Friday, 9 February 2018

A couple of unexpected surprises

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.


Russtovich said...

"The bottled London Pride had a fuller flavour, if you’ll excuse the pun. "

Heh, almost missed that. ;)

"The only slight grouse I have is the beer being packaged in clear glass."

[nods] You'd think they'd know better in this day and age.

"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."

Good point Paul. While I won't go out of my to purchase a big brand beer, neither will I turn my nose up at it if offered one, for free. :) And yes, the whole point is to drink what you appeals to your personal taste. Canned or bottled Guinness (draught) used to be my go to over here but has not been for some time now. I keep giving it a second chance every six months or so but it still doesn't taste like it used to. Could be me I guess but the bottom line is I'll go for someone else's Porter (or Stout).

On the flip side I started buying an IPA (5.5%) from a small semi-local brewery some months back, partly due to the cheaper price. It's now one of my go to beers when I want something that I won't drink too fast. :)


Anonymous said...

Yep, Crafty Hen is establishing itself as one of the go-to bottles for ...err... more discerning drinkers in the supermarkets, albeit not on the same level as Guinness FES and Fuller's Vintage (in Waitrose). FYI it's not aged in 5X barrels, it's normal Hen cut with a small amount (5-10%?) of yer actual 5X (apparently the GK one and not a "Morlandified" equivalent.

It was the 7th-biggest-selling bottled ale in Britain in 2016, and must be a better option for the brand than getting into endless wars of how many bottles you can sell for £6.

On clear bottles you only have to look at a list of the top 10 bottled beers to see why they do clear bottles - Doom Bar, Speckled & Crafty Hens, Newky Brown, Spitfire are all inthere, and memory says that at one point it got up to 7 out of the top 10. Punters like to see their beer. They may be stupid, but they like it.

Curmudgeon said...

Marston's, to their credit, put all their bottled beers in brown bottles, and I think they've done the same for Charles Wells products following the takeover.

The fact that Old Crafty Hen is 6.5% ABV and yet still often appears in 4 for £6 offers may not be entirely unconnected with its high ranking in the sales charts ;-)

Paul Bailey said...

If Old Crafty Hen is not aged in the 5X barrels, and is the normal OSH cut with a small amount of 5X, wouldn't "Master Blender" be a better term, rather than Master Brewer?

I can see where GK are coming from, as space in those large oak vats, used for aging 5X, must be quite limited, but surely the evidence against using clear glass is sufficiently damming for the brewing team to over-rule the marketing people?

As Mudge has pointed out, Marston's use brown glass and although Doom Bar is packaged in clear glass, Sharps use brown bottles for their other beers. Although anonymous describes people who like to see beers in clear bottles as "stupid", they might change their tune if they knew the reason why beers have been packaged in brown glass ever since bottled beer first became popular.

Perhaps "educating" bottled beer lovers about the perils of "light-struck" beer could be a job for a "Revitalised" Campaign for Real Ale?

Anonymous said...

I'll be interested to know what you make of the Doom Bar, Paul (not joking, I really will).

Curmudgeon said...

Doom Bar is another beer that is stronger in bottle than in cask - I think 4.3% vs 4.0%.