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.

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

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.