Pub Life: Never Too Old

Two men, brothers perhaps, both at least 60-years-old, approach the craft beer bar hesitantly.

“This is it.”

“He said it was good, did he?”

“Yeah, he’s in here all the time with his university mates. Hold up, before we go in, look, there’s a beer menu.”

“A beer menu?”

He picks up the binder and turns it in his hands, bewildered, as if the very form is alien to him. He opens it and begins to scan the pages with a fingertip.

“These are all beers, are they? Passion fruit… Cherry…  They can’t be beers.”

“Give us a look. Yeah, look, it says here: fruit beers.”

“They’ve actually got fruit in them? Bloody hell. I don’t… What’s this… Two-thirds? Is that two-thirds of a litre or what?”

“I don’t know, mate. I don’t… I’ll just go in and get something. I’ll work it out.”

“Just get me whatever, I don’t mind, whatever’s easiest.”

When the forager returns it is with two half-pint stem glasses, one full of red beer, the other pink.

“I just got two small ones to start with. Er… I might have made a huge tactical error.”

“How d’you mean?”

“They’re both sour beers. she says.”

“What, deliberately?”

“I think so.”

They both sip.

“Huh.”

“I wasn’t expecting…”

“No, I didn’t think…”

“It’s clever, innit? The way they… How it…”

“It’s like the sourness makes it taste more fruity.”

“And it’s sort of… balanced out, is it? If you know what I mean. By the sweetness.”

“Huh.”

“Huh.”

They just barely clink their glasses in a quiet display of triumph before conversation turns to football.

Magical Mystery Pour #9: LoverBeer Madamin

The latest batch of Magical Mystery Pour beers was chosen for us by The Beer Nut (@thebeernut) and what connects them is that they are all, in his words, ‘geek bait’.

Magical Mystery Pour logo.We suggested several online retailers to The Beer Nut and he selected from the range on offer at Beer Gonzo:

  • LoverBeer BeerBera
  • LoverBeer Madamin
  • Troubadour Westkust
  • Troubadour Magma Triple Spiked Brett
  • Bell’s Two-Hearted

We decided to start with the lowest ABV beer, Madamin, from Italian brewery Loverbeer, at 6.2%. It is described as an oak-aged amber ale in the Belgian tradition. It came in a 330ml bottle which cost — are you sitting down? — £13.50.

We’re going to talk about value at the end but first we tried to react to the beer itself, putting all that other stuff out of our minds. Did we like how it tasted; and why, or why not?

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Magical Mystery Pour #2: Tzatziki Sour

Magical Mystery Pour logo.The second beer suggested to us by Dina (read about the first here) is Tzatziki Sour by Liverpool’s Mad Hatter Brewery.

She says:

Many people considered this their beer of the year.  It was definitely up there for me.  Again, it does what it says on the bottle- it tastes just like tzatziki.  I’ve only had a few cucumber beers in my life, but I have no idea how brewers manage to get such flavour from a vegetable that really doesn’t have much flavour. You just HAVE to drink this beer. I recommend you blend it with a kebab in your face.

This is what we’ve previously referred to as a Jelly Belly Jelly Bean beer: a beer designed to taste as close as possible to another foodstuff altogether. It’s safe to say that if you have an objection to this type of beer and/or you don’t like tzatziki, you won’t like this one.

The bottle opened with an jet-powered hiss and gave off an immediately familiar aroma. Guess what it smelled like? No, go on, guess! Yes, that’s right: tzatziki! That is, mostly of cucumber, with a touch of dusty dried mint, and a high note of acid funk. (Side note: the label would probably work as the cover for an acid funk LP.)

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King Street Revisited

Shnoodlepip from the cask.

Last Christmas, we found ourselves on King Street in Bristol, and were astonished to note that it had become home to three self-styled ‘craft beer’ outlets. We subsequently used it as a symbol of ‘the rebirth of British beer’ in the prologue of Brew Britannia.

Back then, Small Bar had only just opened, and, even though there was an exciting sense of commitment to ‘the cause’, it was obviously still finding its feet, serving flat kegged beer, some of it poorly chosen in the first place, amidst paint fumes and an air of mild panic.

Last Sunday, we broke the journey back from Birmingham and braved a night in Bristol to check on its progress.

While the Famous Royal Naval Volunteer across the road was gloomy and mostly empty, Small Bar, was buzzing.

A mini-festival celebrating the Wild Beer Co. (who also get a third of a chapter in Brew Britannia…) and British sour beers more generally was underway, and the chalked-up beer list, with clearly-stated prices, looked especially enticing.

Having missed it entirely last year, and at the Birmingham Beer Bash on Saturday, we started off with Shnoodlepip (6.5%), WBC’s collaboration with Mark Tranter and Kelly Ryan, in its 2014 iteration. It was available from straight-up keg and also from an oak cask, so we got a half of each to compare. We didn’t detect much difference except that the former was (surprise!) cooler and had better condition. The barman promised definite oakiness, but we didn’t get it. Overall, there was something of the hedgerow wine about it. It’s tastefully done, and certainly tasty, but not a revelation.

Somerset Wild (5%), also from WBC, was more to our taste. When we spoke to Brett Ellis and Andrew Cooper last summer, they were still working up to using actual wild yeast as opposed to bought-in cultures. This pilsner-pale, appetisingly hazy, gooseberry-wine of a beer is evidence that whatever’s on the breeze in Somerset isn’t just good for fermenting scrumpy. The head disappeared quickly, but the beer had plenty of life, and felt traditional, like the kind of thing farm labourers in Thomas Hardy novels might have enjoyed. A contender for beer of the year, if we can find the opportunity to try it again.

While we were on a streak of finding long-coveted beers with a vague Brew Britannia connection, we were also pleased to encounter  Lovibond’s Sour Grapes (5.4%). (Jeff Rosenmeier of Lovibond’s is quoted in the book, as a passionate and eloquent critic of cask-conditioning.) We were expecting, perhaps, indigestion-inducing FEEL THE BURN sourness, so were pleased to find it a clean-but-complex, summery beer which we could happily spend a long session drinking. “Lemon cheesecake” reads the only note we took all afternoon.

Almost everything interesting was £6+ a pint, so it’s not a cheap place to drink, but staff were generous with samples, and we didn’t feel like any of the beers we bought were bad value, insofar as, scarcity aside, they were genuinely different to anything on offer at any of our local pubs.

This was a fun afternoon session in a bar which is in the process of becoming great, and where we felt very at ease. We’ll be back.

Brett Ellis, head brewer at WBC, also happened to be there, delivering a talk to a crowd of fans — was ever there a time when more lectures were given in British drinking establishments?