One of the advantages, but occasionally one of the drawbacks, of being a beer lover is that friends and family are never at a loss at what to buy for you at Christmas, and the last festivities were no exception. Whilst not quite enough to float the proverbial battleship, there was still beer a plenty in the Bailey household.
I’ve only just got round to drinking some of it which, considering the events of he past five weeks is hardly surprising, but whilst I remain truly grateful for all of the beery presents bought for me, some of the choices do show the power of mass-advertising, and the dominance of big brands.
This is especially the case when the selection has been made by a non-beer drinking friend or relative. Somewhat predictably there is a bottle of Doom Bar amongst the selection, along with one of Poacher’s Choice (oh the power of rustic-sounding names!), but as stated earlier I remain grateful for these gifts, and will even enjoy drinking them; just so I can remind myself what some of these “big-brand” beers are like.
One or two though have left me pleasantly surprised and have acted as a reminder to never pre-judge something, but instead approach it with an open mind. One such beer was Fuller’s London Pride; a beer I used to be very partial to on draught, but which I rarely get the chance to drink these days.
What I found particularly interesting is the fact that like several so called Premium Bottled Ales (PBA’s), the bottled version is stronger than its draught counterpart, so bottled Pride weighs in at 4.7% ABV, whilst the cask version is a more modest 4.2%.
Not a huge difference you might think, but it is still a half of one percent alcohol by volume, and it makes a surprising difference to the taste. The bottled London Pride had a fuller flavour, if you’ll excuse the pun. This allowed the rich “marmalade” notes, normally a feature of ESB to shine through and come to the fore; the result a much rounder beer, which I really enjoyed.
The beer which was a real surprise though, and a pleasant one at that was “Old Crafty Hen”; a Morland’s brand from Greene King. This 6.5% ABV beer is described as “Oak-Aged Vintage”, having been matured in the oak vats, used for the GK classic Old 5X.
Although initially sceptical, I found this beer rather good and definitely full of character. Given its high gravity, it could have been cloyingly sweet, but it wasn’t. Instead it was a well-balanced beer, with the fruitiness of the malt, off-set by some interesting vanilla notes, no doubt derived from the oak vats in which it was aged. The only slight grouse I have is the beer being packaged in clear glass.
Full marks then to Greene King’s “Master Brewer”, who gets a mention on the bottle, even though his/her name is not revealed. And a lesson as well to be learned about approaching a beer with an open mind, and not allowing any preconceptions you may have to cloud your judgment.