One of our locals, The Wellington, is a Bath Ales (St Austell) house and sells both St Austell Korev and Bath Ales new Sulis lager, so we popped into compare the two.
After a shaky start we’ve come to really like Korev which is both straightforward (i.e. not a twist on or reinvention of) and characterful. We hoped that Sulis would be similarly accomplished, with its own identity, but feared that it would simply be Korev under a different name.
We’re happy to report that not only is Sulis distinctly different to Korev but also rather a delight in its own right.
It’s paler than Korev, almost Champagne-like, and less dry. It has a distinct floral, herbal, mint-leaf character that Korev lacks, laid over a backdrop of white grape and peach. If Korev nods to Munich, this reminded us of Würzburg, where the beer and the fruity local wines share a family resemblance.
We suspect there’ll be a few more pints of this for us over the summer to come.
More generally, we continue to be pleased at the resurrection of Bath Ales, whose beers have shot up in our estimation in the past six months.
At the same time, Fuller’s and St Austell already have significant advantages over genuinely small breweries, not least estates of pubs which those small brewers are effectively locked out of. They also have national brands, and apparently substantial marketing budgets.
If we ran a really small brewery and were struggling every day to keep our heads above water, competing for free trade accounts and scrambling for every last sale, we’d be pretty pissed off at the idea of those two breweries muscling in on what little benefit SIBA membership seems to bring.
And much as we admire Fuller’s and St Austell we don’t think either is perfectly cuddly. If they were keen to join SIBA as full members it was probably out of a (entirely reasonable) desire to secure some further commercial advantage. If we’re wrong, if we’re being too cynical and it was simply a matter of longing to belong, then they clearly have more work to do getting that message across.
Helping those small brewers to sell a bit more beer, without strings attached, would probably be the most directly convincing way to go about it.
Timothy Taylor — a new porter, but not the first they’ve made in recent years
And that’s before we get into debatable cases such as the revived Truman’s which has a vanilla porter in development.
Have we missed any others?
We’d guess this has been enabled by the trend for small pilot plants which enable large breweries, otherwise equipped to turn out tankerloads of one or two flagship beers, to produce styles with less mainstream appeal on the side. For a long time this was often cited as the reason for the lack of dark beers — they don’t sell enough to warrant a full brew — so this might also bode well for other marginal styles such as mild.
We’re also firmly of the view that porter is a more dignified way of meeting the current demand for novelty and variety than disappointing cod-American IPAs, or beers that are supposed to taste of Tequila.
Whatever the reasons and motives we’d be quite happy if October-December became a sort of semi-official porter season across the country. Imagine knowing that you could walk into almost any halfway decent pub and find porter on draught — imagine!