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.

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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.

Taste-Off: Interesting Eastern European Corner Shop Beers

This beers we tast­ed for this taste-off post were paid for by Patre­on sub­scribers and the top­ic was sug­gest­ed via com­ments on a Patre­on post by Aaron Stein and Andy M.

Cornershop beer seems to have evolved in the half decade since we last checked in, but has it got better?

There’s some­thing appeal­ing about the idea of dis­cov­er­ing a hid­den gem in the least pre­ten­tious of sur­round­ings, stand­ing on chipped floor tiles next to the per­ma­nent­ly run­ning dehu­mid­i­fi­er near the tinned Bigos. Most peo­ple are too snob­by, too xeno­pho­bic, too scared to tack­le these mys­te­ri­ous labels, goes the inner dia­logue, but me? I’m a brave adven­tur­er. In fact, though, there’s hard­ly a beer geek in the coun­try who has­n’t had the same thought and you’ll find any num­ber of blogs review­ing this type of beer with a quick Google.

When we left Lon­don for Corn­wall back in 2011 we had tried damn near every bot­tled East­ern Euro­pean beer on sale in the cor­ner­shops of Waltham­stow. Most were fine, some were foul, and Švy­tu­rys (Carls­berg) Ekstra Draught – an unpas­teurised Dort­munder from Lithua­nia – was one of our go-to bot­tled lagers. Now, in Bris­tol, we once again have easy access to East­ern Euro­pean cor­ner­shops with their dumplings, cured meats, quark, cher­ry-flavoured Jaf­fa Cakes and, yes, acres of exot­ic look­ing beer.

We dipped our toes back in the water with a return to Švy­tu­rys. Would it be as good as we remem­bered, or might our tastes have evolved? The good news is that, as a lager we can pick up on the way home from work for well under £2 a bot­tle, it’s still got it. Our mem­o­ries were of a more bit­ter beer but it still has a remark­able clean, fresh qual­i­ty that some ‘craft’ lagers swing at but miss.

Thus warmed up we returned to our clos­est shop and tried to work out some way to tack­le the wall of beer. It stocks prod­ucts from Rus­sia, Lithua­nia, Latvia, Slo­va­kia, Poland and Roma­nia. (And pos­si­bly some oth­ers we missed.) It’s an intim­i­dat­ing­ly huge range though the vast major­i­ty are vari­a­tions on pale lager or strong pale lager, and most of them are things we tried years ago. Since we last looked Radler seems to have tak­en off out that way and there are now any num­ber of fruit-flavoured refresh­ers on offer but, frankly, that’s not our bag, so we dis­count­ed those, too. What we were drawn to was the odd­i­ties in two cat­e­gories: first, a new strain of takes on world beer styles (Bel­gian Wit, Munich Helles); and, sec­ond­ly, a bunch of unpasteurised/unfiltered prod­ucts pre­sent­ed as upmar­ket, ‘nat­ur­al’ vari­ants on the stan­dard lagers.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Taste-Off: Inter­est­ing East­ern Euro­pean Cor­ner Shop Beers”

Patreon and Other Encouragements

We’ve just launched a Patreon page so that you can support this blog in its second decade, if you want to.

Patre­on is a ser­vice that makes it easy for those who enjoy art and media to encour­age and finan­cial­ly con­tribute to those who make it.

The idea is that you make a recur­ring month­ly pay­ment of any amount you fan­cy. There are increas­ing rewards for dif­fer­ent lev­els of sup­port, e.g. a spe­cial ebook for those who sign up for $5 or more a month. There are also goals we com­mit to with each fund mile­stone.

You can read more about all that on the Patre­on page itself along with respons­es to some fre­quent­ly asked ques­tions and feed­back we’ve already received.

The main point is that it’s not com­pul­so­ry and that the blog will con­tin­ue as it is either way, except hope­ful­ly bet­ter. You can also can­cel your sup­port at any time – it’s not a huge com­mit­ment.

Thanks to those who have pledged already after hear­ing about this in our email newslet­ter – we real­ly appre­ci­ate it.

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Update 14/02/2018: Feed­back sug­gest­ed some peo­ple want­ed to donate but not in US dol­lars and not on an ongo­ing basis. With that in mind we’ve signed up with Ko-Fi which allows you to make a quick one-off pay­ment at about the price of a cup of cof­fee, pint of ale, or sec­ond-hand paper­back.

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Detail from the cover of Gambrinus Waltz.

If you don’t fan­cy Patre­on you can also con­tribute by buy­ing our books: Brew Bri­tan­nia is just going into a sec­ond edi­tion (slight­ly small­er and cheap­er, with cor­rec­tions) and our new book, about pubs, should be avail­able to pre-order soon.

If you buy our short ebook, Gam­bri­nus Waltz, from Ama­zon we earn 70% of the £2.00 cov­er price and you get to read a book Mar­tyn Cor­nell has called ‘excel­lent’. You don’t need a Kin­dle either – Ama­zon offers free apps for phones, tablets and desk­top PCs. This is as close as you can get to buy­ing us a half down the pub unless, er, you bump into us in a pub.

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Victorian clip art man: I Endorse Boak & Bailey.

And if even that’s a bit rich for your pock­et there’s always the small­est unit of pay­ment: shares and endorse­ments on social media. It’s costs noth­ing but is a big boost for our morale and helps us find new read­ers. We’re not ask­ing you to spam any­one – just tell peo­ple about us if you think they’ll find the blog gen­uine­ly inter­est­ing. We’re easy to find as ‘boakand­bai­ley’ on Twit­ter, Face­book and Insta­gram if you want to point peo­ple our way.

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If you’re a reg­u­lar fol­low­er we hope you’ll trust us not to bloody go on about this – we’ll men­tion it every now and then in pass­ing prob­a­bly but oth­er­wise this is it.