I wrote my first article about beer in the autumn of 1996, about a new brewery in the part of Somerset to which we had moved two years before, Moor Brewing. The brewer didn’t wear a white coat, neither did John Gilbert at Hop Back, which I visited with the local CAMRA branch, or most of the SIBA guys I met at Tucker’s Maltings. I then moved onto bigger breweries: Young’s, Adnams — here the head brewer wore a white coat, a commonplace garment in the brewroom of the family brewers at the time.
Has this fashion died out? Not entirely, but I don’t see the new generation of brewers looking like lab assistants (mind you, do lab assistants look like lab assistants these days?). Is it because it’s redolent of an older, browner time or will it return in an ironic fashion in the same way as flat caps seem to be worn by some ironic hipsters? Who knows, but the main reason I mention the white coated head brewers is because this week I received a press release about the retirement of Wadworth’s Trade Quality Brewer Adrian Wood, who was definitely a man who wore a white coat (after all he had been in the business for 44 years and remembered when the head brewer was routinely addressed as Sir and the sales reps wore bowler hats). I first met him at Palmers about 2001 (where he wore a white coat, as does his predecessor to this day), when the brewery still had a vertical open cooling system, and then saw him over the years through his SIBA activities and at Wadworth.
As his leaving gift he brewed the latest of Wadworth’s Brewer’s Creations, which given Wood’s time in the trade was a 5% amber-coloured bitter, of which I received a mini-keg. And I enjoyed this ‘brown’ bitter immensely.
There are times when my tongue needs a break from blitzkrieg hops, strong melancholy stouts and even elegantly crafted Pilsners and all I crave is the kind of beer that I soaked in during the cradle of my drinking time. As long as it’s well made and eminently drinkable then I’m happy. And this one made me happy, with its big sweet grainy nose, almost redolent of rich sweet tea, while in the mouth it was a bittersweet and orange-like flurry of white notes, classically Seville orange marmalade, plus a whisk of caramel, some deeper tones of berry (blackberry perhaps?) and a pleasing bitter note coming in at the end of the palate, before its dry, bitter finish. It’s very drinkable and while you could say that there was nothing challenging about it, there is something welcoming and wilful about it. The men in the white coats can still cut it.