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.

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.

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Stumbling Upon a Gem

We went to Cheltenham to look at buildings and so did no research whatsoever into pubs and beer, but luck was on our side when we found the Sandford Park Alehouse.

After an hour or two’s nosing around, we eventually got hungry and thirsty, at which point, we saw a sign outside a plain-looking, white-painted building: CHEESE TOASTIES £4.99. ‘That’ll do,’ we said, and went in.

Immediately, our Spidey-senses began to tingle: a map of Belgium? As in the country where the beer comes from? Our first glimpse of the bar confirmed our suspicion: somehow, we had managed to stumble upon Cheltenham’s own ‘craft beer bar’.

Sandford Park Alehouse: bar.

A bright, airy, multi-room pub with décor just cosy enough to prevent it feeling sterile, enlivened considerably by maps on every wall. It reminded us, in fact, of Cask in Pimlico before it got its corporate makeover.

There was also lots of beer, though the selection wasn’t as large as at some better-known bars, and was perhaps also (thankfully?) a touch more conservative. A row of hand pumps offered cask ales from multiple Golden Pint nominees Oakham, among others. We couldn’t fault the condition of Oakham Citra or Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, though we wish we hadn’t drunk them in that order. (You can’t come back down the hop-ladder.)

zwicklThe real highlight was a kegged beer from Germany, via a row of taps behind the bar. Bayreuther Bierbrauerei Zwickl, at £3.90 a pint, didn’t seem exorbitantly priced (we pay £3.40+ for Doom Bar in Penzance) but we hesitated until the barman leaned over conspiratorially and said, ‘It’s served in one of these’, waving a narrow, handled ceramic mug. ‘People who like this beer really love it,’ he told us, and he was right. It was a Bavarian holiday in a jug — a little sweetness, gentle lemon-rind notes, and just enough dryness at the end to prompt another swig. It was probably (intentionally) cloudy, but we couldn’t tell, and didn’t care.

Once we’d got comfortable under a fascinating map of the Middle East, it was hard to move, and we drank one more than we had intended as we observed the crowd. The people around us were a little more middle-aged and tweedy than at the ‘craft’ places in Bristol, perhaps, but then that might just be Cheltenham. We, hurtling into middle age (though not yet into tweed), felt quite at home.

On the basis of this first visit, it felt as if the Sandford Park Alehouse might as well have been designed with us in mind, and, when we visit Cheltenham again, it will be with the specific intention of verifying that feeling with a second equally lengthy session in the same cosy corner.

The Sandford Park Alehouse is at 20 High Street, ten minutes walk from the city centre, and 30 minutes from the station.

Hop Smoke Tickling the Brain

Detail from the label of Oakham's Green Devil IPA.

We’re as tired of the fetishisation of hops as much as the next blogger but, despite that, the two beers that have made us sit up and take notice lately have both been showcases for bold hopping.

A couple of weeks ago, we spent a happy afternoon in the back room of the Star Inn, Crowlas, helping Darren ‘Beer Today’ Norbury work through his stash of free beer. The stand out of that session was Oakham’s Green Devil IPA (6%).

When we opened it, a wisp of vapour appeared at the neck, and then the aroma hit us, like smelling salts. If it had been a cartoon, there’d have been green tendrils in the air, curling their way into our noses and throats. Dave, who Darren mentions in his post, isn’t totally convinced by either super hoppy beers or by ‘tasting’ as a pursuit, but even he couldn’t stop himself exclaiming, wide-eyed: “Nettles! Freshly cut grass! Herbs!”

Those cartoon pong trails made a second appearance at the beer festival at the First and Last in Sennen, near Land’s End, last weekend, when we bought our first pints of Moor Nor’Hop (4.1%). Even with a gale blowing; in typical headless festival condition; and from a plastic cup, the fantastic aroma of the beer reached us long before we lifted it to our lips. Can we measure aroma by height? Nor’Hop’s was a towering 75cm or so.

Nor’Hop is also unfined, making it the first such beer we’ve consumed in the wild. Its cloudiness didn’t put us off and might have contributed to a sense we had of its ‘juiciness’; but we think it would probably have tasted just as nice clear. Once we’d found it, we stuck with it, and drank nothing else until it was time to get a bus home through the fog.

CAMRA Kernow Festival, Falmouth

Detail from the logo of CAMRA Kernow

Having moved to Penzance proper from a village a few weeks ago, we suddenly find ourselves much better connected by public transport, and so getting up to Falmouth for the CAMRA Kernow beer festival on Saturday was a doddle.

Even as we approached the venue from the station, we could tell it was going to be good: the streets were crowded much like the approach to a football ground on match day. The venue itself was busy — almost chaotic — but the startled looking volunteers were nonetheless fast and efficient and had us inside, pints in hand, within five minute of hitting the door. Impressive.

Now, there was plenty of Cornish and other West Country beer on offer but, frankly, we can get that any day of the week so we made a beeline for what we’ve been missing the most since the move: proper northern beer.

We knew Steel City Brewing’s Escafeld would be hoppy and weren’t disappointed: it smelled of mown grass, and tasted something like a good, sharp gooseberry jam. Kelham Island’s Now That’s What I Call Bitter was exactly the kind of flinty, crisp, pale and hoppy beer we’d been dreaming of. It took us right back to Sheffield in an instant. And we couldn’t resist an old favourite — Thornbridge Kipling. Can you believe we’ve gone more than six months without a pint of anything from Thornbridge? Weird.

We didn’t just drink beers from up north, though, and also dug into the very decent selection from Oakham, reminding ourselves that this brewery (whose products we don’t see enough of) are up there with Dark Star, Crouch Vale and other favourites of ours. Black Hole Porter was the standout.

Not for the first time, we’ve been very impressed by a regional festival in a way that we aren’t generally by the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF). Why? Perhaps because there’s less overwhelming choice; a different crowd — locals, students, passing hippies; and a cosier venue? We’ll keep pondering this.

Of course, the real  buzz was about the toilets: many of the women in attendance were gleeful at a turning of the tables which saw them walking straight in while the gents queued for a urinal. “I wouldn’t use the sink in the disabled toilet if I were you.” Eeew.