pubs real ale

Awkwardness and Puppy Dog Eyes

Last night, we attempted a mid-week visit to the pub, and made a bee-line for one very close to our house which has a relaxed atmosphere and excellent St Austell Proper Job. Usually.

We walked in out of the rain and found an empty bar. The landlady greeted us with almost unhinged glee: customers!

Our faces fell. The Proper Job pumpclip was turned round. “Is that off, then?” asked Boak, knowing what the answer would be.

“Yes,” said the landlady, “but we’ve got this Cornish ale on as well.” (With flourish.)

It was, of course, from one of the Cornish breweries we don’t mention — one whose beers always disappoint; a purveyor of bland, sweet, often nasty-tasting ales usually found skunking next to the wooden swords and heritage oven gloves in ornamental garden gift shops.

She stared at us, poised to pull two pints. There was a silence. “We’re not fans,” said Boak eventually.

The landlady looked crushed, as if we’d passed judgement not only the beer but on her business. On her. We felt like arseholes.

We didn’t just want to walk out so ended up with bottles of Estrella Damm, the least worst option, which we polished off as quickly as possible before aborting the mission and heading home.

What else could we do?

beer reviews Beer styles real ale

Second honeymoon

A page from Michael Jackson's 500 beers book.

IPA was one of our first loves. As many people just getting into beer seem to find, the bold, obvious hop flavour and aroma provided an entrance point and, in the most visceral way, excited us. In the Great Beer Guide by Michael Jackson (our Bible back then) it was always the IPAs which looked most alluring — pictured in stemmed glasses, pale at the bottom, glowing amber at the top, the aroma almost lifting off the page. The fact that they played hard to get didn’t hurt, either: finding a strong hoppy IPA in London in 2007 involved research and usually one or more changes of public transport.

In the last year or two, however, we’ve drifted away from this style, partly because (at its worst) IPA can be a one-trick pony, and partly because the novelty wore off. (Colin Valentine was right — once they were everywhere, we got bored and moved on.)

This Christmas, however, we had the opportunity to stop thinking too hard and just enjoy several now easy-to-find IPAs.

St Austell Proper Job (5.5%, bottle)

Back in November, visiting Bridgwater, we were tipped off that Mole Valley Farmers were selling off out-of-date stock of Proper Job and Admiral’s Ale. We bought everything they had at 60p a bottle, knowing that, being bottle-conditioned, it was unlikely to have ‘gone off’. Sure enough, what we actually got in the Proper Job was a beautifully mellowed, rounded, aged IPA, without the slightly astringent hoppiness and thinnish body of the fresh cask version. Always a great beer, but one that doesn’t mind a bit of time to mature, it turns out.

Fuller’s Bengal Lancer (5.3%, bottle)

Is this getting better? The early batches were delicious but, here and there, had a hint of stewed tea about them. The bottles we drank over Christmas not only resembled cask ale more closely than any other bottled beer we’ve tried (skillful use of the microscope?) but also seemed brighter, cleaner and somehow less… English. Worth having in by the case, if you’re that way inclined.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference IPA (Marston’s) (5.9%, bottle)

This was the real surprise. We picked it up as an emergency backup — you don’t want to run out of beer on boxing day, do you? — but had a moment of eye-popping joy on tasting it. It reminded us, for some reason we can’t quite pin down, of those heady first days of exploring beer with a Michael Jackson book in our rucksack and absolutely no idea what we were talking about. (Reader: Nothing’s changed, then?) Could it be the upfront cascade hops, once the darlings of the brewing scene, now a bit old hat? At any rate, Marston’s are now somewhat redeemed in our eyes. Worst tasting notes ever, though: malt and hops, apparently.

Thornbridge Jaipur (5.9%, cask)

We approached this with some trepidation. Tandleman and others whose tastebuds we have no reason to doubt have not been impressed with it lately. Fortunately, on this occasion, we found it as as glorious as ever. Compared to the three bottled IPAs, it seemed to have more toffee and certainly had a weightier body. A deep beer, yes, but also a very drinkable one, which slipped down and caused us (literally) to smack our lips.

Maybe, as we approach our fifth year of blogging about beer, it’s time to return to dig out Michael Jackson and get back to where we once belonged?

bottled beer La Ronda

A virtual tasting for beer-beginners

Versión en español

Delirium, over at “De Cervezas y otras cosas”, has set a very interesting topic for this month’s “round” (the Session for Spanish-speaking beer-bloggers). It was so thought-provoking that we thought we’d post it in English as well.

The challenge was to come up with a “virtual” tasting session aimed at people who are not beer lovers. We had to pick between five and eight beers that we would put forward, avoiding obscure microbreweries, and explain why we’d selected them.

We like to beervangelise from time to time, so it’s a question we’ve thought about a lot in the past. After much pondering, we finally came up with some definite proposals, which we put forward here.