That Little Bit of Magic

Cask ale collage.Drinking extraordinarily good Bass at the Angel at Long Ashton on Saturday we found ourselves reflecting, once again, on the fine difference between a great pint and a disappointment.

A few years ago, when we were trying hard to make the Farmer’s Arms in Penzance our local, we had a session on Ringwood Forty-Niner that made us think it might actually be a great beer.

But every pint we’ve had since, there or anywhere else, has been pretty dreadful.

What gave it the edge that first time? And what was missing thereafter? Extra high frequencies, or an additional dimension, somehow.

This elusive quality is what we tasted in eight pints of Timothy Taylor Landlord out of ten at the Nags Head in Walthamstow for several years in a run, and what is so often not there when we encounter it as a guest ale anywhere else.

It’s what makes recommending or endorsing cask ales in particular a mug’s game: “Is it only me that’s never got the fuss about London Pride?” someone will say on Twitter. No, it’s not, and we don’t doubt that you’ve never had a good pint, because it can taste like dust and sweetcorn, and does maybe more than half the time we encounter it. But when it’s good, oh! is it good.

Bass isn’t a great beer in absolute terms, but it can be, honest.

Harvey’s Sussex Best can be a wretched, miserable thing – all stress and staleness – and might well have been every time you’ve ever encountered it. But the next pint you have might be a revelation.

Are the lows worth enduring for the highs? Yes, and it might even be that they make the highs higher.

(We’ve probably made this point before but after nearly 3,000 posts, who can remember…)

4 thoughts on “That Little Bit of Magic”

  1. Which underlines how much of what makes a great pint lies in the cellar, not the brewery, something often greatly underestimated by beer writers.

  2. The great pint is most likely to be found in a pub that sells that beer all the time, and sells plenty of it, rather than when it’s a guest among many. We need more small breweries running their own pubs.

    1. There’s a pub I’ve been going to for ten years, under four different managers. Their beer range throughout that time has been
      Landlord/Golden Best
      Landlord/Golden Best/a guest
      Landlord/Golden Best/multiple guests
      Landlord/Boltmaker/a guest
      Landlord/Boltmaker/Golden Best
      …you get the idea.

      You don’t go there to be surprised – the guests are generally second-tier BBBs – but the Landlord and Boltmaker are really, really good.

      So there are certainly good beers that sometimes rise to greatness. Whether they can also sink to mediocrity (or mediocre beers can rise to greatness?) I’m less sure about. I’ve never been disappointed by anything from Harvey’s, as it goes – or anything from Young’s, even now that Young’s beer is brewed by Marston’s.

  3. My local – the Tynemouth Lodge Hotel – has sold Bass for decades and has a much deserved reputation for its excellence. The secret is selling lots – around 130 gallons a week – and leaving it alone for a week after delivery. So many pubs sell their cask beer as soon as it drops bright, assuming there was any secondary fermentation and sediment in the first place which many clearly don’t.

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