Our man, Daniel Pidcock, writes a guest article for BristolBites, a brilliant Bristol Food website that is well worth checking out.
I wasn’t feeling great to be honest.
Ok I was hung over. The night before we had a party at work and I had rolled in at about 5am. Not very professional, and after dragging myself out of bed only a few hours later I really didn’t feel like a beer tasting. God knows, that isn’t something I say often.
Still, when I arrived at the Bristol Hotel (it’ll always be Jurys’ to me), the hustle and bustle of the amassed beer lovers made me feel a bit better. A guy called Richard explained that we were there to help choose the new lines for Sainsbury’s range of real ales and told us to choose 8 from the line up on the table.
It’s a clever idea – we were buying with our eyes, in the same way that a shopper would, letting ourselves be drawn in by bright colours, clever graphics or silly names.
It soon became apparent that silly names did it for much of the crowd. Chatting to people it seemed most had chosen one called ‘Willy Nilly’. I decided to change my choices to include it too as I’ll bet it makes it to the shelves.
I settled down on a table among a lively group to taste the beers. This too brightened my mood: There seemed a festival atmosphere that, despite it being very early in the day, told my confused and still reeling brain that it was ok to hit the sauce. It’s not like you can swill and spit like you can with wine. Most of your taste buds that are in use when supping the golden stuff are way back down the back of your throat. There was only one thing for it… gulp.
The fruity aroma followed by the refreshingly sharp taste of this pale ale lifted me instantly. My qualms about taking a sip and hair of the dog left me enjoying this unpretentious simple but zesty beer.
After a good start I thought it would be set to continue with the next beer from the usually topnotch Box Steam brewery. Looking at the lovely amber colour and rich caramel start I was soon disappointed as it turned sour in my mouth. This ale would become chuffin’ hard to drink after a couple. I love the new Box Steam labels though and had a good chat with the brewers after. They restored my faith with a pint of ‘Boxsteam Brew’ which is made with 100% Warminster barley and no cheaper cane, which made for a great quality draft.
This was the one that almost everyone seemed to have chosen to taste. However when it came to drinking it split the crowd completely with comments ranging from the positive “maple syrup” to the less approving “tastes like bedsits”. It will certainly sell well but I’m not sure how many will be returning. Personally I fell on the negative side. The smell was pleasant, bringing Honey Nut Shredded Wheat to mind, but the flavour didn’t back this up and fell closer to sausages.
UPA Untapped Pale Ale
Wow, this one was a clear stand out to me. The porkiness of the ‘Willy Nilly’ was washed away and replaced by a tangy freshness that knocked my socks off. I’m always a fan of a beer with real character, not one for subtle hints of nothing and this had a aroma that almost filled the room with summer and fun. The flavour was full of strawberries and Haribo. The tasting notes suggested this would go well with summer salad and I can see why. This is one that would go down well at a sunny BBQ or party by the river. I even ended up clutch a bag with a few bottles of this to take home and thoroughly enjoyed each one.
Dorothy Goodbody’s Blissful Brown Ale
This had some of my favourite branding of the bunch. A retro 50′s pinup label marking a beautiful deep coloured liquid that was hard to resist. I’ve already said how I like a beer with character but old Dotty’s branding was writing cheques that the flavour couldn’t cash. It was disappointedly thin and if I didn’t know better might have thought it had been watered down. I can’t claim myself a friend of Dorothy, in fact, I didn’t even bother finishing the taster!
As one of the darkest beers I was looking forward to this but it wasn’t a smooth start. It had a really unusual texture, almost prickly like rolled nettles but without the freshness. In fact the lack of freshness was the defining characteristic of this beer. It was like it had been left to brew in a smokey labour club. For all of that, it wasn’t unpleasant and I wouldn’t turn a pint of it down on a winters evening. Though I would feel the need to don a flat cap and puff on a pipe.
Another dark ale and this one was a bit more my style. Very old fashioned but more of a grand antiqueness to the Buzzards dusty bus pass. There was a malty lick of Marmite and a cosy warm fireside feel. My only complaint is that it was a little on the bland side and not confident as would make this something special.
This was listed as a “gourmet India Pale Ale designed to challenge the senses”. I did find parts of it challenging but I don’t think in the same way that they hoped. Overall it isn’t a bad drop but there was an underlying chemical flavour that was as intriguing as it was off-putting. It was more polish than posh, but the light golden colour and hoppy splash of sunshine meant I still fancied a bit more even after I’d finished.
After selecting our four favourites we were invited to go through to the next room where we were presented with a buffet of cold cuts, cheeses and to chat to the brewers. This gave me the opportunity to try a few more treats.
I used the opportunity to try a few of the beers that other tasters had highlighted including one called Proper Black from the Clearwater Brewery which was thick, treacly and thoroughly wholesome. I was really impressed that they had the description clearly shown on the pump-clips – something that most breweries seem to overlook.
Keeping on the dark beers was Yeoville Stout Hearted, a favourite of one of the guys I was chatting with. The branding was terrible though and was looking very tired. The stout was pretty good but nothing to write home about.
Something that really stood out was a range of gourmet beers that will be released in limited editions. They included some really interesting experimental treats such as an orange peel beer and one was flavoured with whiskey.
They are intended as replacements for wine at restaurants and is going to be on sale only at the poshest of eateries. In fact you can currently find them at Bordeaux Quay. The one that caught my eye was the Espresso Stout made with Kenyan Nyeri coffee beans and Muscovado sugar. Holding the glimmering silver label round the delicately shaped 330ml bottle I could see they had made an effort to make this a stylish after dinner tipple.
The traditional ale fan will think this range pretentious and the price point too high but keep in mind that this is intended to bring ales in to a restaurant environment where lagers are normally the only choice.
As I wandered blinking in to the sunny Saturday afternoon air feeling slightly woozy, a few bottles of interesting brews clicking beside me, I just couldn’t help think about the party I was going to later and thought I heard my liver groan.