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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