QUICK ONE: Bath Ales Sulis Lager

Sulis Lager
SOURCE: Bath Ales web­site

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.

Thought for the Day: SIBA & the Family Brewers

St Austell Brewery.

Last week SIBA members voted not to permit larger independent brewers to join as full members, against the urging of SIBA’s leadership. And we reckon, well, fair enough.

Yes, fam­i­ly brew­ers are an endan­gered species and worth pre­serv­ing. Fuller’s and St Austell are fine brew­eries whose beer we gen­er­al­ly love, and a dif­fer­ent breed from Greene King and Marston’s. They’re cer­tain­ly a mil­lion miles from AB-InBev and are ‘good­ies’ in the grand scheme of things. (Dis­clo­sure: we’ve had occa­sion­al hos­pi­tal­i­ty from St Austell over the years.)

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.

Further Reading

The Great Porter Flood of 2017

At some point in the last year a memo must have gone round all the traditional-regional-family brewers: let’s brew porter!

So far this year we’ve noticed new ones from:

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!

Session #124: Late, Lamented Loves

A man melodramatically lamenting his lost love.

David Bardal­lis (@allthebrews) at All The Brews Fit to Pint is host­ing this month and the top­ic is ‘favourite beers that are no longer in pro­duc­tion but you still pine for’.

This was a fun sub­ject to chew over in the pub last night. The first beer that came to mind was local brew­ery St Austell’s short-lived 1913 stout. Strong by cask ale stan­dards and his­tor­i­cal­ly-inspired it unfor­tu­nate­ly didn’t sell and slow­ly mor­phed into Mena Dhu – still great but a much tamer prod­uct. We’d go out of our way for a pint of 1913 which isn’t some­thing we can say of many beers.

Anoth­er one that we always loved is Chiswick, Fuller’s light, brac­ing ordi­nary bit­ter. It’s become a sea­son­al which prob­a­bly means it will dis­ap­pear alto­geth­er before long, like Hock, the same brewery’s less­er-spot­ted mild, which we did get to try once or twice but haven’t seen since 2009.

The label for Meantime/Sainsbury's Munich Festbier.
From 2004. SOURCE: Justin Mason (@1970sBOY)

We also thought fond­ly of the bot­tled beers Mean­time brewed for Sainsbury’s in the ear­ly 2000s. Were they great beers? It’s hard for us to say with all these years passed. We cer­tain­ly enjoyed them, though, a lot, time and again. When we were just feel­ing our way into becom­ing beer geeks they made it cheap and easy to try exam­ples of obscure Euro­pean styles such as Vien­na lager and Kölsch. They were fun, too – 330ml bot­tles designed for pour­ing into fan­cy glass­ware but also per­fect for tak­ing to bar­be­cues and par­ties, when we still did that kind of thing.

Anoth­er Mean­time brew we pine for is Gold­en Beer which we first tried in about 2003 and loved so much we went back to the brewery’s pub in Green­wich mul­ti­ple times just to drink it. We didn’t know enough about beer then to real­ly under­stand what we were drink­ing, and cer­tain­ly didn’t take notes, but we think it must have been some kind of bock. When they stopped pro­duc­ing it, we were con­fused and dis­mayed – per­haps the first time we were ever made to feel emo­tions by a beer?

Over­all, though, this was a sur­pris­ing­ly dif­fi­cult exer­cise. Not many beers that we’ve loved have gone out of pro­duc­tion. If any­thing, prod­ucts like Goose Island IPA and Brew­Dog Punk – of endur­ing appeal rather than pass­ing nov­el­ty – have head­ed the oth­er way, towards mass pro­duc­tion and house­hold name sta­tus. The mar­ket seems to be doing a pret­ty good job on this front.

But the next five years could be inter­est­ing with the health of beers such as Harvey’s Mild look­ing dis­tinct­ly frag­ile, and brew­eries sell­ing up with alarm­ing fre­quen­cy. Let’s see how we feel in 2022.

An Ordinary Weekend

Fifth amendment pumpclip.

Quietly, slowly, it just keeps getting easier to find interesting beer, in more-or-less pleasant surroundings, in our part of the world.

On Thurs­day we went our sep­a­rate ways for the evening. Bai­ley popped into the Turk’s Head in Pen­zance where he enjoyed St Austell’s Fifth Amend­ment, part of their ongo­ing series of one-off brews mak­ing use of the two pilot brew­eries they oper­ate along­side the indus­tri­al-scale kit. A 5.2% ABV amber ale, it was quite unlike any oth­er St Austell beer, com­bin­ing trop­i­cal Amer­i­can hops with a spicy, toasty medieval­ness. The pub is one that is 80 per cent of the way to being a restau­rant but lots of locals do just drink there and, as long as you don’t object to the sight of peo­ple devour­ing mus­sels near­by, it’s actu­al­ly got one of the cosier, ‘pub­bier’ inte­ri­ors.

Boak, mean­while, went with a pal to The Tremen­heere, our local Wether­spoon pub, where Hook Nor­ton Amar­il­lo Gold (4.7%) pro­vid­ed exact­ly what you’d expect from such an accom­plished tra­di­tion­al brew­er, with the exot­ic hops enhanc­ing the under­ly­ing fruiti­ness rather than suf­fo­cat­ing every­thing with cit­rus. It was so good that one pint turned into sev­er­al. The pub is tat­ty, occa­sion­al­ly ‘live­ly’ in a Wild West way, but it has always got a buzz, which can be hard to find in a qui­et town between Octo­ber and East­er.

Cards in the pub.

On Fri­day, we did the rounds, work­ing our way from The Yacht on the seafront up the hill towards home. St Austell Prop­er Job con­tin­ues to be a go-to beer and just seems to be get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter, cap­tur­ing and inten­si­fy­ing the live essence of hops in the same way freeze-dry­ing seems to do for rasp­ber­ries. We had a cou­ple. The pub itself con­tin­ues to treat us mean: after vis­it­ing once or more every week for some­thing like five years, we still don’t get any flick­er of recog­ni­tion from the staff. It seems to work because we do, indeed, remain keen.

The Dock, almost next door, isn’t quite the same under new man­age­ment, even if the beer range has expand­ed to include Potion 9 as well as Blue Anchor Spin­go Mid­dle. Potion didn’t quite taste itself, per­haps suf­fer­ing in close com­par­i­son to Prop­er Job, or because it was served on the chilly side. There was a young bloke from New York eat­ing a take­away in the cor­ner, which seemed odd.

The fin­ish­er, Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord at the nev­er-end­ing faint­ly hip­py­ish music fes­ti­val that is The Farmer’s Arms, wasn’t the best beer of the night (it lacked zing) but we enjoyed it the most. The bar­man recog­nised us and antic­i­pat­ed our order; he gave us the fan­cy glass­ware reserved for trust­ed cus­tomers; and we got to play cards in the cor­ner while the band fin­ished their set with an elec­tri­fied Cor­nish folk song. Just per­fect, real­ly.

A dog between two customers at the bar.

Sat­ur­day took us to St Ives, a quick hop on a local train from Pen­zance. After mak­ing sand­cas­tles and clam­ber­ing about on rocks for a bit to build up a thirst we went to The Old Pilchard Press, the town’s microp­ub, which was (as it always seems to be) rammed and (as often seems to hap­pen) almost sold out of beer. We’ve grum­bled about St Ives Brew­ery in the past, unim­pressed by skunked bot­tles of mediocre pale ale actu­al­ly brewed sev­er­al coun­ties away, but the cask ver­sion of Knill by Mouth, which is real­ly brewed in St Ives, rather impressed us: zesty and fun, like Jaf­fa Cakes. Brain’s Rev­erend James, which we’ve not had in years, was the good kind of brown – noth­ing to inspire poet­ry, but well put togeth­er, a bit like find­ing a decent episode of The Sweeney on ITV4.

The Hub con­tin­ues to baf­fle us – last time we went, they were hap­py for us just to have drinks; this time, we got a pass-agg guilt trip, and the menus were snatched away after we’d ordered what was intend­ed to be the first in a few rounds of snacks. Still, the beer, and the choice of beer, is good, and dif­fer­ent: Mag­ic Rock Can­non­ball, a long way from home, was a breath of fresh air. The same brewery’s the chilli porter was pret­ty excit­ing too – a sea­son­ing tin­gle rather than Man vs. Food. As we’ve said before, if peo­ple go on about Mag­ic Rock, it’s with good rea­son.

We fin­ished in The Hain Line, the town’s Wether­spoon pub, near the sta­tion. It’s got a much smarter inte­ri­or than the one in Pen­zance and equal­ly smart staff who, if we ran a hos­pi­tal­i­ty busi­ness, we’d be poach­ing. We got excit­ed by yet more for­eign beer here: Salop­i­an Lemon Dream, all the way from Shrop­shire. It’s a bit of a nov­el­ty brew – just a touch too sour, real­ly, and a lit­tle car­toon­ish – but we enjoyed it a lot, espe­cial­ly at some­thing like £2.30 a pint. The sec­ond round was more fraught – beers adver­tised were in the process of going off, and the gen­er­ous tasters we were encour­aged to try didn’t reveal any­thing else as thrilling – so we had a cou­ple of for­get­table fes­ti­val beers. Still, we left think­ing that, over­all, Spoons had won.

Pints of Proper Job.

Then last night, Sun­day, the sun was out, the sea was still, bar­be­cue smoke was on the air, and we couldn’t resist one last pint of Prop­er Job at The Yacht. It was just about warm enough to sit out­side, too, which is how we know sum­mer is almost here. If any­thing, the beer tast­ed more excit­ing than on Fri­day, remas­tered and bass boost­ed.

As we wan­dered home we saw a bloke, bare-chest­ed, stag­ger­ing across the road after a full day’s drink­ing. ‘I’m wast­ed,’ he said mourn­ful­ly. His com­pan­ion slapped his back and replied: ‘Mate, it’s the only way to be.’