Assorted Darks

Three New Yorkers and one each from England, Quebec and Ontario
 

Here are six dark ales which I have stuck away over the last while to describe some of the differences. This is a special message to Nils who I think can start his hunt for a beer he likes with some of these.

If you were buying beer in 1880, these might appear ranked on a brewer’s list they are degrees of the same thing. On the light side in the latter part of the 19th century, pale ales ranges from light (dinner ales) through bitter/pale ale, extra special bitters, India pale ales to barley wine. Similarly we have the dark range from mild, dark, porter, stout (porter), extra stout, Russian/Baltic/Imperial stout. Gradations were marked by combinations of capital letters the most well known of which would be of the “XXX” label which would be a fairly strong pale. On top of that, just as browns are not all the same, neither are stouts. There are dry dry stouts like draft Guinness, extra stouts like Guinness in the bottle, strong stouts like Trinidad’s 7% Lion Extra Stout, milk stouts like Lancaster Brewing produces and Sweet Stouts which can be a light and 2.9%. Oatmeal stout, like these, is a sub-class all its own.

McAuslan’s St-Ambrose Oatmeal Stout: second from the left. When I see adds that make fun of American beer I think – what Canadian beer do I actually drink? This is it. From Montreal, St. Ambrose from McAuslan is on tap here in town at the Queen’s Grad House and at the Kingston Brew Pub, this stout had big body and the velvet touch. Tied with the products of Unibroue, also from Quebec, I cannot think of a finer Canuck brew. Licorice, coffee and chocolate in a sip that approaches thick and textured like espresso. McAuslan says:

At the World Beer Championship in 1994, St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout received the second highest rating of the over 200 beers in the competition and won one of only nine platinum medals awarded. Brewed from 40 percent dark malts and roasted barley, this intensely black ale carries strong hints of espresso and chocolate. Oatmeal contributes body and a long-lasting mocha-colored head to this well-hopped beer.

Paddock Wood reminds us that rolled oats are added pre-gelatinized directly to mash. It “improves head retention, body, adds grainy flavour” all of which is on display with the McAuslan – very highly rated here, too.

Wagner Valley Caywood Station Oatmeal Stout: far left. This beer from Lodi New York in the Finger Lake district makes for a great comparator with the St-Ambrose as it also an oatmeal stout – which is really not a very popular style. The brewery says of the beer:

This robust, full-bodied oatmeal stout is rich in highly roasted malt flavor, rounded off by a touch of oats, caramel malt and Fuggles and Willamette hops… This robust, full-bodied oatmeal stout is rich in highly roasted malt flavor, rounded off by a touch of oats, caramel malt and Fuggles and Willamette hops.

Comments here include “like a mouthful of dirty pennies” and “silky smooth and sumptuous”. This stout is a little less carbonated than the St-Ambrose, which is good. Carbonation, along with acidic water, is a way of creating mouthfeel without spending money on hops or grain. If I have a complaint with the St-Ambrose, it is the carbonation level in the bottle that is not present in the draft. Wagner Valley does not have that. Not as death by mocha chocolate rich, it is nonetheless a fine example of the style.

Fuller’s London Porter: third from the left. A full pint sets you back $3.20 at the LCBO but it is worth it as there are few real porters going around and this one is one. Porter brewing was the vanguard of early industrial standardized production capturing much of the English speaking world’s beery imagination from around 1720 to about 1840. Just one London brewer in 1820 produced 300,000 barrels – nine million US gallons in a city of around 2 million. In 1814 one single vat of porter burst flooding local streets and drowning eight people.So when you drink porter, you are drinking history. As stated above, stout was originally stout porter and side by side it is clear. Where stouts rely on the darkest malts, the burnt flavors of black malt and roast barley, porters use chocolate malts and brown malts to provide a similarly big but more mellow flavour. As a result, hopping is also lighter than, say, Guinness Extra Stout which is one of the most highly hopped common traditional beers there is. It is still a mouthful, however, as Fuller’s example shows. Coffee with a hint of licorice, unsweetened cocoa, pumpernickel. Fullers says:

Fuller’s London Porter is a superb, award-winning beer. We’re proud to have won gold and silver medals at the 1999, 2000 and 2002 International Beer & Cider Competitions. The origins of Porter date back to London in the early nineteenth century, when it was popular to mix two or three beers, usually an old, well-vatted or ‘stale’ brown ale, with a new brown ale and a pale ale. It was time consuming for the publican to pull from three casks for one pint, and so brewers in London tested and produced a new beer, known as ‘entire’, to match the tastes of such mixtures. Using high roasted malts, ‘entire’ was dark, cloudy and hoppy. It was also easily produced in bulk and ideally suited to the soft well-water of London. Very quickly, it became popular amongst the porters working in Billingsgate and Smithfield markets, and gradually, the beer took on the name ‘Porter’, in recognition of its main consumers. Fuller’s London Porter captures the flavours of those brews perfectly, although you won’t find a cloudy pint these days! Smooth, rich, and strong (5.4% a.b.v.), our London Porter is brewed from a blend of brown, crystal and chocolate malts for a creamy delivery balanced by traditional Fuggles hops.

These guys like it – here is a good comment:

The mouth feel at the end is water which leads to a high drink ability, smooth and almost creamy. They way that all the flavors blend smoothly and subtly together in this beer is what makes it great. One that will fool people who don’t know that dark beer doesn’t necessarily mean strong and bold flavors. This is what I would call a perfect intro to porters.

I used to brew a pumpkin porter that needed a few pounds of roasted mashed pulp to show up in the flavour profile rather than just add body – bodacious it were, by the way. If you want to try a dark beer and like a good black coffee, you can’t go wrong with Fuller’s London Porter. A standard in the fridge around my place.

Southern Tier Mild: second from the right. Well I never expected this. A pale mild. So it is definitely the far end of the scale of darks. Why so? Because it is soft, it is lightly hopped and it is built for a session. Other pale milds I can think of are Manchester’s Boddingtons and Newfoundland’s Black Arse Horse. All look like a pale ale but are so recessed in flavour you would think you were drinking a light ale. Then you notice it taste good. Then you realize that your beer is not largely made up of Irish Moss and other seaweeds. Then you think mild is interesting after all. Maybe there’s a hint of orange peel and a little honey and a little sugar cookie – but only a little of each.The brewer, Southern Tier (of the very lower corner of western New York) says it is a beer that “deserves to be imbibed often”. As it had a little sweet, a little hop, a little grain, low carbonization and a soft water background that is a pretty good recommendation. These guys talk about its biscuit malt, doughy, bready. A small beer but that is what it wants to be.

Waterloo Dark Ale: far right. This is a beer I have liked but, like most Canadian micro-brews, is lighter in taste than the US brewers would make. How odd given our mass produced stuff holds itself out as being stronger than our southern cousins. Brewed by the Brick Brewing Company of Waterloo Ontario, who says:

A dark beer can be a very scary thought to some people. Surprise, surprise. There’s no other beer quite like Waterloo Dark, refreshingly light and delicate in taste but rich in colour. Don’t be afraid of the dark. surprise yourself.

Hmm. Not very hope instilling. Well, it is a dark…but a dark lager. I would have thought it was a dark ale, a little brewed style that is way less than a porter but bigger than a brown. No hop imprint like a US brown would have. A little molassas and a little brown sugar and a little lighter mahogony in hue than a cola: “After seeing this dark colour, I expected quite a bold, rich taste…” was a particlarly prophetic comment. Beer advocate gives it a 74% thumbs down. Yikes. They also categorize it as a Munich Dunkle lager, not something I would say I have had a large acquaintance with. I think that is actually pushing it. As I think this is really a pale ale with some caramel and maybe some other malts added. Watery end with a sour tang left in your mouth. I can leave it with this wag’s comment:

I’ve come to the conclusion that from my experience their beers seem to be very lacking in flavour and body. I do however love the stubbies though.

I do like stubbies, too, but from now on I will stick to Brick’s original Red Cap revival in the little tubby bottles.

Southern Tier Porter: The last of the set. It has sat for weeks in the back of the fridge, the ur-porter incarnate…or at least the ur-porter of the back of my fridge. Smelly of coffee and licorice. Tastey of coffee and blackberry and cocoa and tobacco. Easy-peasy good beer. Big and fresh. We like that on the committee. I did tell you there is a committee behind me, right. Anyway, the advocatonians say this, including the following:

After a hard pour, beer produces little to no head, and is not quite as dark brown/ruby as is to be expected by the style. Too much light gets through this one. Sweet roasted malt and chocolate are the predominant odors. More reminiscent of a milk stout than porter. Smokey in character, with a definitely sweet malt presence on the tongue. Not as complex and chewy as I like my porters, but thoroughly drinkable.

I have had smoked porter and smoked herring and smoked cheese so I am a wee bit surprised by the call that this is a smokey beer. A wee bit less than smokey but the faintest hint might be there. I do not know why a call can be made that something is more milk porter yet also smokey but go figure. The brewery talks about “overtones of chocolate ans espresso beans” – a bit blabalonian for me. It is bigish and yupping. Eat steak, drink this, live long.

Five…Seven…err…Eight English Pales Ales

Unlike my recent exposé on Belgian whites, this collection took at seven minute trip to the local LCBO and cost between $2.75 and $3.00 CND per 500 ml bottle. The seasonal selection of beers they bring in is quite good and you can find some nice choices in a single style to compare. These are all English pale ales of a strength that might qualify them as extra special bitters (ESB) rather than the weaker ordinary bitter (3-4% roughly) or the higher test India Pale Ales (7% and over). As I crack them open, I will add to these reviews.  The beers should reflect four things – quality grains, pure water, intellegent yeast selection and a balancing bite of top notch hops. Beyond that there are some characteristics that go to the brewer’s technique.

Later: Further research funds have been located and two more examples acquired from the LCBO, Black Sheep and Old Speckled Hen. I know Ale Fan is a fan of the latter, it being from his home town but it would be interesting to get some thoughts on the Black Sheep and other the other pale ales.

Later Still: …and how could I leave out Fuller’s London Pride?

Here are my comments:

Hopback Summer Lightning – The first beer in the group I have tried is Summer Lightning by the Hopback Brewery of Downton, Salisbury, England. At 5% it is not a huge beer by Canadian standards – where 5% is our norm. It is, however, as lovely as your average Molson’s or Labatt’s product is not. A hopback is a vessel used in the brewing process before kegging which is basically a bucket of hop blossoms which the beer is allowed to wash over. I would have though with this name, the beer would be a massively bitter ale. It is not. The first thing you smell is the grain – “best Barley malt” says the label. I am used as a lapsed homebrewer to actually knowing the strain of barley malt being used. Have a look at the grain selection at Paddock Wood, Canada’s great Prairie homebrew supply shop. I would like to think that the lads at Hopback would like to tell me if this is Maris Otter pale malt or not. The Summer Lightning label, however, tells me more about Zeus for some reason. Nice enough but still somewhat lame branding. And completely unrequired as the CAMRA and other brewing awards on the label proves. A lovely rich ale which would serve anyone well as an introduction to the style.

Marston Pedigree. Such a interesting beer but as this graph tells, it is a different world since Maggie held the reigns. “Brewed in wood” the cap says but there is little to recommend this ale in light of the other options. Stale? Over manufactured? Bland? It may be brewed in the wood but there is so little of the wood left in the ale that there may as well be a line on the label that says “a tad of caramel added”. There should be more than a slight astrigent tang and some caramel to justify the claim to wood brewing. Am I too harsh?

Later: I think I have been too harsh and wonder whether a wood brewed and aged ale is too different an animal to compare.

Wychwood Brewery Fiddler’s Elbow. Hoppy hoppy hoppy but not Burtonized water – below the hops it is fairly soft. It says on the lable that it is a blend of barley and wheat malt hopped with Styrians. I don’t know what “hopped with Styrians” means to non-beer-nerds but it is a variant of Fuggles, an early UK hop, which is grown in the Czech Republic. Tangy and with the lack of acidified water fairly green and organic. If you think that Smithwicks is a classic pale ale, you will find this like drinking ice tea that the 20 bags per litre have been left in overnight. Great on a hot day.

Old Speckled Hen. If Wychwood is a hop fest, OSH is an elegant expression of the same theme. The malt is biscuity, like in some champaign. Then the sweet of the crystal malt and the sweet of the alcohol add up to a butter toffee thing. The hops are pronounced and green on top with a rough bitter edge as well leaving a sour grapefruit tang. The water is not as soft as the Wychwood and there is a faint smokey thing in there, like Islay malt whisky over apple fruit yeast. This is a fine ale with many levels. It must be amazing on tap at Bury St. Edmunds where it is brewed by Greene King. If in Ontario, splurg on the bottle rather than the can. If you can only get the can get the can.

Black Sheep Ale. This is fairly austere, not unlike a richer version of a Canadian pale ale, perhaps what Molson Stock Ale or Moosehead pale ale red lable might have tasted like 50 years ago. Drier with rougher hops than the Old Speckled Hen. The bitterness has no green to it and it is more grainy than malty – pale malts with maybe a little rolled barley or rolled wheat even. Black Sheep is a yorkshire pale ale so wheat would not be unexpected. Very well balanced and if you are looking for something to start into the English ales from Canada and wanting to avoid the brown crayon water called Smithwicks or whatever, this is a good one to try.

St. Peter’s Summer Ale: The first thing that strikes you, after you have opened the distinctive flask like bottle, is the big body. It is a surprisingly big as Black Sheep was lighter than expected. The hops are very herby – not just grassy green but heavy like basil can be. Every beer I have had from St. Peter’s is a revelation and I think this one is the use of liquorice. I had an ale a few years ago called Hop and Glory which had liquorice in it. It creates body and enriches the hop complexity. Both Al Korzonas in Homebrewing, Volume One and Dave Line in The Big Book of Brewing treat it as a background ingredient in big beers like stouts or dubbles. In this case, with a lighter style, it creates a sort of salad in a glass effect through wise hop selection. It might make a great chaser for Pernod or even a poaching liquid for salmon.

Fuller’s London Pride. Balance between hop and malt, sweet and dry, real body and refreshment. Fuller’s flagship brand. David Line wrote in his 1978 book Brewing Beers Like Those you Buy

If I had to select just one beer to drink the rest of my days it would have to be “London Pride”; a classic example of a true English Bitter Beer.

Twenty years later, Roger Protz in Brew Your Own British Real Ale wrote:

An astonishingly complex beer for its gravity, fine for drinking on its own or with full flavoured food. A multi-layered delight of malt and hops and a deep instense finish with hop and ripening fruit notes.

Gravity is the measure of a brew’s potential for alcohol. In the bottle, it comes in at 4.7%. What else to say? The placement of the edge of bitter mimics a much higher alcohol ale while the malt display a real fruitiness that is amazing when you know it somes from the manipulation of a grain. I am fairly confident in saying it is Maris Otter pale ale that gives the apple and caramel background. Worthy without a doubt.

Hook Norton Haymaker. Haymaker is a great name for a pale ale. We think of it in North America as a euphamism for a knock-out punch but it was also a trade, a person who made hay. This ale is evocative – only sold in summer, full of fruit and hop, a reminder that beer, like wine, is a means to store the harvest. At 5.0%, for the UK market it would also be seen to pack a bit of a punch. The brewery’s web site states it is only available in July and August. The aroma and first flush in the mouth is rich and floral but not cloying, with a hint in the background graininess that reminds me of Moosehead products like their Ten Penny or Red Label Pale Ale as they were brewed in the 80s, with a bit of the smell of an attic in an old house, slightly stale old wood. Somewhere in there is sweet old stored winter apple as well. Again, it puts me in the hayloft of an old barn when the cicadas buzz late on a hot August Saturday afternoon. I think of all the pale ales I have reviewed this is my favorite, an excellently balanced celebration of good pale malt.

For now I will leave this post at the eight reviewed above. If anything, this is confirmation for me of the excellence of the LCBO and its ability to place great product on the shelves. Perhaps this is only my years on the barrens of PEI speaking – which to be fair drove me to homebrew well, examine my love of beer closely and form a library of now pushing 40 books on the subject. Last night after soccer in Belleville, I drove back with a few beer lovers who were amazed to know there was much to know about beer other than how to find the opener. Halfway through life, I can say that I look forward to knowing more.

Book Review: Beer -The Story of the Pint by Martyn Cornell

Last July, I wrote a review of Pete Brown’s book Man Walks into a Pub. Over 7 weeks later, A reply was posted by Martyn Cornell:

I had better declare a massive interest before I begin, since I’m the author of Beer: The Story of the Pint, which came out two months after Pete Brown’s book. I’ve met Pete, he’s a nice guy, and his book contains, in its second half, an excellent analysis of where the brewing industry in Britain is today. It’s a pity the first half does not seem to have had as much research put into it, as it repeats all the old myths about the history of beer my own book attempts to correct – myths which add up to rather more than “a few” factual errors. I wouldn’t ask you to take my word for it – read both books, and let me know what you think.

Before I knew it I shelled out 18.92 Euros through amazon.co.uk and a few weeks ago the book arrived. Paying the $2.20 or so for GST [and the most cursed $5.00 more for the Canada Post GST collection charge – a money grab worthy of Aliant] I ran right home and started into the read.

Now, I have over 30 books about beer. Some are style guides about the history of and how to make, say, Stout or German Wheat Ale. Others are technical works like the ever popular The Biotechnology of Malting and Brewing by J.S Hough (1985, Cambridge)while others are layperson homebrewing guides like the classic 1970’s The Big Book of Brewing by David Line (12th ed, 1985, Amateur Winemaker). Some, like Beer: The Story of the Pint are histories of the phenomena of beer drinking and the brewing industry. I have three or four of these now which focus on the history of the English industry:

Beer and Britannia: An Inebriated History of Britain by Peter Haydon (2001, Sutton)
Beer: The Story of the Pint by Martyn Cornell (2003, Headline)
Man Walks into a Pub by Pete Brown (2003, MacMillan) and
The English Pub by Michael Jackson (1976, Harper & Row).

The latter text is the ish-ish one as it is largely a photo essay on the elements of the pub but it contains as much historical information as any so I include it here. So where does the most recent text fall in?

Let’s just say from the outset that I am biased myself as I will buy any book about beer and find something useful in it. In that sense I am speaking as a a collector more than as a book reviewer. Further, I was particularly pleased to be contacted by the author and even more pleased by a continuing email correspondence we have shared. At one point in my reading, I wrote to say that I was somewhat frustrated by the lack of footnoting, to which Mr Cornell replied:

Mmmmm – trouble is, the general feeling in the publishing world is that footnotes equal elitist-looking equals lost sales, except if they’re jokey asides as per Pete Brown’s book. This may be wrong, but it’s what publishers think. The aim of Beer: TSOTP was to try to appeal both to people, like yourself, who already knew a lot about beer and brewing, and also to people looking for a Christmas present for Uncle Ernie (since by getting them to buy the book, I and the publisher make more money …), hence no footnotes so as not to put off the Uncle Ernie crowd. However, to make up for this a little, I tried to make the bibliography as complete as possible, and also chapter-specific, to help people track references down.

Cheers, Martyn Cornell

He is, of course, right…and even knows I have an Uncle Ernie, who lives in the Scottish Borders (blessedly near Traquair House) and who would, indeed, like these books for Christmas. The bibliography provided by Mr. Cornell is extensive, running 14 pages, and wil add muchly to my hunt for more books to buy.

That all being said, it was the first half of the book I enjoyed the most – the history of brewing to very roughly 1850. The latter part I found became a recitation of corporate mergers in the English brewing industry. In the first part a compelling argument concerning the history of porter is set out, the meaning of the XX and KK system described and the pre-1500 story set out more clearly and supported by more extensive research than in any other book I have read. He is, however and for example, lighter on the place of mild from 1850 to 1950 than the others, yet does the best job in explaining Burton. They all, however, miss the best reference to that latter strong ale in Wind in the Willows when Rat and Mole in the chapter “Dulce Domum” discover it in Mole’s old pantry as they prepare a winter night’s feed:

The Rat, meanwhile, was busy examining the lable on one of the beer-bottles. “I perceive this to be Old Burton,’ he remarked approvingly. “Sensible Mole! The very thing! Now we shall be able to mull some ale! Get the things ready, Mole, while I draw the corks.”

Old Burton can be enjoyed in Ontario every winter with the supply of Samuel Smith’s “Winter Welcome” or Young’s “Winter Warmer”, the latter renamed as such in 1971 from the previous “Burton Ale”, as we learn on page 206 of Cornell.

When I compare Cornell’s work to that of Haydon, I find the latter has the better description of 1800 to 1950. Similarly when I add Brown to the mix, he has the best explanation of 1950 to now. What Haydon and Brown achieve is contextualizing the place of beer in English society during those periods, the former in terms of the political and regulatory overlay, the latter in terms of consumerism and marketing. Cornell’s success is setting the greater social context better than the others before 1800 and especially before 1500. My verdict? Buy all of them – and find an old coffee table sized copy of Jacksons The English Pub for more illustrations. Each will add to the others both in terms of the overall timeline and interpretation of particular facts.

Beer: The Story of the Pint

Last July, I wrote a review of Pete Brown’s book Man Walks into a Pub. Over 7 weeks later, A reply was posted by Martyn Cornell:

I had better declare a massive interest before I begin, since I’m the author of Beer: The Story of the Pint, which came out two months after Pete Brown’s book. I’ve met Pete, he’s a nice guy, and his book contains, in its second half, an excellent analysis of where the brewing industry in Britain is today. It’s a pity the first half does not seem to have had as much research put into it, as it repeats all the old myths about the history of beer my own book attempts to correct – myths which add up to rather more than “a few” factual errors. I wouldn’t ask you to take my word for it – read both books, and let me know what you think.

Before I knew it I shelled out 18.92 Euros through amazon.co.uk and a few weeks ago the book arrived. Paying the $2.20 or so for GST [and the most cursed $5.00 more for the Canada Post GST collection charge – a money grab worthy of Aliant] I ran right home and started into the read.

Now, I have over 30 books about beer. Some are style guides about the history of and how to make, say, Stout or German Wheat Ale. Others are technical works like the ever popular The Biotechnology of Malting and Brewing by J.S Hough (1985, Cambridge)while others are layperson homebrewing guides like the classic 1970’s The Big Book of Brewing by David Line (12th ed, 1985, Amateur Winemaker). Some, like Beer: The Story of the Pint are histories of the phenomena of beer drinking and the brewing industry. I have three or four of these now which focus on the history of the English industry:

Beer and Britannia: An Inebriated History of Britain by Peter Haydon (2001, Sutton)

Beer: The Story of the Pint by Martyn Cornell (2003, Headline)

Man Walks into a Pub by Pete Brown (2003, MacMillan) and

The English Pub by Michael Jackson (1976, Harper & Row).

The latter text is the ish-ish one as it is largely a photo essay on the elements of the pub but it contains as much historical information as any so I include it here. So where does the most recent text fall in?

Lets just say from the outset that I am biased myself as I will buy any book about beer and find something useful in it. In that sense I am speaking as a a collector more than as a book reviewer. Further, I was particularly pleased to be contacted by the author and even more pleased by a continuing email correspondence we have shared. At one point in my reading, I wrote to say that I was somewhat frustrated by the lack of footnoting, to which Mr Cornell replied:

Mmmmm – trouble is, the general feeling in the publishing world is that footnotes equal elitist-looking equals lost sales, except if they’re jokey asides as per Pete Brown’s book. This may be wrong, but it’s what publishers think. The aim of Beer: TSOTP was to try to appeal both to people, like yourself, who already knew a lot about beer and brewing, and also to people looking for a Christmas present for Uncle Ernie (since by getting them to buy the book, I and the publisher make more money …), hence no footnotes so as not to put off the Uncle Ernie crowd. However, to make up for this a little, I tried to make the bibliography as complete as possible, and also chapter-specific, to help people track references down.

Cheers, Martyn Cornell

He is, of course, right…and even knows I have an Uncle Ernie, who lives in the Scottish Borders (blessedly near Traquair House) and who would, indeed, like these books for Christmas. The bibliography provided by Mr. Cornell is extensive, running 14 pages, and wil add muchly to my hunt for more books to buy.

That all being said, it was the first half of the book I enjoyed the most – the history of brewing to very roughly 1850. The latter part I found became a recitation of corporate mergers in the English brewing industry. In the first part a compelling argument concerning the history of porter is set out, the meaning of the XX and KK system described and the pre-1500 story set out more clearly and supported by more extensive research than in any other book I have read. He is, however and for example, lighter on the place of mild from 1850 to 1950 than the others, yet does the best job in explaining Burton. They all, however, miss the best reference to that latter strong ale in Wind in the Willows when Rat and Mole in the chapter “Dulce Domum” discover it in Mole’s old pantry as they prepare a winter night’s feed:

The Rat, meanwhile, was busy examining the lable on one of the beer-bottles. “I perceive this to be Old Burton,’ he remarked approvingly. “Sensible Mole! The very thing! Now we shall be able to mull some ale! Get the things ready, Mole, while I draw the corks.”

Old Burton can be enjoyed in Ontario every winter with the supply of Samuel Smith’s “Winter Welcome” or  Young’s “Winter Warmer”, the latter renamed as such in 1971 from the previous “Burton Ale”, as we learn on page 206 of Cornell.

When I compare Cornell’s work to that of Haydon, I find the latter has the better description of 1800 to 1950. Similarly when I add Brown to the mix, he has the best explanation of 1950 to now. What Haydon and Brown achieve is contextualizing the place of beer in English society during those periods, the former in terms of the political and regulatory overlay, the latter in terms of consumerism and marketing. Cornell’s success is setting the greater social context better than the others before 1800 and especially before 1500.  My verdict? Buy all of them – and find an old coffee table sized copy of Jacksons The English Pub for more illustrations. Each will add to the others both in terms of the overall timeline and interpretation of particular facts.

Po-Tree

About twenty years ago right about now, I was entering the third year of my four-year slacker-paced BA in English Lit. I can’t say I have carried the literary banner high since about then, especially as law just about killed my ability to read books – as being an usher in a playhouse just about killed my ability to sit through a play or a movie. But, this being the first summer since 1991 that I have not spent September picking beans, digging up spuds or braiding onions, one poem kicks tricking its way into my mind: Keats’s Ode to Autumn. [Once, when absent mindedly signing up for seminars, one of the others, all-female in romantic poetry, tuned and said – “sorry, I took the last Keats”. I couldn’t recall when I had been aleing with her. I had thought she said “Keith’s”]   So, in honour of three years of English Lit classes, the impending season and our planning for the next garden plot in, maybe, 2005, here you are, copyright-free ’cause he’s a long time dead.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Hmmm… full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn… time for the mint sauce.

Man Walks Into a Pub, by Pete Brown

manwalksI bought another beer book. I picked up a copy of “Man Walks into a Pub” by Pete Brown on Thursday after noon and it was done by Sunday. Not bad for guy with kiddies. The Guardian said:

So, as well as the irreverent approach Brown takes to beer’s history, he has a refreshingly sensible take on its present.

Sensible is an interesting word. Most beer books are written by nerdy homebrewers or self-appointed gurus like Michael Jackson. Both have a technical interest or at least the desire to impart a reverence for the subject. …I hope the bag of chips are for him…Brown is an advertising executive who has handled both the Heineken and Stella Artois accounts and a someime talking head for TV in the UK on things beery. It shows. He treats fans of real ale as hobbiest and treats them with slightly less contempt than temperence unionists and government regulators. But most of the time not without reason.

That being said, the book is easily accessible, funny and, but for a few factual errors you would only know after having a collection of books and subscriptions to a couple of magazine about beer, a pretty good history of the subject from a 2003 English, rather than even British, perspective. Unlike any other book I have read, Brown focuses on why and how people in England actually drink beer, how they are affected by advertising and changes in pub ownership, and how lager has come to dominate the market while being vapid bubble water – even if from something of a natural apologist’s point of view.

Find a pint of Hook Norton Haymaker or Old Hooky and have a giggle at the expense of lager drinkers.