This is by no means the entire range of what was on offer (one need only check out the posts from another blogger to verify this) and so I know I fall short. Still, in service of you, my limited readers, I am but prostrate and eager to share. Would you like to know more of my fact-finding mission?
The bar staff on duty were wonderfully accommodating of this rather inexperienced beer geek and helped me make the choices. As a consequence I avoided Citra (see here) and a cider, whoops, and stuck to ales that made their appearance on the bar taps in the following order.
Next up on the evening was Heather and Honey by Wadworth. This came as a recommendation by the barman and I couldn't really turn it down due to the fact that I was making such a blatantly ale-bore choice of brews on the night. At 5% ABV it is one of the heavier hitters this evening, but nothing like as heavy as some that I have tasted recently. This was a proper pale ale with less carbonation than any of the three that had preceded it. Aroma was dominated by the sweetness of the honey, almost saccharine, and the taste was quickly subsumed by the level of honey in this ale. There was indeed an element of heather in both aroma and taste, putting me in mind of Fraoch (here), but was short-lived against the honeyed juggernaught that assaulted the tastebuds soon afterwards. There were some hops in here but short-lived and forgettable so that the honey dominates. This is not all a bad thing and I would happily try this again, the aftertaste tries to hit a bitter note but it is the honey that wins out in the end and that is worth noting. As a honey ale, this has few challengers but, as a general ale, I suspect it is marginally too sweet to really play a full role. I'll admit that I was largely looking to the next ale whilst tasting this one.
I had been looking forward to Lee's 100 since I spied it at the bar. Being a First World War historian means that I get geekishly excited at this sort of tie in and the centenary, despite my antipathy, has elicited some form of geek historian response. Thus I took this as a taster without really thinking, it gained the most anticipation of any of the ales on offer and one should bear that in mind when reading of my thoughts, It's 4.2% ABV meant that it was one of the middle-ground of the evening and much more in-keeping with the sort of ale that I have on a regular basis. The aroma had a depth of spice and there was a possible malt in there too. Taste was dominated at the beginning by hops of indeterminate origin. This was followed by a malt suffused with with spicy yeast before fading to an end with bitter hop notes and plenty of them. No doubt about the fact that this was a working class bitter along the lines of what one assumes the working class enjoyed at the time of going to war. A richness to the hops but a bitter note that held the feeling of the working class rising to a fever pitch that would return in the demob days of the 1920s. A proper working class ale an' nowt wrong wi' that.
Finally, it was the turn of the US brewed Elysian from Dick Cantwell. At 6.5% ABV it was easily the biggest hitter of the evening and clearly brewed to take advantage of the US obsession with Hallowe'en and pumpkins. As a consequence the aroma was definitely that way inclined so that it was hard to tell what else there was in the brew - they had packed the ale so full of pumpkin seasoning and flavouring that any hops became completely irrelevant and the malt simply provided a delivery mechanism for that flavour. On the first taste that pumpkin flavour really dominated to the detriment of anything else that was involved in the production of the ale. And yet, this was still the most sweetened of all the ales on offer in the evening. That odd pumpkin taste pretty much overpowers anything else (including the lingering aftertaste of the previous ale) and fills the senses in a way that I found almost offensive. The sweetness as a whole spoke of huge amounts of added sguar after brewing and the flavour robbed the brew of anything that might hint of being interesting and, well, like ale should be. In the end I have to confess that I did not finish the 1/3 pint tester of this ale that I ordered, unlike the rest, as it was so out of step with everything else I tried.
So it was that I pronounced the winner of the evening to be 100 by Lee's because it was the most ale-like of the evening. The working class nature of the brew just appealed to that part of me that likes to pretend that I am not middle class and much less upper-middle-class. The part of me that remains strangely and very non-PC-ly proud of stuff like the First World War. In short, I liked the fact that it was a largely uncomplicated bitter with no pretension, apart from the name, and tasted like ale ought to taste in my humble opinion.