I’m still working on the lengthy post I mentioned the other day, and what with Christmas meals, shopping and log-splitting – not necessarily all in the same order, I haven’t progressed the long post at all. So by way of a stocking filler (you can tell Christmas is approaching), here is a slightly off-beat post.
It concerns a couple of beers I had yesterday afternoon, at the work’s Christmas meal. As I mentioned in the previous post, our company dinner was held at the Little Brown Jug at Chiddingstone Causeway, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it was one of the best events of its kind that I can remember.
The pub was looking spotless, all decked out for Christmas, and with a welcoming log fire, blazing away in the grate, provided the perfect welcome. The food was excellent, and I particularly enjoyed my crispy braised pork belly, with smoked mash, celeriac and pear puree, sautéed bacon and kale and mustard sauce. I had a couple of glasses of Chardonnay as well, just to be sociable, but also because only three of us were drinking wine on our table.
The company was good too as, unlike previous years where people tended to sit with members of their own departments, we spread ourselves around. I ended up sitting with colleagues from dispatch, production plus R&D, and it made a nice change to mix and mingle with different people.
But what about the beer? That all important drink which makes a good pub great and an excellent one fantastic. The regular beer on the bar was Larkin’s Traditional, and I ended up on this, but first I fancied something a little different. There was a choice of two beers from Tonbridge Brewery, but unfortunately they were very similar and both appear to contain an ingredient I am not at all fond of.
Now Tonbridge Brewery are something of a local success story, expanding from small beginnings brewing in a converted garage attached to the owner’s home on the edge of Tonbridge, to occupying an industrial unit in nearby East Peckham. Through sheer dogged persistence, they have expanded slowly and steadily, without any fanfare or headline-grabbing publicity, into a brewery which now supplies over 200 outlets in Kent.
They produce an interesting range of well-crafted beers, including three which I am really fond of, but unfortunately the two on sale yesterday afternoon, were not to my liking. Tonbridge have a new beer out, called Countryman. I first spotted it last week at the Elm Tree near Paddock Wood. I didn’t try it then, but seeing it on the bar at the Jug, I thought I’d give it a go.
I should perhaps have been a little wary when our new recruit in the sales department, who was in front of me at the bar, pronounced that it was dominated by a liquorice flavour. She’s only been with us a few weeks; not long enough for me to realise she’s a bit of a beer connoisseur. My pint was already being pulled when she gave her verdict, so I had to stick with my choice and find out for myself.
She was right as there was an over-whelming “burnt” taste to the beer, which I recognised instantly as either roast malt or roast barley. Now roasted grains have their place in darker beers, such as porters or stouts, where they contribute both colour and a rich roasted flavour, but when used in a “bitter” they tend to dominate and mask the more subtle juicy malt flavours along with the hop bitterness derived from choice aroma hops. So I really wish certain brewers wouldn’t insist on using these roasted grains in their bitters ales.
I drank my pint of Countryman, longing for something with a cleaner and more refreshing taste, but the only alternative, apart from the Larkin’s, was the other beer from Tonbridge. This was the brewery’s best selling Coppernob, a 3.8% fairly dry copper-coloured bitter.
I had a feeling that this too contained some roasted grain, and I was right. There wasn’t quite as much as in the Countryman, but it was still too high for my liking. I ended up on the Larkin’s Traditional, slightly disappointed that the pub had selected two Tonbridge beers that were just too similar.
Now I am probably coming across here as both churlish and ungrateful. Churlish for saying this when the management and staff of the LBJ went out of their way to look after us and to ensure we had an enjoyable evening. Ungrateful because the company picked up the tab for both the food and the drink.
I can assure you that I am neither and, as stated earlier, I had a brilliant time. I don’t want to criticise Tonbridge Brewery either, as they have some excellent beers in their portfolio (Union Pale, Alsace Gold, Blonde Ambition and Ebony Moon), plus there was nothing at all wrong with the quality of the Countryman or the Coppernob.
All I am trying to say is, I don’t like the use of roasted grains in bitters or best bitters and really wish brewers would desist from using them in this fashion.
Footnote; other beers springing to mind where I detect the presence of roasted barely/malt, include Wychwood Hobgoblin, Goacher’s Dark, Bath Ales Barnsey and most so-called “Red Ales”.