Beer Matters

For our Blessed Lady’s sake, bring us in good ale

Every year around this time, so I am told, a dear old lady used to write to the Bury Times urging the good citizens of black pudding land to eschew the demon drink if they wished to enjoy a truly happy Christmas. Now rest assured I am not about to do the same, quite the contrary as you may well have surmised.

Barmaid pulling a pint

But I am intrigued by the earnestness of folk like the aforementioned lady and struggle to comprehend the rationale behind the Temperance movement (which once had a strong following in that area and that may account for the fact that the pubs tend to be dark and inconspicuous with small frosted windows). Surely they weren’t all abused by alcoholic fathers or appalled like General Booth by the sight of wife-beating navvies drinking away their week’s wages? And where is the scriptural justification? I recently read an article which discussed in a very fair and objective way the (mostly positive) references to alcohol in the Bible, including Psalm 104 “wine that maketh glad the heart of man” and of course the wedding at Caana, but then inexplicably concluded that it is “generally better for Christians not to drink”.

I am quite sure that, had our Lord intended us to be teetotallers, he would not have chosen for his first miracle to convert something in excess of 100 gallons of water into wine - and excellent wine at that. Nor would our Heavenly Father in the process of creation* have blessed this world with the gift of fermentation. [Yes, I am quite aware that a significant proportion of you out there are heathens for whom this argument is totally irrelevant but please bear with me.] So we may partake of a little seasonal cheer - whatever the season - with a good conscience. As an Anglican, not to mention a ringer and a chorister, I find the progression from church to pub entirely natural, a way of life even.

[Which reminds me of a little ditty I heard a while ago: “On Jordan’s bank the Baptists cry. If I were Baptist, so would I. They do not drink, they have no fun. Thank God I am an Anglican.” - to be sung of course to Winchester New.]

But I digress. What should I recommend you to drink this Christmas? Numerous “seasonal” ales with silly names will be on the bar any day now but I have to confess the prospect does not fill me with delicious anticipation - indeed I admitted as much to my fellow beer hacks in the guild newsletter this month and they haven’t drummed me out for blasphemy yet.

Mrs Bibendus with Violet (aged 97)

I ventured to suggest that the basic problem with most of these Yuletide brews is that they are too weak. Whilst I enjoy a good 3.5% session ale as much as anyone, the way I see it, if you’re going to load a beer up with spices, fruit and other vaguely Christmasey goodies, the basic recipe has to be fairly robust - say 6% ABV minimum and correspondingly full-bodied and probably with a good measure of hops to offset the inevitable sweetness. And before anyone berates me for encouraging people to get off their heads, we’re talking sipping beers rather than quaffing beers; there’s nothing wrong with strong beer providing you treat it with due respect. And then there are the ghastly pump clips... It can only be a matter of time before someone produces one where an animated Santa drops his trousers to the accompaniment of a tinny rendering of Jingle Bells (and no prizes for guessing what the beer might be called). Anyway, if you’re tempted by these seasonal offerings, go for one with a bit of substance to it.

“Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best, and we hope that your soul in Heaven may rest. But if you do draw us a bowl of the small, then down shall go butler, bowl and all.”

For the moment I’m largely sticking to Winter Warmer, which is going down exceedingly well in my local, though I have a nasty suspicion Wells and Youngs will stop brewing it in January again despite my protestations last winter. Hepworth’s Old Ale is worth a try, reminiscent of King and Barnes Old of blessed memory, which is perhaps unsurprising given that the brewery is in Horsham and the head brewer formerly worked for K&B. There are some good stouts and porters around at present and I really ought to write the name down when I encounter one, given that my memory is not what it was, but one or two that come to mind are: Cheriton Porter from Flowerpots, Westerham Puddledock Porter and Hook Norton Double Stout. It does seem that this is one sector of the beer market where satisfaction is generally guaranteed, another being light hoppy bitters. It’s the traditional brown bitters that often disappoint. Maybe the beer world is being polarised into light and dark. Maybe it’s just my palate.

Whatever you drink this Christmas, I hope you enjoy it.

Maximus Bibendus

* For the avoidance of any doubt, I am not suggesting that He bestowed yeast upon the earth as part of a six day universe building project; I am a firm believer in the theory that God said "Let there be light!" and there was the Big Bang.

And some of my best friends are Baptists.

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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