Plum Porter: Dividing Opinion

A plum.

We were a bit excited to come across Titanic Plum Porter in the pub last night, a beer many people worship and others despise.

We can’t say we’ve drunk it often enough to form a real­ly sol­id view on how it is meant to be but have always enjoyed it. The first time we recall encoun­ter­ing it (that is, when we were pay­ing atten­tion) was at the Cas­tle Hotel in Man­ches­ter where it struck us a heavy, rich porter with a fruity twist. At the Welling­ton in Bris­tol it seemed lighter in both colour and body and more like a British answer to a Bel­gian kriek or fram­boise – tart, and dom­i­nat­ed by the hot crum­ble flavours of bruised fruit. Even at five quid a pint (yikes!) we had to stop for a sec­ond round.

When we Tweet­ed about it, acknowl­edg­ing what we under­stood to be its mixed rep­u­ta­tion, here’s some of what peo­ple said in response:

  • When it’s good, it’s very good; when it’s bad, it’s hor­rid. Con­sis­ten­cy seems dubi­ous.” – @olliedearn
  • WHAT?! In what world is it divide opin­ion? Every­one I know loves it.” – @Jon_BOA
  • My bete noire, was always dubi­ous about it (even though I love oth­er Titan­ic brews) – per­haps I need to revis­it…” – @beertoday
  • Hav­ing lived in Stoke + cov­ered the Pot­ter­ies beer scene I’d say it’s a good advert (flag­ship, I dare say!) for local beers, despite flaws.” – @LiamapBarnes

So, pret­ty bal­anced, from Ugh! to Wow!

Over the years we’ve seen yet harsh­er com­ments, though, some of which struck us as more about Titan­ic’s place on the scene than about this beer in par­tic­u­lar. In gen­er­al, we find Titan­ic’s beer rather mid­dling – not bad, not great – but it is nonethe­less a major pres­ence in the Mid­lands and North West, and on super­mar­ket shelves nation­wide, and ubiq­ui­ty breeds con­tempt. For some time, too, its own­er Kei­th Bott was chair­man of increas­ing­ly con­tro­ver­sial indus­try body SIBA, so per­haps the beer tastes a bit of pol­i­tics, the nas­ti­est off-flavour of all.

This made us think about oth­er beers that strike us as fun­da­men­tal­ly decent but whose rep­u­ta­tions might be sim­i­lar­ly weighed down. Cop­per Drag­on Gold­en Pip­pin, for exam­ple, is a beer we’ve always enjoyed – good val­ue, straight­for­ward, but with a bit more peachy zing than some oth­ers in the same cat­e­go­ry. When we expressed this enthu­si­asm a while ago, though, there seemed to be a sug­ges­tion that we should­n’t enjoy it because the brew­ery has engaged in some com­pli­cat­ed and news­wor­thy busi­ness prac­tices.

And St Austell Trib­ute is a beer we’ll always stick up for. At the Nags Head in Waltham­stow c.2009 we drank tons of it and found it every bit as good as, almost inter­change­able with, the exem­plary Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord sold in the same pub. (Fur­ther read­ing: ‘The Land­lord Test’.) But these days, even though Trib­ute is prob­a­bly  bet­ter than its ever been in tech­ni­cal terms, it elic­its groans from many enthu­si­asts. That’s because it’s become one of those beers you find in pubs that aren’t very inter­est­ed in beer, pushed into the wrong bits of the coun­try by keen sales teams and big dis­tri­b­u­tion deals; and on trains, in hotel bars, under ran­dom rocks you pick up deep in the woods, and so on. That in-your-face nation­al pres­ence is not only annoy­ing in its own right but also makes it hard­er to find a pint that has tru­ly been cared for. But, as a beer, on its own terms… It can still taste great, and inter­est­ing with it.

The flip­side of all this, of course, is that some mediocre or even bad beers get a free pass because the peo­ple that make them are good eggs, or under­dogs, or have a good sto­ry to tell; or because they’re scarce, so that nobody ever real­ly gets to know them, and is too excit­ed when they do find them in the wild to be objec­tive­ly crit­i­cal.

It’s impos­si­ble to be objec­tive, obvi­ous­ly, but it’s good to try – to attempt to blank out every­thing else and have a moment where it’s just you and the beer.

15 thoughts on “Plum Porter: Dividing Opinion”

  1. Yes, very com­mon for beers to become vic­tims of their own suc­cess and spread­ing into out­lets where they’re not real­ly cared for – famous­ly hap­pened to Pedi­gree in the 1980s. Arguably now applies to Doom Bar, although is that *ever* par­tic­u­lar­ly good?

    Some com­men­ta­tors on beer don’t give suf­fi­cient recog­ni­tion to the role of cel­lar­man­ship in deter­min­ing how good the drinker’s expe­ri­ence is.

    1. I find the reverse more like­ly to be true, don’t you? Rat­ing the pub­’s pre­sen­ta­tion of the beer with­out rat­ing the pub­’s selec­tion of the beer is only telling half the sto­ry. It does­n’t actu­al­ly tell pun­ters where they can find a nice pint.

    2. There’s cer­tain­ly an ele­ment of pub­li­cans who want to offer a dark beer turn­ing to PP because it will sell to peo­ple who would­n’t oth­er­wise buy dark, but it means that it can stay on the bar a bit too long in areas that don’t drink dark – such as Cheshire.

      But there’s more to it than cel­lar­man­ship, I’ve had it from a fresh cask in a pub that looks after its beer, and it’s still been rather dis­ap­point­ing (rel­a­tive to expec­ta­tions). Still quite drink­able, but just lack­ing full­ness and that hint of fruit. One imag­ines that a) plum extract or what­ev­er declines in poten­cy through the year and b) they’ve been forced to use new plum sources thanks to the huge suc­cess of the beer. Pre­sum­ably now is the best time to drink it, two months after the main plum har­vest so you’re get­ting this year’s plums in peak con­di­tion.

      But £5 is ouch. The ABV and fruit means that it’s nev­er going to be cheap, but it’s not that bad, the multi­buy deal from the brew­ery puts it in range of hop­py-ses­sion-beers-that-use-expen­sive-hops. £5/pint is 65% GP on a £92+VAT firkin – plau­si­ble but still feels like some­one’s being a bit cheeky giv­en the like­ly pur­chase price ex-brew­ery. Depends a bit on the venue of course.

      It does rather add weight to the argu­ment that British beer cul­ture needs to evolve a bit now that we have got so many brew­eries. It means a pub/bar can get most styles local­ly direct from the brew­ery with­out hav­ing to rely on dis­trib­u­tors and so pay­ing their markup. Obvi­ous­ly you will prob­a­bly have to go fur­ther afield for the unusu­al stuff, but we need to get away from this need to tick off anoth­er gener­ic Cascade/Citra pale just because it’s come down the A1 rather than being made 2 miles away. Cer­tain­ly if I was run­ning a place in Briz­zle I’d be going for Han­lon’s Port Stout rather than Plum Porter – they’re equal­ly good IMO, in fact Han­lon’s are less depen­dent on the vagries of plums, but buy­ing direct from the brew­ery I imag­ine it would be com­ing onto the bar at less than £4 which just works for every­one (apart from the tick­ers).

        1. Pubs don’t have to stock the crap ones though (well, free­hous­es don’t at least).

          My def­i­n­i­tion of “local” is “with­in range of direct deliv­er­ies from the brew­ery” which does­n’t quite match the LocAle def­i­n­i­tion but isn’t too far off. Most seem to do week­ly deliv­er­ies up to about 30–40 miles (depend­ing on geog­ra­phy), but increas­ing­ly they seem to be doing once-a-month trips of up to maybe 100 miles.

          And there will always be some beers that are dif­fi­cult to source local­ly – but I’m talk­ing about that 80–90% of turnover tak­en by stan­dard brown beers and Cascade‑y pales in most pubs. There can be few areas in the coun­try where there isn’t at least one good one of those pro­duced local­ly.

  2. I real­ly like almost all of Titan­ic’s beers, and it annoys me that it’s the sin­gle one I don’t care for much that seems to have spread every­where.

    1. I think “mid­dling” is a bit unfair, I’d rate them high­er than that, giv­en the styles that they choose to play in. I know a lot of peo­ple like Cap­puc­ci­no which I just don’t get, the new kolsch is for­get­table and the bar­rel-aged Iron Cur­tain just did­n’t work*, but apart from that they’re a wel­come sight on a bar.

      There’s some gems among the Titan­ic “occa­sion­als”, at least when they’re on form. Since the ear­ly days I’ve been a fan of Lifeboat – old-school, dry and malty, it’s work­ing-men’s-club-meets-Weet­abix. But tasti­er than that sounds!

      *I pre­dict 2018 will be the year of “Why has this great brew­ery made such a hash of their first bar­rel-aged beer?” Bar­rel-age­ing is great when it works, but if you’re not care­ful it’s a recipe for expen­sive tan­nin-juice, it needs real skill to do well.

      1. In my expe­ri­ence all Titan­ic’s pale beers have a very sim­i­lar fin­ish – a big but unsub­tle bit­ter­ness, like a brick wall of char­coal – so I usu­al­ly swerve them these days. Their dam­son and vanil­la stout was real­ly good, though – an inter­est­ing exam­ple of the use of addi­tions to dupli­cate the flavours of a much big­ger beer, in a Tick­ety­brew-esque “Franken­stein beer” style (excuse the mul­ti­ple links). (Just to con­fuse mat­ters, when I wrote the sec­ond of those posts I specif­i­cal­ly referred to dam­son and vanil­la as flavours that you don’t get in a stout. Lit­tle did I know.)

        As for Plum Porter, I’ve had both it and the high­er-strength occa­sion­al Plum Porter Spe­cial Reserve; check­ing, I find I described them both on my blog as “fine”. Which is about it for me – good of its type, but NMCOT.

  3. We rarely see it here in Scot­land­shire, so when it appeared in the Cask and Bar­rel in Edin­burgh last week­end we had a half gal­lon. And it was very good (and well kept).

  4. One of my favourite beers and I try to drink it as often as pos­si­ble. Its not often seen in pubs in my
    area tough so I main­ly drink it from the bot­tle.

  5. I used to be asbo­lute­ly obsessed with bot­tle con­di­tioned Titan­ic Stout when it was avail­able in Mor­risons. Tast­ed as close to cask as any bot­tled stout I’ve ever had, but sad­ly haven’t seen it for years.

    I’m not a big lover of fruit­ed tra­di­tion­al British beers as a rule but have always found Plum Porter to strike a decent bal­ance.

  6. I spent years avoid­ing Plum Porter, I was deter­mined that it was def­i­nite­ly not the kind of beer I liked. Then one after­noon, hav­ing lunch in one of our favourite locals, I resigned myself to a pint pure­ly because it would be an Untap­pd tick.

    Wow!

    Now it’s up there in my top ten.

    We’re about 30 miles south of Stoke, so it’s not rare round these parts and pret­ty well kept, on the whole.

    I agree with your com­ments about Trib­ute, it’s nev­er a favourite but it rarely dis­ap­points when it’s on form.

  7. Not sure it’s a Porter, judged against CAMRA stan­dard for Porter. Not sure it’s 100% fruit either? Very arti­fi­cial taste. Not sure what it is at all. Bit of a Mar­mite beer this one.

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