Tag Archives: Worthington’s White Shield

Lost Blogs #3: Alehouse Rocks

Beer Tinted Spectacles was originally posted to Posterous, which closed suddenly and made life irritating for a while. Some of the blogs were lost, recently found and are republished here.

Events can sometimes seem like ribbons of consciousness that weave and wend their way through time, like the pennants of rhythmic gymnasts as they lithely dance across a mat. The ribbons tend to diverge, in the quest for new ideas and the latest thing, or less occasionally, converge, and ideas that once were dominant have their time again. So it has been in the Tinted House of late: a number of related themes coming together in a series of fortunate co-incidences.

It started with Pete Brown, unaware though he will be. I first met Pete before he became a writer (or at least, before he published his first book). He was the advertising planner at an agency we had chosen to be in a pitch for a beer launch we were doing. A thoroughly down to earth bloke (Barnsley, like), both he and the whole agency did a great job and only lost the work on the toss to another agency. We next met again over a curry¹ when he was researching for his book ‘Hops & Glory’, as a colleague of mine had responsibility for the White Shield Brewery, along with the acclaimed brewer, Steve Wellington, who were going to be brewing his circumnavigational ale. Anyway, this passage was not supposed to be glorified name-dropping but rather an introduction to the fact that I have just read his latest work, ‘Shakespeare’s Local’. And in it was one of these ribbons of convergence.

Next, introducing James, now an Operations Manager at a large brewing business, who I’ve known for a decade or so. James has a talent that he is loathe to admit – a very curious & observant person… he works in the pub trade, but he doesn’t just go out and ‘do his job’. He questions things; he investigates; he makes links; he asks why. That’ll be the top class training he received from yours truly, then, **cough, cough**. James spotted the rise of Pale Ales and IPAs three, four, maybe five years before they exploded. And this isn’t just as simple as spotting that ‘craft brewers seem to be doing OK’ – it was more specific. This was about Pale Ales. The logic was simple – lagered beer, he reasoned, has been tarred by the same brush; there’s a generational effect of people wanting something different to the previous ‘generation’ (well, from people a few years’ older than them) and the simple fact that functionally, many pale ales offer taste, refreshment and sessionability. To James it was a bit of a ‘no-brainer’ – and he was right.

So when James makes an observation, normally gently put, I listen… “Have you been to The Cock, in Hackney?” was the question. And no, I hadn’t, indeed haven’t, yet. James told me about it: it’s an alehouse. Not an inn; not a gastro pub; not a chain or managed pub; an alehouse – somewhere that primarily concentrates on, and sells, ale (and drink) and isn’t distracted by the haughty charms. Like the Rake in Borough, or The Cooper’s in Burton , or the Yew Tree at Cauldon Low. And here was the point of convergence then: Pete’s book, and the alehouse. The George, that he was writing about, was definitely an Inn. Of course, it sold beer, sack (sherry) and wine…even coffee before Costa Coffee Express franchises were invented, but more than that, it housed lodgings for travellers, hop merchants, assorted hawkers and traders. In Coalition Government parlance, it was its very own Industrial Enterprise Zone. It had respectability; definitely an Inn. Alehouses were something else – retailing intoxication and therefore definitely something that you wouldn’t want to be seen in (hence the ‘Snug’, with its high frosted glass or wood partitions, to shield inquisitive eyes from your supping habits). Funny that, over time, the pressure has been unrelentingly against them – either because of the comparison with ‘gin houses’ or simply because, at different times, different Governments wanted to cut down on excessive drinking. And funny that, only now perhaps, is the trend working its way back towards them.

But to me it makes sense. When British brewers are buying coffee shop estates; when major pub retailers declare themselves, ‘Agnostic to drink because we’re restaurants’, you know that at some point, something has to change. For ‘tis written: ‘For every trend, there’s a counter trend’. For every pub, masquerading as a gastro pub but buying its vacuum sealed food parcels from Brakes’ Brothers, for every lamentable style bar or ill conceived sports bar², showing Sky Sports, there’s a pressure to resist. Sure, our homes today have comforts that our forebears couldn’t have even dreamt of – warmth, water, cold food storage, on tap entertainment (that’s TVs with quadraphonic sound, not kids singing ‘Glee’ songs into fake microphones) – sure. You’ve even got food retailers like M&S doing ‘Gastro Pub’ meals to peel the lids off and stick in the oven at home. But it’s not same.

No, the time of the alehouse is overdue. The informal, friendly bar, where you can enjoy interesting ales; where you can sit in comfort and put the world to rights; where you can hatch plots for global domination or just slag off your boss; where you don’t have to worry about whether you are going to have starters, or worse, whether any part of the wretched place is set aside for people not eating. No, the circle is coming around, and for the enlightened, behind the ‘pub closure’ and ‘Binge Britain’ nonsense headlines, it will be an exciting times for Britain’s pubs and a more exciting time for British drinkers. You heard it here first.

¹The Manzil, Burton on Trent, 01283 _________. Nice new premises, opposite the National Brewery Centre, and unlike the old place, it doesn’t have concrete cancer (or a wrecking ball coming through the wall).

² Why is it that in the US, showing sport is just accepted? It almost doesn’t matter what sort of bar it is, there will be TVs on the back bar, they will be showing ‘Monday Night Football’ and everyone just gets on with it. Here we seem to try so hard and get is so wrong.

© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2013

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Pickle

It seems to be an Immutable Law that beer has an inferiority complex about its relationship with food. Inferior, of course, to wine.

In the late ‘80s, Michael Jackson used wine as a comparator to help people understand the breadth of beer styles around the world – a clever trick as comparison and copying is how we make sense of the world right from our formative years.  So it was remarkably successful but with unintended consequences. The main one is that the same comparison – a comparison with wine – is a tough one.  Wine & food has decades of normalisation, decades of unchallenged drinker acceptance, and decades of reinforcement by media, restaurateurs and word of mouth.

I protest too much. Beer need not worry: the breadth of beer styles, the flavour variations that come from the grist, the hops, the fermentation, maturation, the carbonation, and the interplay between these, mean beer should be confident. There are as many breathtaking food partnerships for it as for wine. Let’s rejoice and move on.

Breathtaking partnerships brings me back to the subject of ‘kickers’¹. The magic in a chat over a pint arises from that combination of slowly-slowly inebriation (that only a high volume, low alcohol product can deliver); the beer itself: its tastiness, its presentation; and the kickers – the chaperones of the beer experience.  We have a couple of great pubs near me; one is a local CAMRA award winner, but another does amazing kickers – in fact, in our socially responsible times, they don’t run a ‘Happy Hour’ with discounted booze but offer free kickers instead, a nice range, nicely presented, simply put out on the bar.  Hands down winner.

To my mind, if the kickers are great there’s no need for a meal. I’m going to eat them anyway, and if they’re good quality, why hold back? So recently I’ve been pushing the boundaries to discover new combinations. And pickles are the latest discovery:  pickles as in chutney, and pickles as in whole pickled veggies as an American might say.  Not just pickled veg neither –  pickled fruit too; even a – whisper it –  pickled egg perhaps?  (There’s a kicker in need of a rebrand if ever I saw one).  Look out for them, pickles are the accompaniment of choice in food telly land at the moment, so presumably in the real world too. Barnsley Chop with Pea Mash and Pickled Beats. Pork Belly with Pickled Baby Veg and Crushed Jersey Royals.

But pickles deserve to be more than mere accompaniments and with beer they make surprisingly great kickers.  In our Summer Retreat in Mallorca, the Tinted Family enjoyed a glass or three of pale beer that were served with gherkins (Cornichons?  What’s the difference?) and pickled roasted tomatoes.  The latter were a jaw dropping combination: tomatoes, despite their ubiquity can be tricky buggers to pair with, but this was a riveting success, with smokiness, tartness and sweetness rolled into one. It was an ironic shame that the beer was quaffable but bland.

It has sparked pickling madness: Kilner Jars are being acquired on ebay. Unusual ingredients are being snuck into the shopping basket. Questions are being asked about why we need industrial quantities of white wine vinegar.  But the real revelation is that you can pickle with beer (forgive me if I am slow to the party!).  I have some refrigerator pickles maturing now that feature a malty glug of aged White Shield. And this weekend saw a chutney being concocted featuring another White Shield Brewing Company beer – ‘E’.  Fresh from the pot, it was spicy and sharp but with a rich, chestnutty smoothness that comes from the beer, whilst the spices still ring through.  The rest is now sitting in the cellar, maturing nicely with any luck. Next weekend features refrigerator pickles, ideal to be eaten straight with a glass of pale ale, or porter perhaps. If I sound surprised by all this, I suppose I shouldn’t; surely it’s natural that a fermented product should sit well with another?IMG_0476

So when you have a small dish of smoked pickles to accompany your pint next time, remember. You heard it here first.

© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2013

Worthington ‘E’ chutney with roast tomatoes, red onion, raisins and squash.  It may not be a looker, but by heck, it’s a taster.

 

¹ See ‘In Search of the Perfect Kicker’ (http://www.beertintedspectacles.com/?p=112)

Extra mature.

There was a case of it dustily resting behind a shabby curtain in a rented house. Not an old suitcase but a proper case of old beer; thick, corrugated card on the inside with dividers between the bottles and brightly decorated, old-school style decoration on the outside. On opening, red and silver crowns looked up at us like baby birds expectantly waiting for the next worm from their mother.  This was a beer I hadn’t heard of at the time and was long out of date: Worthington’s White Shield.  It was the early ‘90s, but the beer had gone out of date in the late ‘80s.  Back then, my brother worked in beer distribution and when they closed an old warehouse in Wolverhampton or Grimsby or some such place, a few pallets of mysterious, out of date products had been found – in the days before SAP operating systems this sort of thing could actually happen.  It seems that they were products returned by customers because they had damaged labels, but as far as my brother could see, only one bottle in the 24 had a scuff.  So he happily handed over a couple of blue notes and carefully sat two cases of the beer in his boot.  From there, the last leg to his ‘cellar’ behind the dusty curtain could be transacted.

IMG_2287

Not quite the label on the mystery bottles, but not far off.

My brother you see, was in the know.  Not only did he know about White Shield at the time, a beer often referred to in hushed reverential tones, but he also knew that on big beers, proper beers, a sell by date was misinformation.  That’s why he had tiny nips of Thomas Hardy’s Ale uncomfortably lying at funny angles in his wine rack – decorated with thick gold foil and wire and string wraps over their crowns.

White Shield has travelled, in many senses of the word.  Born out of one of the Worthington brewery’s original India Pale Ales, it fell out of favour after Bass and Worthington merged in the 1920s as gradually focus fell onto the red triangle.  But for years, decades in fact, the beers were kept separate, Bass becoming predominantly a draught beer (red triangle on draught, blue in bottles) whilst Worthington’s India Pale Ale got renamed ‘White Shield’ and stayed in bottles. It also retained its secondary bottle conditioning – the art of adding a small glug of yeast before sealing the bottle. This seemingly inconsequential but tricky act is the key to bottle aging.  White Shield was also travelled during its many unloved years, being brewed by King & Barnes and Shepherd Neame if I recall correctly. Today it is brewed back in Burton at the National Brewery Centre and bottled by Fuller’s (who have the kit to add yeast for bottle conditioning).

Sadly I don’t remember the taste of the bottles found behind the curtain. I do know that they were 7 years past their drink by date, that the colour had a canal murkiness but the beer got drunk.  And it did leave a mark, as to this day, I age White Shield…and just last week I broached a case of 2007 ‘vintage’.  White Shield tasting notes normally conjure up cake. Not Victoria Sponge with cream and strawberry jam but deep, dark fruit cake, all raisiney & packed full of currants, glace cherries and shavings of almonds.  I always consider it a malt led beer with just an edge of oranges or citrus fruits. When young, it also has a distinct sharp, metallic character, is a bright red brown and tastes strongly alcoholic despite its modest strength (5.6% ABV). So it’s a cracker, no doubt.

Yet it’s a cracker that gets better with age.  The beer I drank last week would have been brewed in January 2005, its use by was July 2007, so that means it had over 5 years of additional bottle aging, 6½ in all.  And it drank much softer, with just a slight vinous character like Madeira or sherry. Its colour had darkened substantially, conker-brown now like Tudor furniture. Hop character was virtually non-existent but the malt complexity was as pronounced as ever – with none of the harsh metallic edges. Still a cracker, but a cracker of a different kind.  We’ll see how it stands up to another few years.  The only rub is the yeast, or lack of it. When my brother and I drank the beer from behind the curtain it had a centimetre of yeast at the bottom.  You had to pour with a steady hand which given the murkiness, we failed to do well enough.  But the 2007 vintage has a mere dusting across the bottom of the bottle – less yeast, less secondary fermentation, less potential to develop character.

IMG_2262Proof of the fruit pudding is in the drinking

Saying all that, a famous beer brand stoutly advertised for many years that ‘Good things come to those who wait’. Right message. Wrong brand.

© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles, October 2012

Great Beertish Menu: Ainsworth is Outlawed

This week’s final heat on the Great Beertish Menu featured chefs from the South West. I love the South West. I went to University there and now have family in the region – but it’s the incredible variety in the landscape that’s in my soul.  From the windswept moors and their bewitching rock tors that hover, almost suspended in mid air on misty mornings, to the deep, riven valleys, cutting narrowly and steeply into the sea, and the surprises too… like the parallel valleys and ridges of east Devon that rise and fall as if the ripples of the sea have set on land. And undoubtedly my positively coloured view impacted how I viewed this week’s Great British Menu.  “All the chefs seem much more chilled, and they are all being pleasant to one another. It must be living in the South West that does it.  I bet they all go surfing after work”, I was telling myself…. although none of the chefs had much of a West Country burr in their accents though so it was definitely a case of beer tinted specs on this job.

Of the three cheffy protagonists, two had competed before. One, Paul Ainsworth, got his pud through to the final last year and this year yet again delivered incredible, thoughtful and creative presentation…plus clearly, flavour too.  Yet gratifyingly, Nathan Outlaw ultimately won it, for his beguilingly simple dishes; so simple, they disguised the innate technical complexity and subtle combinations of flavour. And I say gratifyingly because at his restaurant in Rock, Outlaw has been working with Stuart Howe of Sharp’s Brewery on innovating with food and beer.  It seems fitting therefore to pair his winning menu with some beers.

Starter: Hogs pudding with seaweed, potato terrine and mushroom ketchup.   I remember Hogs pudding from when I lived in the south west,  At Uni, they used to serve it every Friday breakfast.  Consequently, I didn’t have it there that often as I rarely made it up at such a ridiculous time (9am), but when I did, I always had it.  I think it was made by Ivor Doble in town and had this subtle yet peppery taste plus a smooth, deeply milled texture.  For me, this needs a beer with nuances – ideally from a bit of aging.  I’m going to kick off this menu with a good bottle of Worthington’s White Shield, buy it from Morrisons and get it close to sell by if you can, then ideally leave it at least another 6 months.  Described as having a ‘chestnut sparkle’ whatever the hell that is, this is beer that gets sophisticated with age.  It does have a lovely conker colour right enough, but I feel could handle a little bit more yeast dosage to give it the greater ‘sparkle’ it used to have.

Fish Course: mackerel again, this time with horseradish and oyster sauce.  This dish split the judges but was presented fabulously, despite an accusation of being ‘beige’.  The humble mackerel seems to be quite de rigeur at the moment, and it has now featured on a number of winning menus. And when combined with horseradish needs a beer with a willingness to fight and stand up for itself. There’s a lot of flavour going on here but I think a beer that can handle it will be Veltins. I think of these west German lagers as like chablis – steely and precise – and good with fish of all denominations.

Main: duck, barbequed monkfish, rosemary, samphire and aspargus.  My friend Paul describes dishes like this as ‘Surf and Turd’ after he had a run of bad experiences in Texas when he was working out there.  But I get this one; monkfish has that bovine-like compact texture and structure, yet a delicate flavour; the ‘barbeque’ sauce wasn’t what we perceive it to be but a much more herb-laden marinade that brought the two cuts together.   And for me, a bottle of Sol or Corona for BBQ just won’t cut it. You need some body here, and whilst I am loathe to recommend a beer that is so hard to get hold of in the UK, I think Orval would be a cracker – again, give a bit of age on this beer as it can change remarkably with time.  Orval is a Trappist beer that flys like a butterfly and stings like a bee; it has the suppleness to complement this meal, yet a left hook that lets you know that there is another boxer in the ring.

Pud: elderflower and lemon tart, strawberry sorbet and meringue. This dish didn’t go down that well, so don’t expect it to be gracing the innards of any Olympians soon, however, it was very pretty and nicely executed. And Vedett Extra White would be a lovely accompaniment to this dish – Vedett’s wit beer is fairly new and unlike some other Belgian beers of this style doesn’t have an overpowering cloviness.  It’s more finessed yet still has sufficient bitter zing to show off elderflower and stand up to flavours like strawberry.

Onwards and upwards: next week the grand finale – let’s see if a great British beer can win gold on the final menu, or whether the final medal table will be dominated with New World boldness.

© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles 2012