Fursty Ferret-legging

In my drinking youth, I spent a few years living in the south west.  We’re talking Devon not New Mexico here, as such it was a landscape of verdant rolling hills, cream teas, bleak windswept moors and tors with outstanding free houses, often looked away in a leafy hamlet. The Drewe Arms. The Well House. The Bridge and Lighter at Topsham, the Warren House Inn, The Turf Locks – a tiny but representative sample.  Back home in the North West, the pubs had been industrialised in comparison – owned by the big (or big regional) brewing groups, and for the most part lacking the individual quirks of the pubs down on the peninsular.  It’s the same today, (relatively) economically backward, but much further ahead in terms of freehouses and regional ale choices on offer. Cornwall, in fact, has leapt forward, with more cask and craft breweries than it’s ever had, and Devon is moving that way too.

In the ’90s, the pubs were often better than the beer.  As students, we raved about the Beer Engine at Newton St Cyres but it was a fair old drag to get there and the rewards were often ropey.  Truth was, the big brewers had the most interesting cask choices:  Bass was widespread and consistent, damn fine in Ye Olde Shippe off Exeter’s Cathedral Close and The Bridge; Director’s back then was strong and winey, with a really pronounced floral hop character: the drink of choice in The Jolly Porter (at least if you weren’t on Snakebites) and the Turf, and Flowers Original was good – hoppily so at The Drewe Arms (a Whitbread pub at the time).  Occasionally 6X would crop up, or perhaps Adnams Broadside. The Double Locks, as popular with the horsey set back then as it is today, could still be relied for some interesting local choices, including Otter which had just started up, or Butcombe from over the county line.

Yet ironically, the beers from the local regionals were woeful.  St Austell had a great pub estate but the beers… whsssh. They were all three letter acronyms like ‘PMT’ and ‘WTF’.  These were the days when filling the brewery was more important that what came out.  I seem to recall that brands like ‘Tinner’s Ale’ and ‘Dartmoor Best’ (read: ‘Worst’) were the fruit of their loins at the time and to be avoided.  Nearby Usher’s brewery was uncreatively known as ‘Gushers’, putting the Burton ‘Snatch’ to shame with it’s sulphurous egginess, only that, unlike the Burton beers, it shouldn’t have been there.  And there was Hall & Woodhouse, less common in those parts and awfully tangled up over Tanglefoot, which was pleasant enough when kept well, but otherwise (and generally) a fine gut turner.

IMG_2588Not so today.  These boys have pulled their socks right up.  You’re as likely in Staffordshire today to find St Austell ‘Tribute’ as you are Pedigree (I’m sure the stats won’t bear me out on this, but you get the point).   It’s a fine pale ale, with a hop forward sweetness that is rewarding and potently drinkable.  I seem to recall reading that it was first brewed in celebration of the Solar Eclipse (the one the clouds spoilt) but elsewhere I’d heard that it was actually one of the old three letter acronym (‘TLA’?) beers modified, given a spine, beef upped and generally brewed consistently.  As for Hall & Woodhouse, what a transformation. I briefly worked with their brewer Toby Heasman when he was at Bass and whatever training he got there he’s put to good use.  Of all the beer joints in all the world, a Travelodge would not rate as one you would want to walk into. But there, in Blackpool, did I enjoy a minor revelation.  Faced with a draught beer selection of Stella Fatois, Budwiener and Drossingtons, eyes turned to the fridge.  Perhaps a sneaky Budvar?  Maybe a Leffe wouldn’t be too much to ask?  But lo! Two bottles of Fuller’s London Pride and some Badger ‘Fursty Ferret’ wiped the worried brow.  And, my, it was grand.  Beautifully balanced – albeit on the malty side, with a pronounced citrus aroma and bite; even my granddad would have enjoyed it, proud northerner though he was: ‘It were a graidely pint and you conner say diff’rent’. Ironic that in Lancashire, fabled land of flat caps, whippets and ferret-legging, I should find a ferret of a different kind and a southern beer should have infiltrated these stoically northern climes.


© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2014

“I’m dreaming, on a jet plane…”

In the spirit of Radio 5 Live presenters who like to make awkward and apparently unlinked segues between pieces, here’s mine. Rod Stewart: sensationally weeps after Celtic beat Barcelona in an otherwise dull football match¹, although he has now declared himself “silly” for giving in to such emotional soppiness. Which are the beers you would “Dream about on a jet plane” (or in my particular case, ‘Virgin Train’).  Here are my contenders:

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which, after naming as my “One Beer to rule them all” in a recent post, would be rather remiss of me to leave off the list.  It is naturally a beautifully brewed, versatile, flavoursome and aromatic Californian beer.  It is also the one I genuinely think most about on my Friday nights – the most hallowed of all beer occasions.

Windsor & Eton Conqueror:  in my book, not a session beer, yet the whole concept of dark beers that don’t taste roasted or charred is intriguing.  Conqueror manages this – a beguilingly dark beer, with a fromage frais coloured head and only a lightly roasted note which you pick up in the sides of your mouth. So a burly beer but one which still allows the hop leaf character to show through – too much  so in some of their other beers, but judged nicely here.

Menabrea Blonda: someone who I used to work with would choke on her cornflakes knowing I put this beer on my list.  Brewed in picturesque Biella in the Piedmont region in Italy, the beer itself is a fairly ordinary pale lager.  But it’s the associations that swing it for me – a great match for Friday night pizza, a bar in downtown Milan, the brewery nestled up a tight street in the foothills of the Alps.  Shallow I know, but I can live with it.

St Austell Tribute: something has happened down in Cornwall.  I used to live in Devon and my recollection of St Austell (company not place, although it could have described both) was ‘good pubs, dodgy beer’.  And it was all acronyms like ‘St Austell HSB’ or ‘Bodmin PMT’ that sort of thing.  Perhaps it was Sharps.  Doom Bar taking off and being bought for nigh on £20 mill must have woken up the Cornish to their terroir as there are some cracking beers emerging from west of the Tamar now.  Tribute makes the list – I can get it in my neck of the woods, and it’s a drinker, but Betty Stogs would be on it too if it was more available.

Schneider Weisse: this is the daddy of the Bavarian wheat beers for me.  Erdinger is a little too clovey, a little too texturally thin and a touch too ethanolly in taste for me. Schneider though, nails it.  In decent distribution now in the UK too, which is handy.

Jennings Cumberland Ale:  another associative beer for me – this one is the Fox and Hounds in Threlkeld, the slopes of Blencathra looming behind. Or the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale. Supping slow pints after a day getting lost on Crinkle Crags (again).

Goose Island IPA – Chicago, 1999.  I had been in the US studying for my MBA international assignment and stayed over to meet my brother who was living in the US back then.  He flew to meet me in the windy city and we had 48 hours of tourist highlights.  These included a ‘Half Rack of Ribs’ (note: a half rack, between us) taken I think from a white rhino in the Anchor Chop House. And a deep dish pizza in Pizzeria Uno. An 8” being enough stodge for 3.  But hell, the beer was the revelation.  Goose Island beers in what we thought would be our crappy ‘Hospitality Inn’ bar, but turned out to be a drinkers’ honey pot. Glasses of IPA and Honkers: untouchable.

¹Football fans please forgive me. I did not watch this match nor any other.  Ultimately, it’s lots of grown adults getting all het up about kicking a pig’s bladder.

© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles, November 2012