Friday, 16 March 2012

Bitterly contested


      earlier in the week I read a post on Adrian Tierney Jones' site about brown bitter. It was an engaging traverse through memories of such beer, and a refreshing change from more bitter negative (whether ironic or outwardly hostile) blog prose over the last year.

Slow as ever I missed commenting on his blog but mine on Boak and Bailey's post, specifically the quote about bitter appreciation being an example of a "quiet beer counter-revolution"  was this :

"Quiet revolution I think is perhaps an exaggeration; regaining perspective and honest appreciation seem more prevalent in gently reminding us blog-folk that a beer can be good irrespective of its percentage of coverage".

Am pleased with the syllable count, grammatical integrity (ish) and tempo of my phrase but I thought afterwards, what am I actually saying?

Is it that beer bloggers and trend followers outside of the opinionated grumblesphere are in fact somehow deluded into thinking all that is new and all that is blogged about is good, and all that went before is inferior?

Well, to some extent yes. Its important to clarify though, I have had many beers recently which, in fact I had read about, sometines more than once, on different blogs, and absolutely loved. However, I am aware of a growing fractious element in beer appreciation.

First of all there is a retro nod towards "many is good" beer ranges in pubs. Driven maybe by constant references to amazing new breweries, or perhaps "range lust", it all seems a bit like the more beers we know are good the more pubs need to increase their choice. Whereas, surely, 2 good new micro beers and one excellent example of a classic beer well kept would be manna from heaven?

.As a case in point, recently, in the NBT festival, I heard some CAMRA types bemoan Dada changing its name (not unreasonable!) and more vociferously, their decision to reduce the number of hand pumps. They then drew comparisons with other "Thornbridge pubs" (whatever that means)  also following this trend and declared that Dada would never make the GBG, and others would fall from grace in it, because there were less real ale handpumps. Surely quality over quantity counts?

Meanwhile, and more pertinent to this post, I note that almost every beer review or event analysis I read focuses on the output of hop forward beers produced by microbreweries.

And that's fine.

But are we in a position where any pale beer not pushing 100IBU will now be automatically considered dull, pedestrian or unworthy? I love hops. I lu-u-urve hops. Always have. But I also drink maltier beers. A quick glance at 20 or so blogs on my reading list suggests that I am living in a world of forgotten dreams and archaic doctrine. Is this true?

I ask only because aside from my posting and reading as above, tonight I tried a bottle of Dunham Massey Cheshire IPA.

This is in no way an Alpha hop beer. Oh no. Its firmly within the Dunham Massey portfolio, in being very malty, with a soft yeast, and a moderately, rather than lager like, pale appearance. Having been weened onto hophead fodder and seen almost only hop festival beers praised of late, I was wondering wether my unfailing belief in the quality of Dunham bottle beers would be tested by a hopless cheshire malt frenzy. But that was wide of the mark....

It was a very very nice beer. Lots of hops, yes, but they were actually a second wave of flavours in this 4.7% amber coloured ale. The initial hit was an unapologetic Dunham staple of malt, mellow fruits and yeast, and some delightful beery notes that suggest it was time to slow down and breathe in the flavour.

It didn't though, have the hop wince. It did not make me go "woah, Jeezus Christ thats hoppy!" It didn't need to.

Because despite its slightly more conservative level of hopping, it was a fantastic, bitter rounded beer of great quality. Interestingly, the fact that it purports to be "Inspired by the English IPA's of old" may be an ironic nod to current moves to dispel long held beer myths. In the latest edition of Beer after all, Ron Pattinson contributes to an article clearly suggesting that the high hopped high alcohol IPA is not what would have travelled to India. Does beer writing reflect this?

Perhapps now we can relax a little and enjoy a beer for its rounded flavour, irrespective of IBU, and even, god forbid, even if it doesn't seem to confirm our erroneous assumptions about a particular style.

Wee Beefy.


  1. We're definitely reacting against range lust. Too much choice is bewildering and depressing: a load of beers we can't afford and don't have time to drink. What's perfect -- absolutely perfect -- is a place where you can drink five good, different beers, then go home feeling you've done the place justice. Ideally, those beers would not all be brown, but one or two might be.

    1. I agree, and in there I hink is what the ATJ post was saying about not only liking one style. I think that 4 or 5 beers could afford you a mix of pales darks and, ahem, "browns" but equally it could be 5 IPA's from different parts of the UK.

      That the range was at a size that meant quality could be maintained would be the icing on the cake. Will have to have a good old think about where I last experienced that.....