Session #88: This Crazy Mixed Up World

Beer mixes illustration

For this month’s edition of the Session, we’ve asked people to take ‘traditional beer mixes’ as the jumping off point.

We did not have much joy find­ing mix­es in pubs, despite vis­it­ing four in Fal­mouth on Sat­ur­day. Gen­er­al­ly the beer on offer lacked vari­ety (no mild, no stout, no bar­ley wine). When we did find a pub with mild, there was no stan­dard bit­ter to mix it with, and it real­ly did­n’t get along with the per­fumed inten­si­ty of Burn­ing Sky Plateau. In some ways, it seems, even ‘exhi­bi­tion’ pubs offer drinkers less choice than fifty years ago.

But we had a back up plan, and one which hap­pened to fit neat­ly into our side project to redis­cov­er Michael Jack­son’s Great Beer Guide – we went to Tesco and bought cans of Mack­e­son and Gold Label, along with bot­tle of that rare sur­viv­ing Bur­ton, McE­wan’s Cham­pi­on, and the rather reviled Guin­ness Orig­i­nal.

Supermarket beers for mixing.

We had no joy with bot­tled or canned mild, brown ale, or ‘light ale’, lim­it­ing us, with the con­tents of our ‘cel­lar’, to the fol­low­ing options:

  • Moth­er-in-law — old and bit­ter.
  • Black­smith –stout and bar­ley wine.
  • Half-and-half – bit­ter and stout, or bit­ter and mild.
  • B&B – Bur­ton and bit­ter.

The Mixes

We start­ed with a ‘black­smith’, mix­ing Gold Label and Mack­e­son. Despite hav­ing 2.8% ABV to GL’s 7.5%, Mack­e­son won the bat­tle, cre­at­ing some­thing that resem­bled a decent but unex­cit­ing cask-con­di­tioned stout with a dense, chewy body. It remind­ed us of Bour­bon bis­cuits (vanil­la, choco­late) and we’d do this again.

Next, we mixed Guin­ness with Williams Bros’ 80/- (dis­clo­sure: they sent us that one as a sam­ple) in a straight­for­ward half-and-half. On its own, Guin­ness tast­ed watery, metal­lic and sweet, more like a keg mild than a stout, while WB80 was like a baby ver­sion of Thorn­bridge’s Col­orado Red – fruity, with cher­ries and berries, and (this got us excit­ed) the faintest hint of Kriek-like sour­ness. Some­thing remark­able hap­pened when they came togeth­er – it cre­at­ed one of the most deli­cious porters we’ve tast­ed in some time, with the 80/- added a sharp, fruity note to the stout, and putting life back into it. Try this com­bi­na­tion if you can.

We fin­ished, last night, by exper­i­ment­ing with ‘B.B.’ or ‘B&B’ – Bur­ton and bit­ter, as rec­om­mend­ed by T.E.B. Clarke in his 1938 book What’s Yours?

Should you have dis­cov­ered that you like Bur­ton, or “old”, except for its slight­ly metal­lic flavour — anoth­er ver­dict com­mon among begin­ners — make “B.B.” your next order.

Tast­ing McE­wan’s Cham­pi­on on its own, we found it fig­gy, rich and, yes, rather cop­pery, but also lack­ing in life. We then com­bined it with two dif­fer­ent sort-of bit­ters. First, Top Out Sta­ple Pale Ale, a  grassy, bright and cit­rusy beer with unfor­tu­nate­ly rough edges (dis­clo­sure: sent to us as part of a sam­ple box by Beer52.com). Before we tast­ed it, we knew this would work. The Bur­ton added den­si­ty, pol­ish and depth, and made the pale ale less harsh; the pale ale gave the Bur­ton some ‘zing’ and fresh hop char­ac­ter. The result remind­ed us of Fuller’s ESB, and was deli­cious­ly easy to drink. (Was the devel­op­ment of ESB inspired by this kind of mix? Some­thing to look into.)

Final­ly, we tried Cham­pi­on with Williams Bros’ Cock O’ The Walk ‘red ale’ (dis­clo­sure: sam­ple bot­tle), the lat­ter being a crys­tal malt bomb which tast­ed like some of ear­ly attempts at home brew. Again, the mix improved both beers, pro­duc­ing a deep red ‘win­ter warmer’, though it’s not a com­bi­na­tion we’d espe­cial­ly rec­om­mend.

Conclusions

We think mix­ing is more like­ly to work if at least one of the beers, and prefer­ably both, are rel­a­tive­ly straight­for­ward in char­ac­ter – all roasti­ness, pure rich­ness, and so on. A mediocre or even bad beer can be res­cued by mix­ing, but an already great beer is unlike­ly to ben­e­fit.

Mix­ing beers has long been a way for the drinker to assert their inde­pen­dence from the will of the brew­ery. (Or to ‘insult’ the brew­er’s artistry, depend­ing on your point of view.) This is from a book called Beer in Britain pub­lished by the Times in 1960:

Also there is the intrigu­ing snob­bery of pub drink­ing – the desire to be dif­fer­ent or… to be the same as some­one you admire. And so the brew­er has to con­tend with aston­ish­ing per­mu­ta­tions and com­bi­na­tions of his own beers. How often he hears a licensee say, “Oh, yes, they call for that mixed with half a pint of bit­ter.” “That” is prob­a­bly one of the bot­tled beers the brew­er has brewed with extreme trou­ble to be drunk on its own.

If you don’t have easy access to a great vari­ety of top notch beer, why not use read­i­ly avail­able super­mar­ket stan­dards like Cham­pi­on and Mack­e­son as build­ing blocks or ingre­di­ents for cre­at­ing the beer you want?

5 thoughts on “Session #88: This Crazy Mixed Up World”

  1. Mack­e­son and Guin­ness is inter­est­ing – though it’s bet­ter if it’s the XXX Mack­e­son and Guin­ness FES … don’t know what you’d call that – “Black on Black”?

  2. All well thought through and expli­cat­ed. You can have fur­ther per­mu­ta­tions and com­bi­na­tions by vary­ing the mix to one and two parts instead of one part each, and seem­ing­ly small changes like this can change the result quite con­sid­er­ably. I agree a great beer can’t be made bet­ter by mix­ing, but you can make a dif­fer­ent great beer by using one, and cer­tain­ly two beers that don’t please (I won’t say infe­ri­or beers) can be made bet­ter by com­bin­ing them. It’s no insult to the brew­er to do this, I’m not sure they intend any­thing spe­cif­ic with their beers except that you buy them! Any­way if they won’t make some­thing exact­ly to my taste, why can’t I? I would only refrain from blend­ing if they choose to sup­ply their beer gratis.

    Here is a blend I did the oth­er day: one half an alt-style (made local­ly), one half Sam Adams Lat­i­tude ’48 (that ale using dif­fer­ent hops from around the world). The big Goth­ic hop hit is too much even for me, with a ripe pineap­ple-like smell and taste. Blend­ing in anoth­er top-fer­ment­ed beer with good malty char­ac­ter and at most neu­tral­ly bit­ter on the hops knocks down the Goth­ic ele­ment and you end up with some­thing quite sim­i­lar to a good British pre­mi­um bit­ter. You can call that an Alte Cock­er which is a mul­ti-pun which won’t escape the smart B&B or their read­ers, I’m sure. 🙂

    Gary

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