Beer Matters

It has always been self-evident to me that beer is a seasonal thing. Now, I am not much given to drinking lager, particularly the bland sterile travesties of noble continental brews which are churned out on an industrial scale in this country. Nevertheless, I would concede that, if there is a time and place for such things, it is on a hot summer’s day, and it is curious that the afficionados of such beverages seem to find them equally agreeable in the depths of winter when my own thoughts are firmly on something dark, full-bodied and heart-warming. But I digress. My theme today is ....

Ales for Summer Drinking

To me the ideal summer beverage is a lightish bitter, not too malty or alcoholic but with a good hoppy finish. The late lamented King & Barnes’ Sussex Bitter was the epitome of such ales but there are still many “ordinary” bitters which fall into this category: Adnams, Brakspears, Hook Norton, Black Sheep, Cotleigh Tawny and Fuller’s Chiswick to name but a few. The last is unfortunately not as readily available as it might be but half a dozen pints go down a treat after a day’s haymaking (the only activity I have yet discovered which is even more thirst-inducing than ringing).

Mild is a much underrated drink. It was once common in mining and heavy industry districts where working men needed to replenish vast amounts of lost body fluid without rendering themselves incapable of the next day’s labours. Sadly, few of the established brewers now regularly brew mild, Bateman’s and Brain’s being two notable exceptions. The micros do rather better, probably because of the greater flexibility inherent in brewing smaller batches, and produce a number of very good milds. Moorhouse’s Black Cat comes to mind but the most outstanding mild I have enjoyed recently was at the Sair Inn (a little home-brew house up a steep, narrow lane in Linthwaite near Huddersfield, which produces an outstanding range of beers from the aforementioned mild to the formidable Enoch’s Hammer).

Then again, summer drinking is not always about quenching thirst and there is no law which says a summer beer must be weak. A few years ago Hopback of Salisbury came up with what is arguably a completely new style of ale – very pale (easily confused with lager at a glance) but strong and full-bodied with a powerful hoppy flavour. Since Summer Lightning first appeared there have been many imitators but none has quite captured the essence of it; Exmoor Gold probably comes closer than most.

John Major was not wrong with his “back to basics”. On a summer’s evening there are few pleasures to compare with sitting outside a pub by an English village green, listening to the distant thwack of leather on willow, discussing one’s ringing arrangements and savouring the best of British malt and hops.

I would like to reassure my correspondents in the west country (letter, April 26) on two counts. Firstly, the implied inclusion of farmhouse cider in my list of proscribed “slip-slops” was entirely unintended. On the contrary, I am very partial to “honest” cider (pure apple juice fermented with natural yeast and no additives); I know of several small producers in Somerset and Herefordshire and, when ringing in those parts, generally manage to bring two or three gallons home with me.

Secondly, should this column be sponsored by a brewery, I have no intention of compromising my independence. [Note to Editor: Perhaps a more neutral sponsor would be a better idea. How about Micropore? Prior to a recent peal attempt I counted no fewer than five of the band wrapping their fingers in its products.]

As regards “mitigate” versus “militate” (letter, May 3), my use of the former was deliberate, my logic being that the breathalyser might be considered a reasonable plea in mitigation to the accusation of not drinking. I may have a convoluted way of thinking but it made sense to me after a couple of pints.

Maximus Bibendus

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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