I love good beer. I’m not an English Nationalist: I do think that continental beers are good, especially German, Czech and Belgian. But ours are rather special and come from an essentially different brewing tradition. And it’s an ancient one. The Saxon (pre-Norman) boat from Graveney, in Kent, was carrying a cargo of hops. Despite this, the myth persists that all medieval beers were un-hopped. Some may have been, especially domestic or home brews, but many weren’t. And how come I seem to know so much about beers and ales? I worked for the family brewery for a couple of years, back in 1967-8. Sadly, like so many of them, that brewery was taken over by Watneys (later Grand Metropolitan) whose factory-produced beers were once described as ‘like making love in a punt’ ( i.e. ‘expletive deleted near water’). You get the picture.
CAMRA helped put an end to the destruction of real ales, but sadly politicians failed to intervene, while one of England’s major cultural traditions was being trashed by corporates. Such a thing would never have been allowed in, for instance, Germany, where historic assets are properly valued. So I worked as a newly graduated management trainee in Truman’s brewery, Brick Lane. The brewery had been built in 1660 in fields on the outskirts of the City of London and it escaped the great fire of 1666. Some of the brewing traditions (now surely lost) dated back to those times. Every morning the wind direction was recorded and the windows and roof vents were adjusted by the duty brewer to ensure that wild yeasts didn’t blow in from nearby Spitalfields vegetable markets. I suspect that particular tradition began much earlier when the threat wasn’t local yeasts, but those from the vegetable fields of Spital Fields. Our range of yeasts had their roots in the 18th century and they were carefully cherished. Again, I suspect they were lost when Grotneys took them over.
Anyhow, while I was at Truman’s I was trained as a beer taster, and went to courses at the local Technical College, where I learned how to drink beer. I’ve been trying to teach Phil Harding ever since, but it’s an up-hill task. I’ve explained that you’ve got to take big gulps because bitterness is tasted at the back of the tongue. But old habits die hard and dear old Phil persists in taking lady-like sips, with his lips pursed and his little finger cocked at a jaunty angle. The public doesn’t get to see it, but there’s another side to the lad… But I digress.
Beer tasting at a professional level isn’t what it’s cracked-up to be. You drink a lot of wort, of raw, un-matured stuff that gives you the runs for weeks, until eventually your stomach accommodates. But you do develop your palate and strangely too, your sense of smell. There’s also a way of writing about and describing the aromas and flavours the trained palate can detect. To many people this way of describing things sounds a bit posh, a bit East of Islington, too posy. And I have to admit, I was never much good at it. But I’ve been working at it; practising day and night, just so that I could report on the ales I sampled at the Peterborough Beer Festival, last night. I hope you find the tone of the descriptions that follow suitably elevating. The 350 beers, incidentally, were arranged alphabetically, by brewery.
These were my top three, and I have to admit I did enjoy them. Here are my jottings. As is the current trend, I’ve awarded each beer points out of ten.
Aardvark Brewery, Nottingham: Droppings Mild. Scrumptious. Delicious. More than Moreish. A really quaffable pint. I glugged down three more. Whoopee… Glug glug. Score: 9.9995.
Acme Ales, Shropshire: Salopian Sunshine. Even better if that’s poshible. Lots and lots and lots and lots of lovely hops. Hoppy, yes very hoppy. And malty with lots of scrummy beerishness. Very repetitious, repepetetive. Drank four, one after another. In close succession. Prizes? Yes: 10.9995.
Adventure Playground, Bangor: Slide to Oblivion. Perfection. Absolute pure bloody perfection in a glass. Couldn’t be improved. Ambrosial creamed rice texture. Must be wonderful with food, but quite strong. It creeps up on you when your back’s turned. Makes you want to lie down and snooze with its happy hoppy notes. A swarthy worthy. Winner worthy. Drank five. Easy! Big points: 12!!!
Hm. Just 347 to go!