8 Sep 2009

God Save the (Real) Ale

Look at me, all this time ranting about beer and not once I've reviewed English Ales. Well, thanks to my friend John, this has been now corrected.

I know I've mentioned it several times already, but I'll never get tired of saying it. The best about this beer blogging thing is the possibility I've had of meeting new people and making new friends. It's really gratifying being able to sit for a chat and a few beers with someone who shares my passion, or who simply wants to meet me because they appreciate what I do in this space, to all that, we have the chance that many have given me of tasting beers that otherwise I might have never been able to experience. What else can you ask?

Back to the topic in question. John brought me three samples, all from different styles and breweries. A nice palette that shows different aspects of contemporary English Ales.

As usual, I started by the lightest. T.E.A. (Traditional English Ale) from Hogs Back Brewery, an independent brewer from Surrey. It's a Best Bitter. Bitter is one of the most popular styles in England to this day and it's something I have never drunk (well, yes, many years ago I drunk a lot of Bitters during my stays in Australia and New Zealand, but I wasn't expecting anything similar to those).
T.E.A: pours an orangey amber, with little but lasting head and no visible carbonation. He who expects complexity in aromas and flavours, better look elsewhere. This Best Bitter, with 4,2%ABV is a session beer, which, as Lew Bryson very well puts in in his Session Beer Project, doesn't mean that it's boring or tasteless. Dried and tropical fruit can be found in the bouquet, garnished by subtle flower notes. As expected from the name of the style, the beer is bitter, though of the dry sort. There is a touch of syrup to balance it. The unctuous mouthfeel and the short finish with earthy notes make it even easier to drink. No doubt, it is a lovely session beer. It might not say much all by itself, but that's not its goal, it's made to be part of good time with friends at the pub, and it does that very well, indeed.

It was followed by St Peter's Brewery India Pale Ale, another independent brewery, this time from Suffolk. I had drunk several IPA's, from different countries, but not a single one yet from the country that gave birth to the style, England. I was very curious. Nowadays we take for granted that an IPA will be a quite to insanely hoppy beer, but I've always wondered how those beers that were exported to India in the 19th century tasted. Did they taste so hoppy after four months on a ship around the African continent? If the historical revisionism of Martyn Cornell and others is to be believed, the first IPA's were actually Stock Ales sold young to the captains of the Indiamen. The Stock Ales had relatively high gravity and were very hopped, they were matured for up to several years, after that, the taste of the hops had attenuated plenty.
Whatever, let's allow the beer to say it's bit. St Peter's IPA (5.5% ABV, less than most, if not all, IPA's I'd tasted so far) pours a light browny amber, some fine bubble can be seen. The nose reminds of syrup, citrus peel and pine, something that identify with C-hops, actually. The sip goes in with plenty of caramel that quickly becomes dry and with a lot of pine. The finish is also dry, but with a more herbal character. I'm not going to pretend I'm able to identify with certainty the different kinds of hops, but I do have an idea and I must say that I found a rather "American" thing in this IPA. It wasn't perhaps what I was expecting, but I still liked it. The caramel at the beginning does a great job "cutting" the dry bitterness of the previous sip, making this beer easier and more pleasant to drink.

To close this session of English classics I was left with Fuller's 1845. Fuller's is one of the biggest breweries in the UK (I think) and despite of that, it still keeps a very good reputation among many beer enthusiasts. 1845, matured for 100 days, was brewed for the first time in 1995 to celebrate the jubilee of the brewery. Thanks to the success it had then, they still brew it to this day.
Fuller's 1845 pours ocher, topped by a spongy, lasting and lightly tanned head. In the nose there are flowers and notes reminiscing of ripe citrus, all on top of a base of fruit conserve. The mouthfeel is silky, full. It starts with burnt sugar that soon becomes home made sponge cake filled with sweet fruit, all covered by lovely notes of English hops that add some spice to the whole. A delicious beer, to sip slowly. Better if you drink it alone, listening to some good music or reading a good book in an Autumn afternoon.

Very good beers all three of them, each with their own, all with very nice presentations (I love those bottles) and all feel like they were brewed and conditioned with care (will we ever see a Czech craft beer with the phrase "bottle conditioned" printed on the bottle?). Thanks a lot John for these lovely Ales.

Na Zdraví!

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6 comments:

  1. How I enjoyed my bottle of 1845 before leaving Prague....by the way, you really should get along to Robertsons up near Dejvicka metro and spend a little extra to try other British ales, he has some wonderful stuff up there.

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  2. I know, I know... Once my finances get back in order, I'll be making a trip to Robertson's, which is well past due.

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  3. IPAs were NOT high gravity beers by the standards of the day. They were only about the same strength as standard Mild. Reid's IPA from the 1830's was about the same strength as the St Peter's.

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  4. Aha.... I had assumed that from that bit in Cornell's book that says: "This last was the pale, strong, well-hopped autumn-brewed stock bitter beer...", referring to the Hodgson's ales that were sent to India.

    I thought that those later exported by Allsopp, etc, were of the same or similar nature...

    Thanks for the correction anyway.

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  5. Fuller's are very big in London, and fairly well known nationally. 1845 is a great beer; Vintage Ale and London Porter are also good in bottles. We'll bring some next time we come to Prague.

    We're not fans of TEA.

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  6. I saw TEA as a very nice session beer, no more, no less than that. Would I go out of my way to get it? I doubt it. But I would perhaps be glad if I came across it.

    If you don't bring a vintage ale on your next visit to Prague I'll make sure you won't be allowed in this country....:)

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