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.