Thursday, 24 March 2016

Beer Review: 1914 Ale

With the name of this ale I would have been hard-pressed to ignore it on the shelf. My predilections are very much toward making connections and the centenary of the First World War looms large in my thoughts at the moment. This ale does seem to do a good job of making the whole thing work without too much schmaltz and supports a charity that seems, upon Googling, to do good work with survivors of conflicts that would otherwise be forgotten. So, without further ado, let me introduce the master of tonight's ceremonies in 1914 Ale, brewed by Box Steam Brewery, which is something I've had before methinks.

Be wary of the busy and untidy kitchen, wipe your feet for all that will change matters, and follow me to a better place to sit in the living room and discuss this latest addition to my reviewing journey. Would you like to know more?

There's something triumphalist about the jacket they forced this beer to wear but I am not here so much to lament the change in the way we remember the First World War, well, not so much and not when there is ale on the table. At least... Who am I kidding? Of course I worry about this sort of thing. However, the ale opens well enough and then pours with a good amber colour and a limited froth that arrives quickly, reaches the top of the glass and then retreats back to a skim of head around the edges of the glass, kept going by the fizz but mainly settled and neat. Much like the arguments one hears around the reasoning for the First World War - I am a firm believer that the Hossbach Conference in 1912 holds the key to the war that began in 1914 but it does not suggest that somehow the whole thing was down to the same German Imperialism that one sees with the Second, larger, cousin. In much the same way, the scent here is uncomplicated and neat - with decent malt and the hint of hops carried on the overall feeling as it wafts across the nose.

Billed as a fruity toast to the Tommies, not noticing the fact that many of the Tommies would have found life in France decidedly fruity behind the lines (the war itself may have been awful, but let us not lose sight of the fact that it wasn't all mud, blood and trenches - there was a fair amount of STI there as well, of you catch my meaning), this does not entirely lie. The first impact of that taste is indeed the fruit from the hops, though it gives way quickly to a more reasonable and settled bittering hops on the bed of malt that claims to be chocolate-y. I don't get that myself, but the malt is soft and forgiving with a roasted smokey flavour that does suggest that they used some of the malts that one finds in chocolate stouts that don't dare to make the jump to using actual cocoa. The taste roils over, bittering all the while, toward a dry but oddly fruity aftertaste. I'm not going to complain about this, for all the promises of subtlety on the bottle this is an uncomplicated and decent amber ale in most respects that hits all the right notes and does what it needs to do to make a decent experience.

I do find myself a little put-off by the First World War references though. The idea of toasting the Tommies is all well and good and it does do the job of supporting a good charity without fear or going overboard, subtle, like the flavour is suggested. Sure, this is an ale in the mould of the sort I assume were prevalent after the working day in the grinding poverty that led to the beginning of that titanic conflict, the coming sweep clean of the slums and the changing attitudes that would lead eventually to the NHS and the flexing of working class democratic muscle to change something of the stratified society they grew up in. But there is definitely something unsettling to me in the way they use a quite strong ale, 4.2% ABV, to do this job and the way they show it as something to be proud of - the cultural encoding of the medal - which is a shame because the chosen charity reflects the idea that they understand the nature of the war very well indeed and have their heart in the right place.

Ah, this is a good ale, I just worry about the packaging.

Best enjoyed in a glass with the packaging relegated to another room, when one is not thinking about the politics that the memory of such events allows to slip under the radar. Either that, or in ignorance of the history to enjoy the pleasant fiction that the war was linked with the national and erroneous memory of the Second World War as Britain against the world with victory gained by stoicism that is sadly lacking in these decadent times, enjoying the belief that things were better in the past when men were men and people died of starvation in the streets but had the decency to do it quietly and without disturbing the wealthy too much. Or something. No, I like the ale but it is hard to disassociate the recent triumphalist interpretations spouted by politicians from the actual liquid for someone as sad as myself. Maybe you will do better if you find it!

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