Fashionable beer. Hip beer. Popular? Best selling? Innovatory. Favourite beer? What is a beer? I can answer the last question but trying to pin down a meaning for the rest of them is a Sisyphean task — when I get to the top and start metaphorically punching the air, the great big boulder of disbelief and cynicism starts tumbling helter-skelter down the slope and the questions keep being asked again. And during the last few days these questions have been tumble-drying around my brain for a couple of reasons. Last week I filed a piece on craft beer for the MA, which had involved a lot of questions and replies (people wanted to talk and I had over 7000 words of quotes), this had in its turn sparked off plenty of thoughts, which can be a bit cyclic, irritating even, a bluebottle buzzing around in the bedroom on a summer’s eve, but of one thing I am sure — all this talk about craft or not craft is good for beer.
Then there was a trip to Badger, where Pete Brown and I were shown around their new brewery and discussed beer with head brewer Toby Heasden, who was obviously proud of the new kit that started working last year but he was also very pleased with the 120-litre brew-kit that he was going to use to make some experimental runs when it was linked up. We also tasted an imperial porter that was slumbering like Smaug in the depths of a stainless steel conditioning tank. It was fruity, juicy, roasty and dry, with a finish that lingered and lasted in the mouth like an echo in a cave; there’s a lot of Galaxy hop in the boil and it’s going to be 7.5%. It’s part of a series that last year featured Wandering Woodwose — an old ale, dark chestnut in colour, with sticky banana and berries on the nose and a palate that was at once smooth, rigorous, spirituous and liquorice-like.
Head brewer Toby Heasman is also good company, a brewer who did a stint in the US, was then at the heart of Bass and now has his own brewery to play with. Like all family brewers he is passionate about brewing and can do it rather well as the imperial porter I tasted suggested. Sometimes, as I suggested in my last post about the men in the white coats, it’s easy to forget just how good some of these brewers are when they are given the freedom to let loose.
Badger is one of those breweries that are very successful but rarely feature on the radars of beer geeks. And why should they? They produce commercial beers, a fair amount of them being for the off-trade (there’s a 80-20 split between off and on, a figure that surprised me no end). English hops are mainly used, which was not a crime last time I looked, and I do enjoy their First Gold bitter — it’s a beer beer with the spring’s first flowering of magnolia on the nose; a restrained bitterness that remains appetising, mid-palate sweetness and a dry and I’ll-have-another-swig in the finish. Meanwhile their range of fruit-flavoured beers is not to everyone’s tastes and I will be honest they’re not my game either, but a brewery is also a business and if sales of the fruity-flavoured beers help to pay for imperial stouts then I’m happy.
So will Badger’s imperial porter be a fashionable beer? Hip? Popular? Best selling? Innovatory? Or just a favourite beer? My money’s on the latter.