Imagined Richness

A half of mild ale.

Why is it that our mouths water at the mention of a XXX mild from 1959 even when it is accompanied by notes underlining its sweet, watery weakness?

What pow­er of nos­tal­gia is it that makes us imag­ine a beer from 60 years ago will taste more excit­ing than the same kind of beers today?

We sup­pose it’s because, being unat­tain­able, it stands in for every pint of mild in his­to­ry, or rather the ide­al pint of mild, in ide­al con­di­tion, served in the ide­al pub, in ide­al com­pa­ny.

The imag­i­na­tion tends towards per­fec­tion, con­struct­ing com­pos­ites from only hap­py mem­o­ries.

In real­i­ty, if we had the where­with­al to trav­el back to Suf­folk at the dawn of the 1960s, there’s every chance we’d find our­selves con­front­ed with mediocre pints, or even a nasty ones.

And, under­whelmed, we’d yearn for the good old days.

The Great Porter Flood of 2017

At some point in the last year a memo must have gone round all the traditional-regional-family brewers: let’s brew porter!

So far this year we’ve noticed new ones from:

And that’s before we get into debat­able cas­es such as the revived Truman’s which has a vanil­la porter in devel­op­ment.

Have we missed any oth­ers?

We’d guess this has been enabled by the trend for small pilot plants which enable large brew­eries, oth­er­wise equipped to turn out tanker­loads of one or two flag­ship beers, to pro­duce styles with less main­stream appeal on the side. For a long time this was often cit­ed as the rea­son for the lack of dark beers – they don’t sell enough to war­rant a full brew – so this might also bode well for oth­er mar­gin­al styles such as mild.

We’re also firm­ly of the view that porter is a more dig­ni­fied way of meet­ing the cur­rent demand for nov­el­ty and vari­ety than dis­ap­point­ing cod-Amer­i­can IPAs, or beers that are sup­posed to taste of Tequi­la.

What­ev­er the rea­sons and motives we’d be quite hap­py if Octo­ber-Decem­ber became a sort of semi-offi­cial porter sea­son across the coun­try. Imag­ine know­ing that you could walk into almost any halfway decent pub and find porter on draught – imag­ine!

Q&A: What Was the First Kegged Craft Beer?

What was the first kegged “craft”? Freehouses had keg lines – something must have been number one.’ Paul, Edinburgh (@CanIgetaP)

Bai­ley has recent­ly been read­ing What Was the First Rock’N’Roll Record? by Jim Daw­son and Steve Propes. Rather than declare an answer it puts for­ward a list of 50 can­di­dates from 1944 to 1956 and explains the claim each has to the title. We’re going to steal that approach.

Watney's Red Barrel (detail from beer mat).

1. Watney’s Red Bar­rel, Lon­don, 1931.
Wait, bear with us! It was the first keg bit­ter, full stop, and when it first emerged was a well-regard­ed export qual­i­ty beer. We’ve tast­ed a clone of a 1960s ver­sion and it was bet­ter than some keg red or amber ales cur­rent­ly being put out by larg­er brew­eries through their craft sub-brands.

1970s photograph of two men in horn-rimmed glasses inspecting beer.
Tom­my Mar­ling takes the tem­per­a­ture of draught Guin­ness watched by Mr Bill Steggle, licensee of the Cock at Headley near Epsom. SOURCE: Guin­ness Time.

2. Draught Guin­ness, 1958.
Please con­tin­ue to bear with us. In the mid-20th Cen­tu­ry draught Guin­ness was a super-hip beer and appar­ent­ly very tasty, but hard to find. Tech­ni­cians at the brew­ery worked out a way to reli­ably dis­pense it from one ves­sel with a creamy head and it went on to take over the world. It was brewed in both Dublin and Lon­don. CAMRA vet­er­an Bar­rie Pep­per is once report­ed to have said that if all keg beer had been as good as draught Guin­ness CAMRA would nev­er have got off the ground.

a. Ger­man and Bel­gian beers began to appear more fre­quent­ly in Britain at the end of the 1970s, usu­al­ly  bot­tled, but occa­sion­al­ly on draught. In the mid-1980s Sean Franklin at Rooster’s and Peter Austin at Ring­wood con­sid­ered keg­ging their beers but nei­ther bit the bul­let.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Q&A: What Was the First Kegged Craft Beer?”

Ian Nairn on Beer in the 1970s Pt 2: Richard Boston and Country Pubs

Ian Nairn leans on a wall.
Adapt­ed from ‘Nairn Across Britain’, 1972, via BBC Iplay­er.

There probably isn’t enough of Ian Nairn on beer to warrant the publication of Nairn on Beer, but it’s not far off – his interest did border on obsessive.

These are high­lights from a cou­ple of pieces he wrote for the Sun­day Times in the 1970s in addi­tion to his most famous essay on the sub­ject, ‘The Best Beers of our Lives’, pub­lished in 1974.

First, there’s a review from 1976: when Richard Boston’s book Beer & Skit­tles came out that year, who was bet­ter placed to assess it for the Sun­day Times than Nairn?

Beer and Skittles by Richard Boston.One of the first bits of paid beer writ­ing we did was a shared pro­file of Nairn and Boston for the Cam­paign for Real Ale’s BEER mag­a­zine back in 2013, as part of the reg­u­lar ‘Real Ale Heroes’ strand. Both men played their part in the rise of CAMRA and had sim­i­lar­ly large brains though Boston was a hip­py­ish left-winger and Nairn an ‘anar­cho-Tory’. As founder mem­ber of CAMRA Michael Hard­man put it, ‘It was per­fect. Boston appealed to the social­ists, Nairn to the cap­i­tal­ists.’

Polit­i­cal dif­fer­ences aside, Nairn’s review of Boston’s ‘delight­ful book’ appeared on 8 August 1976 and, with only brief side­swipe about mixed metaphors, was blaz­ing­ly pos­i­tive:

I know enough about beer and pubs to recog­nise just how much infor­ma­tion has been ingest­ed, digest­ed and then dis­tilled. Easy, easy, in the foot­ball chant. Just you try it. I am at the moment read­ing some of P.G. Wode­house for the n’th time; the style is quite dif­fer­ent, but the process is the same. Limpid sim­plic­i­ty meets hard work… In oth­er words this is a lit­er­ary mas­ter­piece.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Ian Nairn on Beer in the 1970s Pt 2: Richard Boston and Coun­try Pubs”

A Surprise Infatuation

We didn’t expect to like this beer but, blimey, we really do.

We found it on our local Wether­spoon, The Tremen­heere, where we go a cou­ple of times a month in search of some­thing a bit inter­est­ing. Quite often we end up turn­ing round and walk­ing out, unex­cit­ed by the choice of Abbot, Doom Bar or Rud­dles. We near­ly did that this time but some­thing told us to stop and give Jenning’s Sneck Lifter a try.

They’re not a cool brew­ery, Jenning’s, not least because they’re part of the Marston’s empire these days. We’ve always found their bot­tled beers a bit dull and the cask – most often Cum­ber­land Ale – fine with­out being thrilling.

Per­haps it was the fact that we felt sor­ry for them hav­ing been flood­ed but more like­ly it was the real­i­sa­tion that, despite hav­ing it men­tal­ly filed under ‘usu­al sus­pects’, we couldn’t remem­ber actu­al­ly hav­ing tried Sneck Lifter from cask. We’ve heard the name, of course, and we think we’ve had it in bot­tles, when it bare­ly reg­is­tered, but, no, we’re pret­ty sure nev­er cask-con­di­tioned.

It’s hard to say, real­ly, why it excit­ed us. Some­thing about it sug­gest­ed those Fuller’s Past Mas­ters beers so, to a cer­tain extent, it’s that it tastes antique – like a pint of mild that’s made it across the gulf of time from before World War I. (The brew­ery pitch­es it as a ‘win­ter warmer’ but it could just as eas­i­ly be brand­ed ‘strong mild’.)

More spe­cif­ic tast­ing notes feel a bit redun­dant because, real­ly – it’s just a sat­is­fy­ing beer – but we’ll try.

It’s strong by British stan­dards at 5.1% ABV, and fair­ly dark – so red it’s almost black, from cer­tain angles. It’s easy-going but rich, in the same ter­ri­to­ry as Adnam’s Broad­side. That is to say, plum­my, raisiny and rich with­out being full-on lux­u­ri­ous. It’s sweet in a way that feels nour­ish­ing but before it has chance to become sick­ly, a coun­ter­ing dry bit­ter­ness starts to build up in the mouth: it is bal­anced in the sense of hav­ing flavours tug­ging two ways rather than as a syn­onym for bland.

What we’re say­ing, we sup­pose, is that if you see Sneck Lifter on cask, you should give it a go, even if you’re a Jenning’s/Marston’s scep­tic.