Last night I was in a lovely restaurant in the fishing village of Fowey, Cornwall. (I’m down for a wedding).
Having been involved in a minor bus crash, I was keen for a drink; my heart sank slightly on seeing the Peroni tap. “Do you have any other beer?” I asked. “Yes, we have San Miguel, Kronenbourg…”. Heart sank a little further, which the waiter picked up on. “Do you like ales?” he said. “er…yes” I said. “Well, we do have some ale. One of the local brews”. And out came St Austell’s Admiral’s Ale. It was bottle conditioned and absolutely superb – glorious red-brown colour, slight toffee aroma, tasted a little bit like a cross between a good dark wheatbeer and an ale. I’ve enjoyed their “Tribute” a couple of times, and recently picked up a couple of their other products, “Proper Job” (an IPA) and “Clouded Yellow” (a continental-style wheatbeer brewed with British yeast). But this was the king of the crop. I was so impressed, I went out and bought a case.
And how great to see a good restaurant offering quality beer. (I got some funny looks mind. I like to think this was the mixing strong tasting beer with strong tasting seafood, and not some lazy stereotype about ladies drinking ale)
More on St Austell later – I went on the brewery tour today and had a chance to chat to the head brewer about how they make it… And it has just been on BBC local news, as they are now doing double shifts to cope with demand for Tribute. Well done lads.
- The restaurant was “The Other Place” and was fantastic. Fowey can be reached by public transport by taking a train to Par or St Austell, and getting a bus.
From a recent unexpected treasure trove (an off-licence in Stoke Newington) – Hook Norton AD 303, a bottled beer which exemplifies several trends to be seen in British bottled beer.
1. The “patriotic” thing. The large independents just can’t get enough of St George, bulldogs etc. (see Young’s St George’s Ale, Charles Wells’ John Bull.) Seems to be a lack of imagination amongs the marketing guys.
2. Have a significant year, the older the better. Fuller’s 1845 may have started the trend; not to be outdone, Shepherd Neame went for 1698. AD 303 is surely just taking the p*ss though.
3. Seasonal beers. This I’m a great fan of in theory, although by the time you pick it up in an off-licence you may have gone round the whole calendar at least once. (We also picked up their Haymaker in the same trip – according to their website, available July-August, so presumably last year’s batch). James Clarke, MD of Hook Norton has since informed us that they bottle the seasonal beers all year round.Â See Comments.
The other trouble with “seasonal” beers in the UK is for some reason they all seem to translate into very bitter pale beers, whatever the season (OK, I’m being unfair. In the winter you might get a “winter ale” which may even be more than normal bitter with extra caramel).
AD 303 is not bucking any trends here. It’s (surprise surprise) pale and very bitter. Pleasant enough, but not up to HN’s usual outstanding quality.
- Hook Norton is a 150-year old “family run” brewery in the Cotswolds (a picturesque part of England near Oxford) . There’s an article about them by Roger Protz here (although I think it’s quite old). I’ve only had the pleasure of trying Old Hooky, Double Stout and Hooky Bitter, and I’ve generally been impressed so far. I look forward to trying Hooky Dark, which sounds enticing and original.
- Ad 303 is apparently when St George was martyred in Palestine. Born in Turkey, he is also the patron saint of AragÃ³n, Canada, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, Russia, and Palestine, as well as the cities of Beirut, Istanbul, Ljubljana, Freiburg and Moscow, as well as a wide range of professions, organisations and disease sufferers. There is no evidence he ever set foot in England, let alone delighted in our brewing traditions.
After a visit to the Greenwich Union, I can confirm that Meantime‘s seasonal “Extra Dry Stout” isn’t all that exciting, as Stonch has already said. It was too fizzy on the tongue, and a little thin-bodied.
I followed it up with a bottle of coffee stout, which has always been, and remains, incredible. They’d run out of chocolate stout, but there were enough chocolate flavours in this to do the job for me. Smooth, chewy, bitter…. just perfect. And Cooper’s Australian “Best Extra Stout” was just slightly better again. The extra 1.5/2% alcohol – they’re both just over 6%, while the dry stout is 4.5% – and the extra body really makes a difference in their impact.
But I trust Alastair Hook to get it right. I think we can expect to see the recipe tinkered with for some time to come. Meantime’s wheat beer was pretty dull at first, but has evolved into a thing of beauty (especially in its strong 6.5% grand cru incarnation).
I also suspect that we’ll see a “Taste the Difference” stout in Sainsbury’s in the next year or so, based on this recipe.