Sunday, 22 March 2015

Works' Do!

This is a first for the new epoch that this blog represents. This was the weekend of a works' do, a night foraging through multitudinous drinking establishments along a pre-arranged route with colleagues from the current place of work in search of some nice ales and some decent conversation. Naturally, I spoke much but the search continued - I think there's a lesson lurking there somewhere about the efficacy of my conversation but I'll be blown down by a feather if I can work it out.


Basically, there was a barcrawl around a locale with some lovely cask ale, real ale and people on its route through the afternoon, the fields and into the late evening. It was capped off by a decent clutch of pizzas and Drop Dead Fred, though not a complete viewing due to the lateness of the hour - we are all, still, at heart consummate professionals.

It was a good evening, and I, being me, did aim to take a snapshot of each of the ales sampled and a quick review. Would you like to know more?




First up were some cask ales from a back-bar in a lovely establishment at the top of a hill overlooking a great view. It was a homely little place that a colleague and I found ourselves in to discuss everything from the finer points of cinematic story-telling through to teaching in primary school and out again through how I create beer reviews. It may come as no Surprise (from Sarah Hughes who are known for darker ales) that I settled on this pale ale with a 5.2% ABV. Poured lovely and golden from the cask free of the excessive carbonation that bottled varieties can have and with none of the added creaminess that one finds on pulled ales. Malty aroma with a spice spike rapidly gave way to something that was lightly citrus. Taste followed a similar approach but started with the hops, then the spice spiked its way through (presumably the yeast) before being delivered to the aftertaste by a smooth malt that left something of a pleasant impression for the mouthfeel. Aftertaste was dry and yeasty, but not in an overpowering sense. It was a good beginning to the evening though I will come out and say that conversation rated higher than the ale - exactly as it should be - making this a perfect background show to the more important matters at hand.

One of the walls of the back bar. Lovelier than it looks!

Rather enjoying the ambiance of this back bar and the cut of the jib with the ales on offer, but having already enjoyed Citra (here) and the other offering (which my memory fails to supply me with the name of now) in the past I opted to go for the new-ness of something called Dobber from Manchester Marble Brewery and once again I was greeted with something pale and golden tinged but with a much mightier aroma of hops, including a distinct impression of something of a Citra nature, though there was no confirmation of this. However, all was not lost, the helpful barstaff was able to point out that this was an IPA, that it was 5.9% ABV and that it boasted tropical flavours with an orange undertone. These notes did not deceive and this was definitely a highly hopped IPA, good for nights out and conversation, and indicative of the fuller fruit of our conversation now joined by another colleague seeking refuge from child-wrangling duties in the main bar. Overall, this was a decent brew, I preferred it to the first, but not something that I thought I would be writing home about as much as the lovely nature of the back bar, which I hope to enjoy again.

Then it was off, on to the next hostelry, by walking down a lane that Anna and I had seen houses on when we were looking to move. It was a long walk, but a pleasant one, in which I found myself embroiled in many and varied conversations with many friends and colleagues in a manner that suggested that this sort of thing really ought to be more common. We hit the next alehouse and promptly set about introducing a cider drinker to real ale via London Glory (here) as this was a good opener and not too silly. I plumbed for the Cavendish from Welbeck Abbey Brewery at 5% ABV. It was a blonde with a good colour and a pointy citrus aroma and a taste of lemons that percolated throughout the brew. Good head, good grapefruit quality to the taste as it developed and a subtle shift in the lemon-y nature of the hops to avoid oppressive bitterness in favour of something a little sweeter as befits a dry blonde. It put me in mind of the sort of ale one would have in a beer garden on a warmer day than we had chosen and certainly, despite being very nice, felt out of place next to a roaring log fire with animated and amusing discussion with two small people engrossed in games.

At this point a Daddy did trump and it wasn't me.

Next up was another almost dark ale, though it seemed more amber in concoction and feeling, so I have decided that, on reflection, this is probably a chestnut ale. In that sense it was still a bit in touch with the idea of it being spring and being warmer, but seemed more able to make good of the fire and the increasing zaniness of conversation as it began to swirl in a way that is only possible with two small people offering their own madcap schemes and additions. This was Kimberley at a much more civilised 3.9% ABV that had a much lower hop count, more malt than the previous offerings and a much meatier brew all round. It remained full fruited though, despite a simpler aroma and a less complicated delivery system, with a light malt and light yeast that took the whole thing through to a pleasant but unobtrusive aftertaste that was nice but nothing too special.




It was time to move on, we walked some way again, taking a spirited detour through a very small nature reserve that ended up turning us back the way we came but feeling that we had justified the addition of walking boots. Here, in a very different style of pub, we decided independently to try the Bass together. This was probably the best choice of the ales on offer and certainly the most interesting, which says a great deal. At 4.4% ABV it was a decent choice given the wealk we knew we still had to make. But this great amber staple proved unfulfilling. Something had gone wrong somewhere and it managed to be gassy whilst remaining very flat and with a taste that something was off. It was impossible to enjoy the usual hops from this brew and there was nothing in the malt, apart from the fact that it was very much there, to lift the spirits or the ale. We did not tarry long, though it must be noted that I was getting louder at this point and was very much indebted to my company for preventing a faux pas by complaining about the freshness of the ale on offer.


A lovely walk toward the setting sun to find El Dorado.

On again, to a pub that had some lovely First World War effect going on and also two students in attendance being bar staff. I decided not to be put off, though I failed, and then spotted Jaipur X from the Thornbridge stable. I couldn't really say no, though I had already ordered other ales for my companions. At 10% ABV it was a dangerous choice but, I reasoned, I could hardly pass up this opportunity to enjoy something like this. I was not disappointed! All the lovely hop mix that I recall from my last brush with the brew (here) and more of the strength to push it all around. A spicy, almost curry-esque, quality to the effect - making me wish I had accompanied it with a proper one from the right place in Leeds. One of the party did a good job of buying in a pork pie though, which set this off very nicely. It was fresh, strong, quenching and pale. All as it should be!




Next was Hirundo from the same stable (Thornbridge) at a more sensible 4.5% ABV and a much hoppier and fruitier affair than its stablemate. This was the sort of IPA that one could get used to and very much follows in the tradition of the brewers liking their journeys. Tropical openings gave way to something more of the citrus and orange nature, taking us through the middle east via Jaffa, then across the sea to the trade routes of France, where we were joined by something not unlike a nice white wine, before setting as an aftertaste but not an afterthought on the shores of good old Blighty with a bittering hops hit capping off the malt nicely and leaving you wanting more. A veritable hit of an ale but very much in the shadow of the stronger cousin first tasted.






On the back of this we stayed for another ale and now I sampled the hop-tastic Captain Hop Beard from Totally Brewed. This was a bonkers little number that just oozed meadow flowers and summer scents from the very beginning. Almost golden in appearance it remained very much an IPA and it went with all guns blazing. That summer evening feel, standing on the verge and just soaking up the pollen but without the hayfever and with something like honey between the breaths, was shot through the brew in a powerful and homely way. There was a heather to the malt too, putting me in mind of Fraoch (here) and not at all unpleasant. This was a good call and did well to stand with the likes of Hirundo and Jaipur X without being put firmly in the shade and relegated to supporting cast member. This was the sort of character that pushed firmly out into the main roles perhaps unexpectedly. I have no proof, but there were hints of citra and amarillo in this one, making it another US-style IPA rather than the more British bitters that I would have assumed would have held sway. Mind you, that is no criticism.

Alas, we had to move on from this lovely alehouse to the next on our list. It wasn't as long a walk but it was a good one in the now dark evening. We ended up a lovely little place by the river and set about our final selections. I plumbed for an Olicana from Oldershaw Beers. This was another orange-y ale with a pale side to it, not quite an IPA, and this one had another limited head that didn't affect proceedings. Perhaps the smallest head since the cask ales at the beginning come to think of it. At 4% ABV it was a decent finisher without going so strong that it would have rendered me incapable of walking. The spikes of spice in amongst the malt and the limited hops carried this through and did mean that I was able to appreciate, if not join in, the games in the playpark just down the road afterward and still manage to make good pace across the distance to our rendezvous with a pizzeria and then back to the house of the good person who put me up for the evening.


It was here we began, but did not complete, Drop Dead Fred and we were able to reflect to the strains of Ludovico Einaudi on a job well done and an event that deserves repetition. A hearty thanks to all involved and a wish that this could be done again over the last stretch to Summer because there was more to be investigated - we barely scratched the surface - and, as a final fact, dogs can look up.

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