Jarl vs. Citra – clipping in the treble?

We’ve been lucky enough to drink a fair bit of Fyne Ales Jarl and Oakham Citra lately, though not yet side by side in the same pub, and they’re both fantastic beers.

If we could eas­i­ly, reli­ably get one or the oth­er near where we live, we’d prob­a­bly not drink much else, at least for a few months.

But Al from Fug­gled asked the fol­low­ing ques­tion…

…it got us think­ing.

We con­clud­ed, quite quick­ly, based on gut feel­ing, that Jarl is a bet­ter beer. (Or more to our taste, any­way.)

Twit­ter agreed with us, too:

Again, to reit­er­ate, we love Oakham Cit­ra, as do many peo­ple who told us they pre­ferred Jarl.

For us, it’s per­haps still a top ten beer.

But what gives Jarl that slight edge?

It’s maybe that Cit­ra, when we real­ly think about it, has a sharp, insis­tent, almost clang­ing note that the more sub­tle Scot­tish ale avoids. It can get a bit tir­ing, even, four pints into a ses­sion.

We often find our­selves think­ing about beer in terms of sound and in this case, you might say Cit­ra is clip­ping in the tre­ble, just a touch.

An EQ meter.

There’s anoth­er pos­si­ble fac­tor, of course: we think most of the Jarl we’ve drunk has come sparkled, while the Cit­ra is usu­al­ly pre­sent­ed as nature intend­ed.

Cornershop beers: supposedly hoppy lager and blackcurrant stout

We used to drink a lot of cornershop beers. Sometimes it was the ticking instinct – how could we resist a dark lager from Latvia or an IPA from Poland? On other occasions, it was about convenience: we wanted a few beers to drink in front of the TV with a film or sporting event.

But these days, post 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub and with mid­dle age upon us, we’ve more or less resolved to drink in the pub or not at all.

Every now and then, though, we pop into the shop near­est our house and mar­vel at the ever-chang­ing selec­tion of obscure beers from East­ern Europe. It’s fun to see unfa­mil­iar names on unfa­mil­iar labels – a kind of alter­nate real­i­ty, a world where Car­ling and Foster’s don’t exist.

Last week, we were star­tled to see three very nice­ly pack­aged beers in unusu­al styles from Vilk­merges of Lithua­nia – a stout, a dark lager and a wit­bier. Vilk­merges is a sub-brand of Kalnapilis, which is in turn owned by Roy­al Uni­brew of Den­mark.

They sat along­side prod­ucts from a craft beer sub-brand of Russ­ian brew­ery Balti­ka, ‘The Brewer’s Col­lec­tion’, one of which, with a strik­ing orange label, all in Eng­lish, is billed as RUSSIAN HOPPY LAGER.

The lat­ter looked gor­geous in the glass – that very pale yel­low that seems almost green and some­how sig­nals refine­ment, per­haps hint­ing at Cham­pagne. It tast­ed dri­er and paler than stan­dard Balti­ka with maybe a touch of flow­er­i­ness but didn’t quite live up to the billing. Per­haps the lor­ry ride across Europe did for the hops? At any rate, it’s at the bet­ter end of bog stan­dard and a fas­ci­nat­ing thing – the begin­ning of the Cam­deni­sa­tion of Russ­ian lager?

The Vilk­merges wit­bier is called Kvei­ti­nis. It was more orange than white with a fast-fad­ing head and not quite enough body. It remind­ed us of a wit­bier we home­brewed with ale malt, not enough wheat, and too much orange peel. It was a bit sick­ly but not awful. Purists, look away now: it would prob­a­bly be nicer with a slice of lemon float­ing on top.

Their stout, Juodųjų Ser­ben­tų, is dosed with BLACKCURRANT JUICE. It smells – brace your­self – like black­cur­rants. It was rud­dy rather than black with an off-white head that didn’t stick around. It tastes sweet – like Ribena said Ray, reach­ing for the obvi­ous; like the med­i­cine they gave me when I got worms as a kid, says Jess, more orig­i­nal­ly. It’s 5.5% but tast­ed basi­cal­ly non-alco­holic. We poured this one.

Tam­su­sis is a dark lager and smelled and looked like a clas­sic Bavar­i­an Dunkel. And, in fact, is con­sid­er­ably bet­ter than most bot­tled Dunkels we’ve come across. Sweet, round, with just a touch of roast… Almost hint­ing at the lus­cious­ness of dou­ble stout, in fact, so per­haps not ‘true to style’. This was the great find in the set and we can imag­ine get­ting a few of these in next time we cook pork knuck­les.

One odd thing, though: beers from East­ern Europe often come in larg­er than usu­al pack­ages, full-pint cans and so on, but these Vilk­merges prod­ucts were in 410 mil­li­l­itre bot­tles and the Balti­ka came in at 440ml. At around £1.80 a pop, they were hard­ly bank-break­ing but, still, it felt like a bit of a con.

Scotland #3: Tennent’s Lager

Tennent’s has been producing lager since the 1880s and Scotland became a lager drinking nation long before England.

We knew we want­ed to drink at least one pint of Ten­nen­t’s on our trip to Scot­land but did­n’t expect to like it quite as much as we did.

Despite the ubiq­ui­ty of Ten­nen­t’s brand­ing around Glas­gow – big red Ts jut out from pub fas­cias all over the place –it actu­al­ly took us a lit­tle while to find the oppor­tu­ni­ty: either the pubs we found our­selves in had some­thing else we want­ed to try, or they had no Ten­nen­t’s tap at all, replac­ing it with some­thing more upmar­ket from brew­eries such as Innis & Gunn or Williams Bros.

We had our first taste at The Pot Still in cen­tral Glas­gow, served in tall, brand­ed glass­ware with a whip of shav­ing-cream foam, and bub­bling furi­ous­ly.

What were our expec­ta­tions? Low, if we’re hon­est. We’d noticed a cou­ple of oth­er fussy bug­gers express­ing affec­tion for it but won­dered how much that might be down to con­trari­ness or sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty.

But we liked it.

Now, we choose our words care­ful­ly: liked, not loved. It’s good, not great. We enjoyed it but it did­n’t make our toes curl with delight.

Isn’t that enough, though? To be able to go into almost any pub and order a pint of 4% lager for a rea­son­able price and enjoy drink­ing it?

We asked our Twit­ter fol­low­ers what they thought and their col­lec­tive judge­ment, though it falls on the wrong side of the mid­dle line to ours, feels fair:

Espe­cial­ly com­pared to Fos­ter’s:

Tast­ing notes feel redun­dant as it’s hard­ly a deep or com­plex beer, but we’ll try: it’s more sweet than bit­ter but in a whole­some way that sug­gests grain, not sug­ar; the high car­bon­a­tion stops it feel­ing sticky; and there’s some­times a wisp of lemon zest about it.

After our ini­tial encounter, we found our­selves order­ing it even when there were oth­er options. After a long day walk­ing in the sun, it was per­fect – gets to your thirst, fast. In a ques­tion­able pub which looked like it need­ed hos­ing down, it was a safe option, and tast­ed just as good. It cer­tain­ly suit­ed watch­ing Scot­land v. Eng­land on a big screen in a pub in Fort William. In Spoons, it beat Carls­berg’s relaunched ‘Dan­ish Pil­sner’ hands down, though the lat­ter was just fine.

Of course this pos­i­tive reac­tion is part­ly down to us tak­ing plea­sure in drink­ing a local prod­uct on hol­i­day but, look, you know us by now – these days, we don’t force our­selves to drink things that aren’t actu­al­ly giv­ing us plea­sure.

And Ten­nen­t’s Lager did.

BWOASA: Marble Barley Wine from a dusty old can

One of the good things about this little project has been the nudge to go to different places, such as Mother Kelly’s in Bethnal Green.

Though we still think of it as that new bar we must get to at some point, it turns out to be five years old, and now part of a sub­stan­tial chain. Time slips away.

We had formed the idea, per­haps based on murky social media pho­tos, that it was a small, dark space on the cor­ner of a back street. In fact, it’s in a large rail­way arch with a decent beer gar­den and, on a sun­ny April after­noon at least, per­fect­ly airy and bright.

Though Moth­er Kel­ly’s does have draught beer, its sell­ing point is real­ly the wall of fridges on the cus­tomer side, packed with intrigu­ing beers from sought after brew­eries. We fig­ured there might be at least one bar­ley wine lurk­ing in there.

There were three, but they took a while to find, dur­ing which squint­ing, bent-backed hunt we con­clud­ed that fan­cy pack­ag­ing designs and quirky names are great and all that but they don’t half make it a chal­lenge to work out what you’re buy­ing.

We chose the cheap­est of the three at a drink-in price of £12 for 440ml. It was the 2017 vin­tage of Mar­ble’s won­der­ful­ly clear­ly-named 12.4% bar­ley wine, BARLEY WINE. Being an antique, the can had spots of rust across its top, and crumbs and dust, so we asked for a quick clean up before pour­ing. We got it, albeit grudg­ing­ly – maybe a bit of filth on your tin­ny is con­sid­ered all part of the fun these days?

Marble Barley Wine in the glass.

Sit­ting down to drink a beer that you already resent is a good test of qual­i­ty. Any irri­ta­tion we felt in this case passed the moment we tast­ed it, which real­ly was fan­tas­tic – almost, maybe, per­haps £6‑per-nip good.

It seemed pos­i­tive­ly lumi­nous in the dain­ty glass­ware, cycling orange, red and gold depend­ing how the light struck it. The con­di­tion was also excel­lent prov­ing that cans can work for this kind of beer.

Between appre­cia­tive purring, we talked it over: on the one hand, it did rather resem­ble Gold Label, but it also remind­ed us of a very par­tic­u­lar beer: an attempt to recre­ate Bal­lan­tine IPA using Clus­ter hops. Rasp­ber­ry jam, mar­malade, chewy syrup sweet­ness, clean-tast­ing and dou­ble-bass res­o­nance. Just won­der­ful.

And one more small twist: because of the dif­fi­cul­ty of pour­ing two clear glass­es from one can, we got to try this with and with­out (a tiny bit) of yeast haze. On bal­ance, though it was hard to resist the sheer visu­al appeal of yeast­less, slight­ly yeasty actu­al­ly tast­ed bet­ter – soft­er and silki­er, with a lit­tle less jan­gle.

We con­tin­ue to hold Mar­ble in high regard and will prob­a­bly go back to Moth­er Kel­ly’s some time, when we’ve saved up some pock­et mon­ey.

BWOASA: Our first taste of yer actual Watney’s beer

This really was a big moment. We’ve tasted clones, read plenty, and written a lot, but we’ve never actually tasted Watney’s beer.

We’ve been cor­re­spond­ing on and off with Tom Unwin for years. He grew up near Jess and we inter­viewed his Dad, Trevor, for Brew Bri­tan­nia. When Tom came into pos­ses­sion of sev­er­al bot­tles of a strong ale pro­duced by Wat­ney’s in 1987 to cel­e­brate the sup­posed 500th anniver­sary of the found­ing of the Mort­lake brew­ery.

(You can read the inevitable Mar­tyn Cor­nell take­down of that sto­ry here.)

We set aside a lit­tle time to enjoy the expe­ri­ence of drink­ing this beer, 137ml each, even though we sus­pect­ed it was going to be rank. After all, Wat­ney’s beer was­n’t well regard­ed even when fresh, and this had been stored for 30+ years in a sub­ur­ban side­board.

The label told us that the beer had an orig­i­nal grav­i­ty of between 1096 and 1104 – quite a range, giv­ing us a hint that it was prob­a­bly around 10–11% ABV.

Pop­ping the foil cov­ered cap, we were treat­ed to the barest hiss, and found the inside of the lid cov­ered in rusty sludge. It had a slight, bub­bly head that drift­ed away in sec­onds.

There was a whiff of roast­ed malt, we thought, or per­haps even smoke, and then a big punch of sher­ry.

It tastes like Pedro Ximénez – raisins, prunes, a bit of bal­sam­ic vine­gar. There was also an almond nut­tin­ness and a lay­er of dark choco­late.

Run­ning through all of this, stop­ping it from quite being out-and-out pleas­ant to drink, was a beefy, Mar­mite line.

If you’ve read any oth­er tast­ing notes on old beers, none of the above will be sur­pris­ing. We prob­a­bly could have writ­ten them before we even opened the bot­tle.

Still, it was spe­cial, and an expe­ri­ence we can now tick off our wish list.