The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts The Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing of all the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry (see link, posted to comments in due course). This month’s Session is hosted by Boak and Bailey (www.boakandbailey.com) and is on the subject of traditional beer mixes. With it a challenge, we should find one traditional mix (no beer cocktails either) and recreate it; even order one in a bar (if you’re man enough)…
Funny how memory betrays you. As I recollect it, The Blue Moon was a large pub tucked underneath a railway bridge, just down from tightly arcing motorway slip road. It was mock half brick; outside mostly put to tarmac; desiccated hanging baskets hung wanly and the landlord had some missing stumpy fingers, a shiny hairless scalp and gold ring earrings. The regulars were gritty, speaking with a pronounced Derbyshire twang. “Noo” for ‘new’; “Naa” for ‘now’; “Ay up” and “mi’duck” being dropped in frequently, revealing the border status between Yorkshire to the north and the industrial midlands below.
In reality, my memory was skewed by time. A photograph taken from then revealed that the pub was actually a Hotel. There was nothing ‘Blue’ about it, it was just a ‘Moon’ (although had you seen the decor you might disagree). There was no railway bridge and the slip road was a good quarter of a mile away. The landlord, actually a Manager, and he sported fewer piratical gold rings than my false memory betrayed. But he, just as like his customers, did speak with that round, fruity, ruddy Derbyshire dialect. And he, just like his customers, drank ‘Mix’.
I was doing a management training programme, and Spondon’s Moon Hotel was my training pub. Sprawling Spondon, in Derby, is known for its ‘pong’ so expectations were low: was said whiff from off beer or from nearby Courtaulds? Yet, although I was only there for a couple of weeks, I jimmied in months of learning. Learning about pubs; learning about customers; learning about life in a roundabout way. Basic cellaring skills; tallying up the take at the end of the evening and most fearsome of all, serving behind the bar. Why fearsome? Two reasons: keeping tabs on ferocious Friday night orders for one; two, the terrible mockery inflicted when you didn’t know what the various ‘Mix’ orders were. It was a whole new lexicon: ‘Half & Half’, ‘Black and Tan’, ‘Bass and Gowd’ and ‘Mickey Mouse’.
A Bass & Gowd? The Bass was optional – any decent pale ale would do, but the Gowd wasn’t – referring to Gold Label. A favourite of my father law for whom a pint isn’t really a pint without a good viscous slug of Gold Label in it. This isn’t about flavour transformation: it’s about pure brawn; beer doping. The parallel with cycling doesn’t stop there. A decade or so ago such doping was rife. Judging by the orders at The Moon, one in five pints ordered by men over 50 had a gowd with it. Today would anyone? Then there was trial by ordering. Some customers wanted the Gold Label from the fridge; others – very particular others – wanted it from behind the counter. Others, cellar temperature, although they could bog off and get there own. And do you pour it in or let the customer? The whole lot into a half pint or serve them a pint and then let them add it gradually? A blummin’ barley wine minefield, nothing less.
Not the mix for me. Instead, I chose the much more goofily monikered ‘Mickey Mouse’. An old boy in the Moon took delight in catching me out by ordering this, much as I’m sure he had for the proceeding 30 years with other all green round the gills bar staff. Turns out the Mickey Mouse was a simple mix of lager and ale. At the Moon it was Carling Black Label (the lager being poured first) topped up with an ale, in this case keg Worthington’s. And it was a mix – not a stratification as is popular in the U.S. where there’s a clear horizon between the two products in the glass. I chose the sweetish Heineken (export) – 5%, with its estery, pear drop aroma and a much more hardcore Goose Island IPA: hoping the upfront hoppy grapefruitiness and lingering bitterness would work OK with the sweeter lager with little finish.
What was I expecting? The best of both worlds perhaps – a less challenging American IPA that was more sessionable? A more rewarding factory lager: still with the structure and finesse of a lager but with more savouring qualities?
I got neither. Rather, the Goose got plucked – somehow not even an IPA-light but a rather muddy ale with the crisp hop notes hidden under a blanket. And neither did I get a lager-to-savour. Sure, it was arguably not the best pairing. A more robust lagered beer perhaps: Pilsner Urquell or maybe a Republika or Camden Hells? Maybe a less assertive Pale Ale would have been better: Sierra Nevada from the U.S. stable (I mean this relatively) or any of many beautiful British pale ales.
Ah, but there’s the rub. I’m not closed to the idea of mixing beers together, certainly not puritanical about despoiling the purity of an original recipe. Where I netted out though is that I’d rather go for a genuine beer cocktail, where the flavours of the beer are just one of many interwoven tastes from a wide gamut of ingredients, rather than mixing two ‘traditional’ beers and getting the worst of both or the best of neither. I’ll keep on trying them, but not with a sense of anticipation.
© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2014