Monday, 19 January 2015

Not All Doom in Cornwall

Part of the Connoisseur's Choice range

My recent critique on Doom Bar whilst chronicling the rise of Britain’s top selling cask ale, was probably more than a little unfair on Doom Bar’s creator; Sharp’s of Rock in Cornwall. Hopefully the piece which follows will help set the record straight.

Maybe it’s a peculiarly English thing to knock the success of others, but my recent post about Doom Bar was more about the way this inoffensive but perfectly drinkable beer has spread inexorably, like the “red weed” in the “War of the Worlds” across the nation’s bars, rather than a criticism of the brewery which spawned it.

All power then to Sharp’s elbow for coming from nowhere to create the UK’s No.1 best selling cask ale in the space of less than 20 years. Despite the sniping and ridicule from beer connoisseurs and writers, including me in my recent post, it has to be said that many of Sharp’s other beers are extremely good, and included amongst them are some real classics.

Stuart Howe, the company’s Head of Craft Brewing and Innovation, has a reputation which is internationally acclaimed. Stuart has been involved with Sharp’s since 2002, swapping a career in engineering for the life of a brewer. His goal remains to make great beers which appeal to true connoisseurs but at the same time are accessible to the average drinker.

Returning to Sharp’s beers; I have tried Cornish Coaster, which at 3.6% ABV is the weakest beer in the company’s portfolio, but I have never come across the 4.4% ABV Own, or the 5.0% ABV Special. I also note from the company’s website that Sharp’s brew a 5.2% ABV Cornish Pilsner, which they claim is inspired by the great Pilsner beers from the Czech Republic. Some 30 outlets in London are listed as stocking this "pale straw beer which is fermented with a genuine Czech yeast then lagered on a bed of Saaz hops to create stunning, zesty herbal notes and a delicious clean, citrus flavour."

Sharp’s also produce some highly respected bottled beers. These include the attractively packaged Atlantic Pale Ale, 4.5% ABV and Wolf Rock Red IPA 4.8%.   Also not forgotten are Chalky’s Bite, produced in collaboration with Rick Stein, plus the lesser known Chalky’s Bark. Pride of place though surely goes to the Sharp’s Connoisseurs Choice range.

Beers for the real Connoisseur
There are nine stunning beers in the range, each one numbered from 1 to 9. The only one I’ve tried is the amazing No. 1 Quadrupel Ale. Brewed with four malts, four hops, four yeasts and four fermentations; the result is a beer which transcends beer styles, a unique fusion of a Quadrupel, a strong dark ale and a barley wine that thinks it's a port. There are also three Single Brew Reserves, numbered 2, 4 & 8, with each representing the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively. The thinking behind these is that each Single Brew Reserve profiles the best hops from the year it was brewed.

Completing the range is the No. 3 Honey Spice Tripel, the No. 5 Spice Red, the No. 6 Dubbel Coffee Stout, No. 7 Honey Spice IPA and the No.9 Six Vintage Blend. The latter is, as its name suggests, a blend of several beers, including a Trappist Dubbel, a sweet barley wine, a Quadrupel fermented with yeast from a world renowned Trappist brewery, a honey wheat beer which has been naturally soured by lactic acid and finally a US dry-hopped double IPA. The company claim that this blend of aged beers represents the evolution of brewing at Sharp’s.

This all sound pretty good and a far cry from the dreaded Doom Bar. However, let’s not forget that without the success of this ubiquitous best seller, Sharp’s would probably not be able to afford the luxury of brewing the Connoisseurs Choice range. Credit should also be given to new owners Molson Coors, who have not only invested heavily in the brewery at Rock but have given the management team there a free hand to develop these sorts of beers. It’s also a pretty safe bet that Molson Coors will have provided technical expertise and support to Stuart Howe and his team.

So next time you see a pump on the bar dispensing Doom Bar, think that in its own way it is helping one of the country’s most respected brewer to turn out some truly great and world-beating beers.

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