Sunday, 25 November 2007

50 best beers my arse!

I was looking forward to thumbing through The Information, the glossy that came with yesterday's The Independent. It promised “The 50 best beers: Guy Adams dons his drinking cap to go in search of the perfect pint of ale this Christmas”. 50 best beers my arse!

First up it was nothing to do with the 50 best beers because there were no cask ales amongst them. So perhaps it should have read the 50 best bottled-beers. But no, where were Fullers Vintage Ale, Titanic Stout, Comrade Bill Bartram’s Egalitarian Anti Imperialist Soviet Stout or Trappist Rochefort 10, to name but a few ? So perhaps it should have read 50 best bottled beers that are mainly from supermarkets, with many being rather boring actually. Catchy title ‘eh?

Yes there were some bottle-conditioned beers, yes there were some good choices, but there were an awful lot of also rans in the list. In that all-important NÂș1 slot, supposedly the best was St Peter's India Pale Ale. Presumably winning this coveted position because of its stylish bottle and pretty label. Can't fault St Peter's quality, they produce okay beer, but its dead beer and hardly wow. Thankfully Stella (or whatever the fucking stuff is called these days) did not feature in the list but Hoegaarden Biere Blanche was there and you have to ask. Why?

Come on Independent you can surely do better than that. Next time give the job to someone that knows something about beer and not someone that's wowed by pretty labels. Anyone got any better suggestions for a Top 50?

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Cry God for Harry, England and St Edmund!

"God is a concept by which we measure our pain" thus spake John Lennon in a bygone era. Now I've never really subscribed to the notion of a patron saint, as an atheist I don't really understand the concept. It's even more disturbing when wrapped up in the notion of some kind of national identity/national pride. As Dr Johnson put it "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel". And that's before we get on to the controversial subject of who the English patron saint really should be. Should it be the current incumbent, a geezer hailing from the Lebanon, Turkey, Greece or some such far-flung place, St George the dragon-slayer, or should it be his predecessor St Edmund? The saint that gave his name to the town in which I live. Quite frankly I don't give a bugger. But what I am quite prepared to do is celebrate St Edmund on his day. Especially when there is beer involved. Sort of along the lines of everyone being Irish on St Paddy's day.

I am particularly prepared to forgo my principles because my hostelry of choice, a brew pub now known as the Old Cannon Brewery, has brewed a special winter ale called St Edmund's Head - named after the original pub name where the brewery now stands. It has apparently been brewed to be in tiptop condition to drink on St Edmunds Day, 20th November. Greene King (the other brewery in town, that some of you might have heard of, also recently launched a St Edmunds ale. I've not tried it and I'm not sure I want to. It's served cold and with the option of a head. Think I'd rather perform a self-circumcision with a spoke shave than drink cold beer with a head on it! But it is apparently available at the Dog & Partridge, the pub closest to the brewery. The sort of pub where the clientele might well be attracted to such a beer.

Anyway back to the matter in hand. Today is St Edmunds day, and strangely tonight I found myself in the Old Cannon drinking this fantastic new brew on evening of the launch day. I don't use the word fantastic lightly either. The advertising blurb refers to it as a heady brew and they are not wrong. The colour of black treacle, with a taste to match, this beer is a perfect winter ale. Warming, heart and cockles spring to mind. Weighing in at 4.8%, it needs to be treated with respect when drinking several pints of the stuff. If I had to categorise it I think I'd put it in the Strong Mild section. A velvety, relatively sweet beer with plenty of maltiness, this brew also has a roasted nutty taste, with undertones of cobnut and sackcloth toffee. Didn't Callard & Bowser used to make that? Then comes the hop flavour, from Challenger I am reliably informed, followed on by the slightest of bitter aftertastes. It's almost enough to make you feel proud to be English!

The Old Cannon has never bottled its beer. I asked Richard the brewer several times when we had the beer shop if he would bottle some, but he always declined. For the first time ever they've bottled one of their beers. This one. It's a limited edition run of 1000 bottles and I've got one. It's not fully conditioned yet, needs a couple more days in the warm, then into the cool. My hope is that it will make perfect Christmas drinking. Merry Christmas everybody!