Sunday, 31 May 2015

Beer Re-Review: Banks's Bitter

You may have noticed that this ale formed the second published review on this site, back in 2012(!), but I have changed much since then and so I thought it wise to have another crack at the whole thing now that I kind of know a few more ales. Also, I always got the feeling that I wasn't giving Banks's Bitter a fair crack of the whip. I still haven't managed to actually acquire a bottle of their Mild variant, much to my chagrin, but this will have to do.

See, I even have my own photographs of it now. Would you like to know more?

A repeat then. Hmm. Not done that yet and it's not like I'm running out of ales to try or anything either. What to make of this? Well, the first thing to note that I didn't before was the head. Very fizzy, very much there and then a rapid retreat. Copper coloration like the sort one finds in lager and a hearty fizz in the glass that very much peppers one's nose when sniffing. And, on that note, there is a very bitter hops nose atop a bed of yeast and the smell one associates with a brewery. Definitely a hint of a back bar or the snug when the local mills would finish shifts. It's the sort of olfactory memory that reminds me of hot summer days in strange pubs in the middle of nowhere waiting for food on a day out to the Trough of Bowland around this time of year to roll eggs in the Preston fashion or else to build dams in small rivers.

First impression on the tongue is the fizz, a little gassy almost, but this rapidly gives way to a musty yeast sort of feeling and a sharp overall impression of hops running down the gunnels. Fresh, sharp and bitter is the best description. There is little malt to the flavour and the headlong rush to the back of the throat leaves little time for that initial impression to resolve itself into anything more than a hint of yeast atop a bitter hops wave. It is rather smooth in terms of mouthfeel but leaves no lasting memory on the tongue nor in the middle of the mouth, as though the whole thing has rushed around the sides to get to the back of the throat. By the time it gets there it has modified slightly, the sharpness is gone and now there is just a dull bitter sensation, tingling with the aftermath of the yeast and slowly acting almost as a palate cleanser.

Back in 2012 I said that this particular brew was a strong one and that it would take no prisoners. I must amend my view a little now. This is a drinking ale to be had safely with a light lunch or salad with some dressing. I would agree and say that it is not one to have with a posh meal full of delicate and well-balanced flavours but it is very much a working class brew that can stand well with good honest food and a bit of stodge. I imagine that a bit of gravy, thick and lumpy, wouldn't be out of place and maybe a good bit of fish and chips would be in order to slip beneath that meat-flavoured blanket of brown. Yes, this is the sort of ale one has with fish and chips, walking down the seafront or by the river as the English springtime wind rips at your coat and douses you with small flecks of cloud spittle one moment and then blasts you with warming sunshine the next.

Enjoy this best on a day trip, with family, on the type of day that you don't know whether you were right to pack warm coats or not, whether you should be in shorts or trousers, sandals or wellington boots. Shove the bottle in a voluminous pocket (or even a shoulder bag) and eat fish and chips from the paper with one of those wooden forks. I'd recommend adding chip shop gravy if you're in the north, because I hear you can't get it down south, and slathering in vinegar with just enough salt to know that it's there without increasing the risks of a heart attack. Take swigs every now and then, maybe sit on a bench to see the flecks of spume whipping from the tops of waves like rearing horses out in the Irish Sea or off toward the centre of the Atlantic, alternatively, sit and watch small people run like screaming pirates about the wooden ship in the centre of a sand-pit as far from the coast as it is possible to get. The melange of bittering hops, light malt and old-man yeast-y smells are the sort of authenticity loved by hipsters the world over.

Me? I'm glad I decided on a second review. I had thought to eschew this one after the last time and now I'm thinking it is decent sessionable ale and thus, although a tad uninteresting and bland, at 3.8% ABV it is very much an important part of my larder.