Beer Matters

Golden Ages, Golden Ales

There’s a lot to be said for a railway outing, not least the opportunities it affords for “research” without the constraints imposed by other modes of transport. Ours began with a ring at the modern church of St Mary, Peterborough, followed by a brisk walk (too brisk for some) to the terminus of the Nene Valley Railway. Fortunately, the guard, a most obliging fellow in the old rural railway tradition, was persuaded to wait for the stragglers and then the train set off, pulled by a little maroon “saddle tank” rather incongruously wearing a “Thomas the Tank Engine” face.

Ten minutes later we embarked at Ferry Meadows and strolled the mile or so up to Orton Waterville, an interesting four - ropes fall in the order 1,4,2,3 and the tuning approximates to a ring of five minus the fourth. One could not help but notice and be saddened by the unusually large number of (recent) children’s graves near the tower. The Windmill next door had several well-kept ales; Bateman’s XB and Adnams’ Broadside were both excellent.

From Ferry Meadows the train crosses the river, passing close to St Kynburga’s, Castor. The station has long gone but I dare say if we had told the guard we had to ring there he would have obliged with a temporary halt. At Wansford there is a refuelling stop, not long enough to ring, as the church is over a mile away, but long enough to admire the NVR’s collection of Eastern European locos (plus the real, blue Thomas). The journey continues through the haunted Wansford tunnel to Yarwell Junction, where the engine changes ends for the return trip. There is another ring of four nearby but no station (nor has there ever been, if my 1947 rail atlas is anything to go by).

For those of us past a certain age, trundling through the countryside at a leisurely 15 mph, with that evocative blend of smoke and steam tinged with hot oil billowing past the window, inevitably calls to mind the golden age of rail travel. (I still wonder how Jimmy Saville, as the voice of British Rail, had the gall to claim that “this is the age of the train” barely a decade after Beeching’s “reforms” had closed half the national network.) And there were bottles of Black Sheep in the buffet car but nobody told me until we were about to get off.

Woodston church is not far from Peterborough NVR station and the ringing chamber is cosy to say the least. Being behind schedule, we had to pass by the Palmerston, a fine looking Bateman’s house, and hurried to ring on the majestic eight at St John’s before retiring to Oakham’s Brewery Tap, conveniently situated close to the mainline station. There were numerous guest ales, but I deemed it appropriate to stick with the excellent house brew, JHB, which caused me to ponder as things are wont to do.

The theme of my pondering was the proliferation of light, golden bitters nowadays (JHB is one such). I have remarked before that Hopback Summer Lightning started the trend for a completely new style of ale (golden coloured, strong, hoppy), but now it seems that all sorts of bitters are getting lighter in colour even though the other characteristics remain unchanged. What is the reason?

An obvious explanation is that brewers are trying to appeal to the younger generation by making ales look more like lager. But stouts and porters are as black as they always were. Then again, the choice of the average younger beer drinker if it’s not lager is usually Guinness (at a ridiculously low temperature), nothing in between. So maybe gold and black are considered attractive colours whereas shades of brown aren’t? I’m not sure I’d go along with that; there can be few sights more heart warming than light shining gently through a glass of chestnut or copper coloured ale – it’s on a par with a magnificent sunset. But we’re talking subtlety and depth here, qualities not normally associated with lager drinkers or marketing men.

Even Young’s have jumped on the bandwagon with their latest seasonal offering, Golden Zest. It’s about the strength of Special (4.7%) and quite hoppy with a hint of citrus. I had a few the other night in place of my customary Ordinary and it went down a treat.

Mind you, I was in sore need of medication, and it was on the house – once they discovered that the chap who had crawled out from beneath the wreckage of a stolen Volvo just round the corner a few hours earlier was me. Perhaps I should make it clear at this juncture that: a) I was the innocent pedestrian, not the driver; b) I was perfectly sober at the time; and c) although the car came to rest after colliding with me, it had hit a large cast iron bollard first. Fortunately, although badly grazed and bruised, I was found to have sustained no serious injury, but seldom has a pint been more welcome!

Maximus Bibendus

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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