Wednesday, 5 December 2018

The dark side

As I’m sure many of you will have noticed, the weather’s been unseasonably mild for the beginning of December, and much of November was very similar. We haven’t been tempted yet to light our log-burner, and our thick winter coats, scarves and woolly hats are still in the cupboard.

It’s been plain sailing in the mornings too, with no ice to scrape off the car windscreen, and no icy country roads to contend with on the drive into work. The central heating is ticking over in the background, but is nowhere near running flat out. This is despite sharing a house with a woman who feels the cold – don’t they all?

So far so good, and with a potentially lower gas bill to look forward to, you could be forgiven for thinking that everything’s rosy. Well it’s pretty good, all things considered, with one exception, the warm weather seems to have created a paucity of demand for dark ales, and I’m getting increasingly desperate to track some down.

By dark ales, I mean beers such as Harvey's XXXX Old Ale or Larkin’s Porter, both of which are firm favourites of mine and beers to look forward to as winter approaches.

Late Autumn is traditionally the season when many old ales make their appearance, followed a little later on by stronger beers such as winter warmers and barley wines. Harvey's launch their Old Ale at the beginning of October, whilst Larkin’s traditionally hold their delectable Porter back until Bonfire Night.

I haven’t seen either on sale yet, and here we are heading into December with Christmas only three weeks away. I seem to have this moan every year but normally a few weeks earlier in the season than now, so why no dark ales gracing our bars and pubs, and why does my desire for a drop of the dark stuff end up like the quest for the Holy Grail?

Despite the welcome increase in discerning drinking establishments locally, I still think far too many licensees are frightened to take a punt, and would rather play things safe, when it comes to dark ales. With a few honourable exceptions, most pubs in these parts shy away from serving dark ales, in the mistaken belief they won’t sell. The trouble is they won’t know until they try, and I wouldn’t mind betting that few, if any, have actually tried.

I know full well, from when we had our off-licence, that dark beers fly out the door, particularly during the winter months and I’m sure local pubs would experience the same level of interest. It can’t be that experimental or overly-adventurous to stock the odd dark beer, can it?

Harvey's Old Ale is available in the brewery’s own tied pubs and that's about it, and Larkin’s Porter has always been a difficult beer to track down, and the pubs which do sell it are normally right out in the sticks, which means it is necessary to drive there. This sort of defeats the object, particularly if you start to get the taste for one of these delicious dark beers.

I was in Tonbridge Fuggles yesterday evening and half expected to see something dark on offer. Well Weird Beard came close with their Black Cranberry Stout, but that was it on the dark side, and besides I was looking for something a little smoother, and with slightly more body than a beer flavoured with cranberries.

So will this weekend finally be the time when I manage to track down one or more of my favourite dark ales, or will I be foiled by a doomed mix of warm weather and overly-cautious licensees?

I will let you know.


Ed said...

When I was at the Old Dairy Brewery we managed to sell a reasonable amount of Silver Top stout throughout the Winter (and did a seasonal Winter warmer) but as soon as the sun came out sales fell off a cliff.

Matt said...

Up here in the frozen North, it's cold and wet and there are lots of pubs selling strong stouts and dark ales.

moleha4 said...

Hi Paul, The Real Ale Way, Hayes - a micropub open since August 2018 almost always has one dark beer available, from a total between 7-9. This has included Larkins Porter for about 4 days mid November. This week's offering has been Pig & Porter - Thief of Time Porter. Beers are served from gravity & kept in a coolroom. I believe that Larkins Pale Ale is a permanent house beer, and Larkins Trad is usually available also. M.O of the pub is to sell Kentish products beer, ciders etc. Their Facebook page has some photos including those of some Beer Boards. CAMRA discount (30p/pint) available on Larkins beers, and their "Beer of the Week".

retiredmartin said...

Nice post. I guess you've more history of seasonal darker beers round your way, Paul. Last year the cold snap came much later (Feb-April). I see the occasional Porter (e.g. Cloudwater) but not many from the bigger brewers. In Hammersmith yesterday it was the Bengal Lancer in Fullers pubs rather than the dark beers.

Paul Bailey said...

Apparently Larkin's sell twice as much Porter in the run-up to Christmas, than they do in the three months which follow it. The irony is that February and March are often the coldest months, as you rightly point out, Martin. March was bitterly cold this year, and one memorable morning, on my drive to work, the outside temperature was showing minus 11 Celsius!

The Real Ale Way sounds interesting moleha4. Are we talking about Hayes Middlesex or Hayes, Kent? I don't know either place, btw,

I'm sure the north is nowhere near as col as you make out, Matt. And I thought us southerners were supposed to be the soft ones!

I quite often see Old Dairy Snow Top on sale in bottles, Ed. Especially in one of our local garden centres. A nice beer, although I can't imagine there are many takers during the summer.

Matt said...

I'm known as Mister Nesh by my mates, Paul. I'm sure you remember that word from your Salford and Eccles days.

moleha4 said...

Real Ale Way is Hayes, Kent. It is on my commuting route and is situated opposite the railway station.