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Back in November, visiting Bridgwater, we were tipped off that Mole Valley Farmers were selling off out-of-date stock of Proper Job and Admiral’s Ale.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?

beer reviews Germany

Cornish Bock is a winner

We weren’t massively impressed with St Austell’s Korev Lager but were nonetheless keen to try it’s sister beer, Cornish Bock. It’s proven a tough one to track down but, today, we finally chanced upon a bottle in a remote pub off towards Land’s End.

Overall, our verdict is that it is a really good beer and one we’ll be drinking again if we get the chance.

The first thing that struck us was how much it looked and smelled like Voll Damm. It is, indeed, a very similar beer, albeit more complex.

Having got to know the aroma and flavour of Perle a couple of years ago, we were then struck by its obvious presence in this beer. (It helped that we’d read it on the label, too….) The big metallic, coppery smell of the beer reminded us (and this will sound weird) of blood. In a good way. On a less Gothic note, it also brought to mind one of the brasher alt biers, such as Diebels.

Once it began to warm up, the metallic quality of the Perle gave way to Saaz and, suddenly, we were reminded of Duvel. In fact, this beer has a big enough, fluffy enough, white enough head, and sufficient alcoholic poke (at 6.5%) that it could stand in for Duvel as an accompaniment for food.

Finally, in the dregs, with the beer a bit too warm, syrupy caramel won the day.

So, an excellent effort, which would be even better served in a nicer glass (we got a Guinness-branded pint glass) and perhaps in smaller 330ml bottles.

beer festivals

A plug and a rant

London’s Rake Bar has stolen all the good Cornish beer for the August bank holiday weekend. Amongst others, their Cornish beer festival features rare up-country outings for two of our favourite local breweries, the Penzance brewing company and the Driftwood Spars.

But… why can’t St Austell make some of their fancy beers more readily available in bloody Cornwall? By drinking endless pints of Tribute (or Proper Job if we’re really lucky) we subsidise the production of amazing-sounding beers like Smuggler’s Grand, Proper Black and Big Smoke, so that the urban beer bloggerati can get shitfaced on double IPAs. Not fair.

beer reviews real ale

And shall Trelawney die?

Hand pump for St Austell's Trelawny ale.

Being down in the West Country, it’s fair to say we’re not short of St. Austell pubs, usually carrying the same range: Tribute, HSD and, if you’re lucky, Proper Job. So we were excited to hear about a new brew, Trelawney, which was launched at the Royal Cornwall Show. (You have no idea, by the way, what a big deal The Show is down here.)

Trelawney is a light brown brew, at 3.8%, with Tasmanian Galaxy hops. It’s darker than Tribute but has a similar coppery glow.

At a guess, it might be an attempt to update old fellers’ favourite, Tinners. Our first thoughts are it will fill that slot quite well, as it’s not too scarily hoppy and satisfies the perceived need for “something brownish” to go with the ever-dominant Tribute. It didn’t immediately grab us, though, being a little burnt-sugar sweet (rather than malty) with some fairly nondescript, harsh hops at the end. Still, we were in Devon, on the wrong side of the Tamar, so maybe we’ll have a proper Cornish pint before passing final judgement.

When are St. Austell going to get Ron in and do a Fuller’s? All of these old family brewers should give this a go.

real ale

Brown and boring?

View of a motorway from a van.

After he’d driven a 7.5 ton box van from Somerset to Cornwall, via London, while helping us move in, we felt Bailey’s Dad deserved a pint or two and took him to one of our local pubs.

He sank a pint of proper job fairly quickly but didn’t seem 100 per cent convinced. We had a hunch that St Austell’s very popular HSD might be more to his taste, and it seems we were right.

We’ve always been a bit disparaging of HSD — it’s what we’d call St Austell’s brown, boring bitter and, even by the standards of that type of beer, it lacks hop character. A surprising number of people are very loyal to it, however, and a pub landlord here told us us there would be a riot if he were to replace it with the similarly brown but much more flavoursome Admiral’s Ale. “They find it too light,” he said, referring to something other than the colour.

For many drinkers in the west country (and, from observation, south Wales, too) hops are not where it’s at.

Maybe we need to let our lupulin-ravaged tastebuds recover and learn to appreciate these types of beers for what they are.