Plum Porter: Dividing Opinion

A plum.

We were a bit excited to come across Titanic Plum Porter in the pub last night, a beer many people worship and others despise.

We can’t say we’ve drunk it often enough to form a real­ly sol­id view on how it is meant to be but have always enjoyed it. The first time we recall encoun­ter­ing it (that is, when we were pay­ing atten­tion) was at the Cas­tle Hotel in Man­ches­ter where it struck us a heavy, rich porter with a fruity twist. At the Welling­ton in Bris­tol it seemed lighter in both colour and body and more like a British answer to a Bel­gian kriek or fram­boise – tart, and dom­i­nat­ed by the hot crum­ble flavours of bruised fruit. Even at five quid a pint (yikes!) we had to stop for a sec­ond round.

When we Tweet­ed about it, acknowl­edg­ing what we under­stood to be its mixed rep­u­ta­tion, here’s some of what peo­ple said in response:

  • When it’s good, it’s very good; when it’s bad, it’s hor­rid. Con­sis­ten­cy seems dubi­ous.” – @olliedearn
  • WHAT?! In what world is it divide opin­ion? Every­one I know loves it.” – @Jon_BOA
  • My bete noire, was always dubi­ous about it (even though I love oth­er Titan­ic brews) – per­haps I need to revis­it…” – @beertoday
  • Hav­ing lived in Stoke + cov­ered the Pot­ter­ies beer scene I’d say it’s a good advert (flag­ship, I dare say!) for local beers, despite flaws.” – @LiamapBarnes

So, pret­ty bal­anced, from Ugh! to Wow!

Over the years we’ve seen yet harsh­er com­ments, though, some of which struck us as more about Titan­ic’s place on the scene than about this beer in par­tic­u­lar. In gen­er­al, we find Titan­ic’s beer rather mid­dling – not bad, not great – but it is nonethe­less a major pres­ence in the Mid­lands and North West, and on super­mar­ket shelves nation­wide, and ubiq­ui­ty breeds con­tempt. For some time, too, its own­er Kei­th Bott was chair­man of increas­ing­ly con­tro­ver­sial indus­try body SIBA, so per­haps the beer tastes a bit of pol­i­tics, the nas­ti­est off-flavour of all.

This made us think about oth­er beers that strike us as fun­da­men­tal­ly decent but whose rep­u­ta­tions might be sim­i­lar­ly weighed down. Cop­per Drag­on Gold­en Pip­pin, for exam­ple, is a beer we’ve always enjoyed – good val­ue, straight­for­ward, but with a bit more peachy zing than some oth­ers in the same cat­e­go­ry. When we expressed this enthu­si­asm a while ago, though, there seemed to be a sug­ges­tion that we should­n’t enjoy it because the brew­ery has engaged in some com­pli­cat­ed and news­wor­thy busi­ness prac­tices.

And St Austell Trib­ute is a beer we’ll always stick up for. At the Nags Head in Waltham­stow c.2009 we drank tons of it and found it every bit as good as, almost inter­change­able with, the exem­plary Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord sold in the same pub. (Fur­ther read­ing: ‘The Land­lord Test’.) But these days, even though Trib­ute is prob­a­bly  bet­ter than its ever been in tech­ni­cal terms, it elic­its groans from many enthu­si­asts. That’s because it’s become one of those beers you find in pubs that aren’t very inter­est­ed in beer, pushed into the wrong bits of the coun­try by keen sales teams and big dis­tri­b­u­tion deals; and on trains, in hotel bars, under ran­dom rocks you pick up deep in the woods, and so on. That in-your-face nation­al pres­ence is not only annoy­ing in its own right but also makes it hard­er to find a pint that has tru­ly been cared for. But, as a beer, on its own terms… It can still taste great, and inter­est­ing with it.

The flip­side of all this, of course, is that some mediocre or even bad beers get a free pass because the peo­ple that make them are good eggs, or under­dogs, or have a good sto­ry to tell; or because they’re scarce, so that nobody ever real­ly gets to know them, and is too excit­ed when they do find them in the wild to be objec­tive­ly crit­i­cal.

It’s impos­si­ble to be objec­tive, obvi­ous­ly, but it’s good to try – to attempt to blank out every­thing else and have a moment where it’s just you and the beer.