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.

Patreon’s Choice #1: Bag of Marbles

This is the first in a series of posts about beers chosen for us by our Patreon subscribers and features beers from Manchester brewery Marble.

It was Steve Lam­ond (@BeersIveKnown) who sug­gest­ed that we try Lost Your Mar­bles and we added a cou­ple of oth­er inter­est­ing look­ing beers from Mar­ble to fill out the box. We bought them (and all the beers for this par­tic­u­lar series of posts) from Beer Ritz because, though the web­site is still mild­ly frus­trat­ing, we like the range on offer and find the ser­vice fuss-free.

The head of a glass of beer with glinting light.

First, as we tack­led these in ascend­ing order of strength, was Sai­son du Pint at 3.9% ABV and £2.80 per 330ml can.

What a clever beer, both in terms of exe­cu­tion and con­cept. It’s the brew­ery’s stan­dard pale bit­ter, Pint, but fer­ment­ed with the same strain of yeast used for the Bel­gian clas­sic Sai­son du Pont. A sort of unof­fi­cial col­lab­o­ra­tion, we sup­pose.

It comes with a huge cot­ton-wool head, a beau­ti­ful­ly clear gold­en body, and a whiff of some sort of sticky banana dessert. It’s tempt­ing to judge it against Sai­son du Pont to which, unsur­pris­ing­ly, it does indeed bear a fam­i­ly resem­blance, but by that stan­dard it seems a lit­tle thin and lack­ing in lux­u­ry. As a quirky ses­sion ale, how­ev­er – remem­ber, 3.9! – it is absolute­ly a win­ner, with a pep­pery mus­tard-leaf prick­le con­tributed by the yeast com­pli­ment­ing the base beer in won­der­ful ways. Sink­able but strange; made to quench thirsts but cut­ting a dandy­ish dash on the way.

A few years ago we gave some talks on the basics of how beer is made and used Ger­man wheat beer to illus­trate the impact of yeast. This would be even bet­ter, tast­ed side by side with orig­i­nal Pint.

The only seri­ous down­side, real­ly, is that we want to drink it by the pint, and sev­er­al pints in a row, rather than from a did­dy can at home.

A dark old ale in the glass with bottle.

Lost Your Mar­bles is the beer Steve real­ly want­ed us to try: “My beer of the year to date – love what [James Kemp, head brew­er at Mar­ble] is doing with his old ales series.” It’s a 9% ABV ‘Cognac Oak Aged Blend’ and cost £5.38 for 330ml. It comes in a plain bot­tle with an attrac­tive­ly designed card dan­gling round its neck on a black rib­bon.

(How do we know the right card stayed with the right beer through­out its jour­ney? We don’t, but let’s not fret about that.)

This dense, dark beer was fas­ci­nat­ing too, in a less sub­tle way. Like a lot of old ales and impe­r­i­al stouts at around this strength it seems to con­tain a bit of every­thing: demer­ara, the burn of spir­its, bon­fire tof­fee, Cola sweets, dessert wine, cof­fee essence… You get the idea.

The sug­ges­tion of sug­ar that had ‘caught’ in the base of a too-hot pan, and a hot whisky note, meant that it was­n’t quite to our taste, but it is clear­ly a well-made, undoubt­ed­ly inter­est­ing, deeply indul­gent beer that will knock the socks of most peo­ple who drink it. Heck, we’d prob­a­bly buy it again, because it came close enough to wow­ing us that the chances are on a dif­fer­ent day, in a dif­fer­ent mood, it would do just that.

The head of a glass of dark old ale.

In a sim­i­lar vein, at the same price, comes Cas­tle of Udolpho, a blend of young and Pinot Noir bar­rel-aged old ale at 10.4% ABV.

This beer was so dark that if it was badged as stout we would­n’t argue. It came with an off-white head and dis­tinct aro­ma of some­thing like sour cher­ry, or even rasp­ber­ry vine­gar. There were flavours of con­densed milk, choco­late and even caramel were bal­anced with a liqueur-like heat and bite, and then chased around the mouth by a Har­vey’s-like funk­i­ness that took a long time to die away. The body seemed odd­ly thin after Lost Your Mar­bles – per­haps a con­se­quence of some­thing (the source of that funk?) hav­ing chewed through some of the resid­ual sug­ar?

Again, though there’s no doubt­ing its com­plex­i­ty or the skill with which it was put togeth­er, some­thing about it did­n’t quite click for us. We liked it, but did­n’t love it. Per­haps it struck us as a lit­tle harsh or overblown, but then the same applies to Har­vey’s Extra Dou­ble Stout and we can’t get enough of that. Per­haps it’s just that when you turn the vol­ume up like this the back­ground noise is ampli­fied along with the good stuff. Our guess is that a bot­tle of this left alone for five years would come togeth­er rather bet­ter. If you like big, boozy, com­plex beers there’s a very good chance you’ll swoon over this one.

* * *

Over­all, we’re left with our high opin­ion of Mar­ble. It’s a brew­ery that takes risks and does inter­est­ing things, whose beers are rarely less than enjoy­able and often bril­liant.

News, Nuggets and Longreads 13 August 2017: Steel, Skittles, Sexism

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week from dwile-flonking to brewery takeovers.

For the BBC David Gilyeat returns to a favourite sil­ly sea­son top­ic: tra­di­tion­al pub games. There’s noth­ing espe­cial­ly new here but it’s an enter­tain­ing round-up that draws on the exper­tise of, among oth­ers, Arthur Tay­lor, whose book on the sub­ject is defin­i­tive:

Arthur Tay­lor, author of Played at the Pub, sug­gests Aunt Sal­ly – which is played in Oxford­shire and parts of Buck­ing­hamshire – has rather gris­ly ori­gins.

It can be traced back to a bar­barous busi­ness called “throw­ing at cocks”, when you threw sticks at a cock teth­ered to a post that if you killed you took home,’ he says.

What was bar­barous turned into some­thing that was­n’t, and the cock became a coconut shy… and even­tu­al­ly it became the game we know.’

Thornbridge, 2013.

For Good Beer Hunt­ing Oliv­er Gray has inves­ti­gat­ed the man­u­fac­tur­ing and sales of stain­less steel brew­ing kit, much of which orig­i­nates in Chi­na, even if the ven­dors might like buy­ers to think oth­er­wise:

Chi­nese steel pro­duc­ers like Jin­fu have begun estab­lish­ing ‘reseller’ com­pa­nies that sell their goods under dif­fer­ent names. One such com­pa­ny, Cru­sad­er Kegs & Casks LTD, works out of Rush­den, Eng­land, and was on site at CBC 2017. At quick glance, one would have no idea they weren’t sell­ing British kegs. The cap­i­tal U in the name is a St. George’s flag kite shield, and the reverse side of their busi­ness cards have a sword-wield­ing, armor-clad Tem­plar, almost like they’re try­ing real­ly, real­ly hard to ensure they look as ‘British’ as pos­si­ble.

There are plen­ty of oth­er dis­con­cert­ing details in the sto­ry which is a great exam­ple of the kind of insight gen­er­at­ed by ask­ing awk­ward ques­tions.

(GBH has con­nec­tions with AB-InBev/ZX Ven­tures; pro­vides marketing/consultancy ser­vices to small­er brew­eries; and has also been one of our $2‑a-month Patre­on spon­sors since May.)

Macro image: 'Hops' with illustration of hop cones, 1970s.

There’s some spec­tac­u­lar hop-nerdi­ness from Stan Hierony­mus at Appel­la­tion Beer: a new study sug­gests that first-wort hop­ping makes no dif­fer­ence to the qual­i­ty of the bit­ter­ness in the final beer. But many brew­ers dis­agree:

Fritz Tausch­er at Kro­ne-Brauerei in Tet­tnang, Ger­many, uses a slight­ly dif­fer­ent process. He adds 60 to 70 per­cent of his hops as he lauters wort into the brew­ing ket­tle.… He explained that ini­tial­ly he added all his first wort hops (what he calls ‘ground hop­ping’) in one dose. ‘I thought the bit­ter­ness was not so good,’ he said. He opened his right hand, put it to his chin and slid it down his throat to his clav­i­cle, track­ing the path a beer would take. ‘It was, I’m not sure how you say it in Eng­lish, adstringierend.’ No trans­la­tion was nec­es­sary.

Beer is Best poster, 1937 (detail)

This is excit­ing news, brought to us by Mar­tyn Cor­nell: the clas­sic British ten-sided pint glass is back in pro­duc­tion, and avail­able at pub- and con­sumer-friend­ly prices. We look for­ward to drink­ing, say, Fuller’s Lon­don Porter from them in a prop­er pub at some point in the not too dis­tant future.

Takeover news: Con­stel­la­tion Brands has acquired Flori­da’s Funky Bud­dha brew­ery, adding it to a port­fo­lio which already includes Bal­last Point. (Via Brew­bound.)

GBBF con­tro­ver­sy: in an open let­ter Man­ches­ter’s Mar­ble Brew­ing has alleged that the local CAMRA branch effec­tive­ly pre­vent­ed their beers appear­ing at the Great British Beer Fes­ti­val, sug­gest­ing that a dis­pute over an inci­dent of sex­ist behav­iour might be the cause. CAMRA head office has con­firmed it is inves­ti­gat­ing the issues raised. (But don’t read too much into that state­ment.)

And final­ly @nickiquote has found the moment where Doc­tor Who and the real ale craze inter­sect­ed:

Updat­ed 14.o8.2017 15:29 – the dis­clo­sure state­ment for the GBH arti­cle has been amend­ed at GBH’s request.

Q&A: Which Classics Might I Have Missed?

I was drink­ing a bot­tle of Prop­er Job yes­ter­day and think­ing about how I only start­ed buy­ing it after read­ing your blog. Lat­er, I drank some Beaver­town Gam­ma Ray and Mag­ic Rock Can­non­ball and won­dered if, by drink­ing fan­cy craft beers usu­al­ly mod­elled on Amer­i­can style, I was miss­ing some­thing. Can you rec­om­mend any peren­ni­al British beers, the kind of thing you per­haps take for grant­ed but that might have been over­looked by peo­ple who’ve only come to love beer since craft real­ly took off?”* – Bren­dan, Leeds

That’s an inter­est­ing ques­tion and, let’s face it, exact­ly the kind of thing we semi-pro­fes­sion­al beer bores dream of being asked.

To pre­vent our­selves going on for 5,000 words we’re going to set a lim­it of five beers, and stick to those avail­able in bot­tles, although we’ll men­tion where there’s a cask ver­sion and if it’s bet­ter. We’re also going to avoid the temp­ta­tion to list his­tor­i­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant beers that we don’t actu­al­ly like all that much – those list­ed below are beers we buy reg­u­lar­ly and actu­al­ly enjoy drink­ing.

Four strong Harvey's bottled beers.

1. Har­vey’s Impe­r­i­al Extra Stout is a big, intim­i­dat­ing­ly flavour­some, heavy met­al tour of a beer that makes a lot of trendi­er inter­pre­ta­tions look tame. It was first brewed in the 1990s to a his­tor­i­cal­ly inspired recipe. We did­n’t used to like it – it was too intense for us, and some peo­ple reck­on it smells too funky– but now, it’s kind of a bench­mark: if your exper­i­men­tal £22 a bot­tle lim­it­ed edi­tion impe­r­i­al stout does­n’t taste mad­der and/or bet­ter than this, why are you wast­ing our time? It’s avail­able from Har­vey’s own web store.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Q&A: Which Clas­sics Might I Have Missed?”

Beerwolf Books, Falmouth

Beerwolf Books

We’d heard a few men­tions of Beer­wolf Books, which opened in Fal­mouth, Corn­wall, in the run up to Christ­mas, and had under­stood that it was either a book­shop with beer, or a pub with some books for sale. Either way, it sound­ed like some­thing dif­fer­ent, and so we made sure it was on our list of places to vis­it dur­ing a week­end away in the coastal town.

Even approach­ing Beer­wolf feels like you’ve stum­bled upon a secret: it’s up an easy-to-miss alley­way between chain stores, in a beau­ti­ful eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry build­ing on Bells Court. Through the red door, there’s a creak­ing wood­en stair­case and a view of shelves of books. So it is a book­shop. Then the smell of beer and the sound of chat­ter drift down. So it is a pub.

With deep red walls, dark wood, fur­ni­ture nei­ther too neat nor too tat­ty, and just enough day­light through small-paned win­dows, the pub part of Beer­wolf (the bit we were most inter­est­ed in) appealed imme­di­ate­ly. The book shop, off to one side, and with a place to rest your beer while you browse, sets the mood, pos­i­tive­ly invit­ing long read­ing or writ­ing ses­sions amid the buzz of con­ver­sa­tion.

The beer is good, too. Very good. Among five cask ales, none of them the usu­al sus­pects, were 80 Shilling from local brew­ery Rebel (grainy, dark and silky), Mar­ble Man­ches­ter Bit­ter (the kind of pale and hop­py beer that makes us con­sid­er a move up north some time) and our favourite Pen­zance Brew­ing Potion 9. In the fridges, a few Bel­gian stan­dards such as Kwak and Chi­may – not the stuff to excite hard­ened beer geeks, per­haps, but lit­tle seen in Corn­wall.

We set up camp for the after­noon, watch­ing and lis­ten­ing. What appeared to be a con­tin­gent of local CAMRA mem­bers staked out the bar and worked their way through the full range, mur­mur­ing their appre­ci­a­tion. Stu­dents came in pairs or gangs, buy­ing piles of books and lots of lager, tea and cof­fee. Mid­dle-aged cou­ples came for the books and stayed for a pint. A stag do came for pints and walked away with some books. “Wow!” said more than one per­son on reach­ing the top of the stair­case.

Strug­gling book and record shops: we urge you to find a strug­gling pub and pair up. Super­mar­kets, with their idea of offer­ing sev­er­al ser­vices on one premis­es, might just be on to some­thing.