Here we go.
We’re galloping into the final furlong. We’re rounding the bend into the final straight.
This is almost the end.
Almost a year after starting my Year in Beer challenge, I am sitting down to write about beers 46 to 49. And through no planning on my part whatsoever, I have managed to leave myself with a good cross-section of beer types for August, which gives me the opportunity to reflect on what I have learnt over the last year. Beer can be educational, you see.
Week 46 – York Brewery Terrier – “The bitter”
I have always liked bitters. Actually, that’s not true. When I was a child I much preferred Ribena. But since I was old enough to have a drink, I have tended towards bitter. As a spotty teenager, I soon turned away from the generic lagers (understandable) and found my way to the generic bitters (I was young, what can I say?). These soon led me on to more civilised drinks and opened up a wide world of much better beers.
Is Terrier what I am looking for in a bitter? Yes, absolutely it is.
It is golden in colour, with a lively head that soon bubbled away to nothing. There is an orange aroma and, taste-wise, it is bitter, as it should be. But it’s not too bitter. It is balanced by the malts that stop it leaning too far towards that overwhelmingly bitter grapefruit hit that comes with many of the hop-heavy beers I have tried (and enjoyed) over the last year.
I think I detected a slightly metallic edge to the flavour. What that was or why it should be so (or whether I imagined the whole thing), I really couldn’t say.
All round, this was an enjoyable beer. Were it not for the fact that this comes from the opposite end of the country then I would be looking forward to finding a pub and having another of these in the near future. As it is, I am lucky that the South West is well served by pubs and by breweries and that good bitters remains a staple of both. Whatever else I have discovered over the last year, there will always be a place for a good bitter.
Week 47 – Windsor and Eton Republika – “The lager”
A year ago I would not have expected to be sat here writing about how much I was looking forward to drinking a pilsner. Lager has never done it for me. I would not go into a pub and order a lager. And a year ago, I would have probably turned my nose up at a bottle of lager if it were presented to me. Aside from the terrible manners that displays, I would possibly be doing myself out of a treat.
My re-education began in December with Freedom’s Organic Dark Lager. It was full of flavour; nice flavours at that. Yes, it was definitely a lager. But it was like no other lager I had tried before. In fact, having never tried a dark lager before, it honestly wasn’t like any lager that I had tried before. Then came Harviestoun’s Schiehallion (also delicious) and Chapel Down’s Curious Brew (it smells of grapes!). And whilst Meantime’s London Lager didn’t blow me away, it is streets, if not entire neighbourhoods, ahead of the lager you would get in a pub.
So I opened my bottle of Republika with a sense of optimism.
The good news is that, in my notes, I have scribbled “this is what lager should taste like!” Please read into that what you will. It is crisp and clear, orange in colour, with a light and fruity smell. To say it is very pleasant feels a little like I’m underselling it, but I really enjoyed this beer. It is refreshing and easy to drink, with quite a dry finish and a slight lingering taste on the tongue.
I had hoped that, over the course of recording my thoughts on nearly 50 different beers on this blog, I would have developed a much better critical ability when it came to enunciating the character of a given beer. So it is with a fair amount of embarrassment that I look back at my notes and find that I have written “tingly bubbles” next to Republika.
Sophistication is overrated.
Week 48 – Otley O-Garden – “The wheat beer”
Readers of my last post will know the lengths that were gone to in order to get a bottle of this beer. Thanks to a fellow blogger, I eventually had in my possession a bottle of Otley O9. But wait just a minute, isn’t that a different beer? No my friends, they have renamed it, just to confuse poor people like me. It is now known as O9.
And it is a wheat beer. I don’t like wheat beers. Except, maybe, possibly, I might.
I’m not going to commit to that statement fully. But I have recently tried a few more wheat beers and rather enjoyed them, including a bottle of Trade Winds sent to me by the nice people at the Cairngorm Brewery. Perhaps it is because it is the summer, and they are a much better fit for the sunny summer months, or perhaps I just found a couple that appealed to me personally. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t filled with quite as much trepidation as I would have been six months ago.
As you would expect, it pours with a big, fluffy head. There is a sweet aroma with a slight acidic bite to it, perhaps a bit of citrus in there. It has a hazy orange colour and, thankfully, it comes with more flavour than the other wheat beers I had tried from the list. Either that, or I have finally developed a palate better equipped to pick up on the flavours in these beers. Both are possible. There is a lingering bitter, almost sour, flavour which hangs around high up in the mouth.
I would still argue that wheat beers don’t come with as much flavour as other beers and, in my opinion, they suffer for that. But I will admit that I am coming around to them. The only thing to do is to try a few more I guess…
Week 49 – Ramsgate Brewery Gadd’s Black Pearl Oyster Stout – “The stout”
The one that nearly got away. This went right down to the wire; my bottle of Black Pearl only arriving on Monday of this week.
I had begun to compose some words talking about how it would be good to leave this challenge unfinished, to always have one more to go back to. How drinking 49 beers was pretty much the same thing as drinking all 50.
What a load of rubbish. Thankfully I don’t have to write those sentences and, instead, I can treat you all to my thoughts on Black Pearl, the penultimate beer of the year. What first struck me as I opened the box, was the leaflet that accompanied the beer. The strap line at the bottom? “Gadd’s year in beer”. It must be a sign. Either that, or I wasn’t the only person to notice that “year” rhymes with “beer”.
Now I have to admit that I was not aware that oysters were once so abundant around the shores of the UK that they were a popular choice for poor, working class families. Apparently the combination of oysters and porter was a cheap and tasty meal for thousands of people on a daily basis. See, I told you that beer could be educational.
But although oysters are now consider to be somewhat of a luxury, there are still stouts (the descendants of porters) aplenty. Not that you would necessarily believe that, considering how close I came to not getting my hands on this particular one. Ideally, this beer should be drunk with oysters, fish and chips or some other type of seafood. I had to improvise at the last minute, so we had it with sardines on toast. Gourmet cooking, it was not.
It has a reasonable tan head and is a dark mahogany colour. It has a sweet aroma and an initially sweet edge to its flavour, that soon fades to leave a taste that was vaguely medicinal. I can’t say that I did this beer justice with the sardines, but it hasn’t been my favourite from the list. It started well for me, but I didn’t take to the flavours that it leaves you with. Others disagree with me, however, and this is garnering rave reviews from other beer lovers online, as well as having a spot in the top 50 list of course. It just goes to show that there is still an individual element to beer appreciation. As much as you can admire the craft that goes into creating a beer, the skill with which it is brewed, kept, bottled and presented, whether you like a beer or not is always going to be a personal and subjective thing.
We can probably all agree that a bad beer is a bad beer, but beyond that there is a whole world of different tastes, likes and dislikes and, I would be so bold to assert, there is a beer out there for everyone. If at first you don’t succeed, well that’s just an excuse to try another one.
My final Year in Beer entry, showcasing my final beer. Beer number 50. After that I will put away my dog-eared set of scribbles.
I will be left with a greater understanding of the varied types of beer. I will be left with a better grasp of the great beers that are available all around the country. I will be left with a desire to try new and exciting beers. And I will be left with a new set of favourites to enjoy.
Then I’ll be looking for a new challenge.