, with our protective beer-tasting and hint-and-note-recording apparatus in place, that reaction was the same. Even being poured into two glasses from one bottle, it stayed pretty clear — the haze in the photo above is mostly condensation — and was an appealing golden colour. The carbonation was high but there was no fizzing or gushing, and the head was almost chewily stable.

The backbone of this beer’s flavour is pithy, bracing, citric bitterness: grapefruit, we thought. (But not in the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing ‘juicy banger‘ sense — more as in ‘Blimey, this is a bit much at breakfast time!’). It might possibly be too bitter for some, in fact. There was also some dry-porridge-oat, bran-flake cereal character, and a touch of plain salt and pepper that it would be a bit much to call ‘spiciness’.

It wouldn’t quite pass for Belgian but nor is it a wacky ‘reinvention’ of anything — it’s just a solid, tasteful, practical beer that we could easily spend a whole evening drinking, especially given its very civilised alcoholic strength. It’s a definite contender.

Somerset and saison are a good match, we reckon. It’s an industrial-rural county where, in summer, dust, pollen and motorway pollution get in your throat. Cider can deal with that, of course, but beer with a touch of funk and a bit of fizz is perfect as well.

Next up in this series, a footnote: we’re going to taste a couple of Belgian saisons and some American ones to calibrate before the final event.

Saisons Pt 5: Smiling Somerset

This is the first single brewery post in our series of saison taste-offs, in which we consider two beers from Somerset’s Wild Beer Company.

Back in 2012, the Wild Beer Co were brand new and making waves thanks to savvy use of social media and a compelling story: they planned to harvest the same wild yeast that ferments Somerset scrumpy cider and use it to produce British beer with a Belgian twist. We first tried what was then their flagship, Epic Saison, in Bristol and loved it, not least because, believe it or not, there weren’t many UK-brewed saisons around back then.

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John Ridd on Beer

We’re both reading R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone at the moment — a pleasingly booze-filled novel.

Published in 1869, it is set in the 17th century, and the following passage occurs when the hero, the burly Exmoor gentleman farmer John Ridd, is a guest at the house of a ‘foreign lady’ near Watchett in Somerset:

John Ridd, uncredited illustration c.1893.
John Ridd, uncredited illustration c.1893.

“Now what will ye please to eat?” she asked, with a lively glance at the size of my mouth: “that is always the first thing you people ask, in these barbarous places.”

“I will tell you by-and-by,” I answered, misliking this satire upon us; “but I might begin with a quart of ale, to enable me to speak, madam.”

“Very well. One quevart of be-or;” she called out to a little maid, who was her eldest child, no doubt. “It is to be expected, sir. Be-or, be-or, be-or, all day long, with you Englishmen!”

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VIDEO: The Miner’s Arms, Priddy

Bloody typical — we could have done with this before Brew Britannia went off to print.

We’re still exploring the recent release of British Pathé documentary footage to YouTube. Our most recent discovery, above, includes the only images, still or moving, that we’ve come across of the interior of the Miners Arms at Priddy, Somerset.

Paul Leyton — the tall, grey-haired patrician character who buys the bucket of snails from the old feller in the footage above — was a former pilot who lived with his family aboard a converted double-decker bus for a time after World War II. He went on to be a leading figure in Britain’s space programme, left in a huff, and took on the Miner’s Arms in the early sixties. Snail farming and frozen food were his main obsessions, and he didn’t start brewing until 1973.

The Miners Arms brewery was among the first of the new wave that kicked off what we’ve called the ‘rebirth of British beer’.

At which point, we are obliged to suggest that — ahemyou ought to order a copy of our book to find out more.

Think You’re Hard, Then?

William Badger Pope c.1930.
William ‘Badger’ Pope c.1930.

William ‘Badger’ Pope, born in around 1878, was a psycho who caused trouble in the West Country city of Bath in the years before World War I. Local papers from around the turn of the century are full of stories about his ‘foul mouth’, and of him stealing, sleeping in dustbins, assaulting people (both men and women), and, in particular, chucking them in the river.

He was, of course, perpetually drunk, and most often found in the pub. It was there that, in his most benign moods, he entertained people with fairground side-show tricks — biting the heads off live rats he kept stuffed in his shirt, or stealing ladies’ hatpins and driving them through both of his cheeks. When he was feeling punchy (which seems to have been most of the time) he would find a bloke he didn’t like the look of, snatch his beer glass and empty it on to the pub floor, before taking a seat to wait for the fight to begin.

He was almost as good at evading the police as he was at drinking and fighting. He might, for example, climb up the maypole outside the Waterman’s Arms like King Kong and wait them out, or, even more effective, dive into the river and swim to the other side.

With characters like Badger about, landlords had to be hard, too, and even Badger is said to have respected (feared) Septimus Smith, who ran the The Shamrock. He was famous for wrestling customers, with a free pint on offer to anyone who could get their hands around both of his wrists at the same time. He could also carry three sacks of cement at once.

Yikes. If you need us, we’ll be in the lounge at the hotel, in our Sunday best, sipping sherry.

We read about Badger in Kegs & Ale: Bath and the public house, published by Bath Industrial Heritage Centre and Millstream Books in 1991. It’s out of print but our secondhand copy cost 1p.