Wednesday, 2 September 2009
80 bob’s worth of style
What is a beer style? Ever since I made what seemed like the enjoyable but career unenhancing switch to beerwriting in the late 1990s I have vaguely followed Michael Jackson’s strictures on the family of beer (and other writers’). Now after years of talking with brewers — both home and away — and others in the business, and reading various articles and blogs, especially Ron Pattinson’s, I am not so sure. Well I am sure that there have to be guidelines but they should be put in place so that you can wander away from them but still use them as a guide. Bit like going off road I suppose, you have to learn to drive before you can rip off over a moor.
When someone says American barley wines are too hoppy so what, rather that than the syrupy o’figs of Gold Label — Greene King call their session beer IPA, does it matter that it is nearly half the strength of say White Shield? Perhaps it does, because IPA is a revered icon and not to be dethroned, or maybe style is distinct from alcohol strength, after all you wouldn’t have a 3% barley wine would you? (on the other hand BrewDog highly hop a mild in How To Disappear Completely). What about lager? Now that is a whole can of Hofmeister? Is Schehallion a decent golden ale or a real ale pilsner (now we’re getting silly)?
Williams Bros 80/- is a case in point — I have been sent some of their beers, they’re good, especially the 80/-. So it’s an 80/- ale but as the only one I know is the Cally one I am not qualified to say if this is in style or not and does it matter? I know styles are also useful for breweries trying to sell their beers to the general public but then on the other hand? Let’s have a look at it.
Dark chestnut brown in colour; espresso coloured head that slowly dissipates. On the nose chocolate, ground coffee plus a hint of resiny hop — a restrained sweetness; almost like a flavoured coffee; there’s the sternness of the coffee bean but a friendlier more fragrant note coming through as well, which I suspect is the influence of the hop. On the palate it’s creamy, mouth-filling, smooth and soothing, mocha coffee-sweetness but also an aromatic vanilla hint, that fragrance again, imagine an imperial version of this — a very luscious beer for its strength, which would be lovely with or in ice cream. I suspect the original 80/- was thinner than this, and with perhaps more roasted notes. Is it in style? I don’t know and I don’t really care.