Sunday, 24 April 2016

Downt'pub: Light up the fire

Another chance to sample the delights that my locals have to offer. I'll be honest, I expected to stay in one place this evening but ended up traipsing around between two local offerings. I have to say that the welcome was excellent, as always, in the Burnt Pig and the staff were very indulgent of a half-cut hairy beast in the local JDW: The Observatory. Also, this was all at the encouragement of my wife and I can't really pass up an opportunity to go out and get some halves in on the suggestion of someone else, can I?

Come, fair web-traveller, join me on a journey twixt two public houses so to sample the ale-libations and delights that are contained therein. Would you like to know more?

First place on the itinerary, as if there was anywhere better to start a trip with beer in it, was the Burnt Pig, because it is my local and I love it so. Not as busy as it was last week (here) and that was good for someone such as myself, and so I got to sit in relative comfort down in the back room and soak up the atmosphere in the gloaming from outside. Alas, it is now too late in the year to enjoy a roaring fire in the middle room or even candles down the back as it remains a little too bright in the evenings.

My first ale of the evening was Black Country Mild by Holden's. It had to be really, there was talk of a mild trail and I think I rather like mild. It's 3.7% ABV and had a lovely chestnut hue to it on the pour with a smooth smoky nose that carried a rather distinctive charcoal burnt edge. Already this was an intriguing ale and the head suggested that this would be something of a winner. Soft and thin on the tongue, this is one that will slip down easily, it lacks the kind of consistency that I recall from The Mild Side (here) but that isn't necessarily a problem, the smoothness does allow it to make up for the thinness on the palate. It moves swiftly to a full mouth and then it rushes like a sprinter to the back of throat. Overall, this is only very slightly carbonated with a malt-like smoothness that persists throughout toward a soft aftertaste with a lingering smoke from the nose. This is, therefore, a good technical mild and I rather like it.

Next on the hit-list, still not straying from the Burnt Pig (and why would you), was Apparition by Full Mash, being a 4.5% ABV Pale ale. It poured with a thin golden hue and caught the light nicely, as well as the conversation about the bar, and carried plenty of hops when I sniffed it. It had a freshness about it, putting me in mind of the sort of sensation one gets from citra and chinook hops. There was a much bigger head on this one than the mild, like you'd expect really, with plenty of activity but this all fades rather quickly to leave a thin skein of froth. The taste begins with a full malt hit, almost out of place with the hoppy aroma, but it roils over with fizz toward the citrus fruit hop hit that one expects, hard to place which fruit but it's not tangy like lemon or lime. It remains playful and speared with yeast and hops throughout its journey through the mouth, which it fills rather delightfully, and ends much as it began, with faint bittering hops and a strong malt experience. After the mild this was a bit different and certainly a lively one, certainly it was less smooth despite erring on that side of things compared to most of the pales I've had lately. In short, this was a decent little pale ale that was very summery.

At this point I felt the urge to decamp. Originally I was going to head home, honest, but once in town and seeing the welcoming lights in the Observatory I thought it churlish not to pop in. I do tend to tell people who visit the area that the converted supermarket is actually a decent pub and, well, I thought it was high time I sampled the place again after the rather nice evening I spent there when they had a 'beer festival' on sometime last year (you can find that experience on this finely crafted link). Also, I knew that Willow would be hard at work and would likely benefit from me being out just a little bit longer.

I rapidly acquired a Gunsmoke by Dukeries at 5.5% ABV. A porter and the first dark ale of the evening, it was very much the sort of ale that I like to have when out pubbing and I do like getting hold of a new dark one. The nose carried the vanilla that was boasted by the slight taste notes left of the hand pull sign and the deep dark depth was almost as deep as a stout would be, making it very welcome for me on my (rather short) travels. There was as bright white head in contrast, making it a rather sweet looking brew, and the taste was full cream on opening, with a full milkshake experience on the tongue. It was a full mouthfeel experience, a big one, that moved slowly and deliciously to the back leaving a smooth milkshake-like aftertaste at the end. I really like ales that have a bit of character like this and there's no doubting that this brew made full use of being on draught when it was being made, the creamy texture imparted was definitely part of the line-up and the vanilla tones did a good job of easing this porter through. Have to say that this was more like a stout than a porter, but that is no bad thing. A real winter warmer of an ale and, had my day been different, would have conquered the evening, but it wasn't to be because it just didn't fit with the day I'd had.

By this point I had noted that the Observatory was being staffed very well indeed. The crowd was thinner here than in the Burnt Pig and the decor was less to my tastes, and there were more people here out for the lager which led to some almost rudeness by other patrons. And yet the bar-staff were quick to serve me and answer my ridiculous questions about beer sourcing. Very nearly entered a conversation with another drinker but they decided I was too strange and walked away.

The only answer, therefore, was to order in the Chimay Blue that I spotted lurking in the bottles section. The barman agreed a very reasonable price for the bottle (it didn't turn up on any lists) and I rejoiced in finding perhaps the only Wetherspoon's bar-team without a beer bore on it! At 9% ABV it was a risky end to the evening but it was a risk I was willing to take. The aroma on the pour was musty and big and all over the room. The head seemed to sense this and became almost like the sort of thing I remember seeing in Brucciani's in Preston when I'd have ice cream in my lemonade back in the day. It had been well chilled behind the bar and the barman made sure it had been served at the optimum temperature, so I really can't complain. It was malt heavy, almost chocolate-y, but more burnt and malty than sweet. It lacked the sort of bitterness that comes from adding actual Belgian chocolate to an ale (see Mocha here for a comparison). Yet, on tasting, it was unexpectedly light and fizzy, having that almost champagne quality to it that I do love about Belgian beers, maintaining its malty aroma into the taste. It was dry and full of woodsmoke, thus matching the warmer day and the tang of barbeque on the breeze that I sensed earlier. But that woodsmoke was from wet wood, and thus rather lovely. There were clear hops on this one, but the whole was reliant on its ice cream quality. There's no doubting the strength of this brew despite it being so nice and thus it has significant strength and is very heady indeed. In fact, it rather reminded me of the evening in London (here).

After that it was a swift walk home at a rather later hour than I had planned, mainly because the Chimay had been one of those bright ideas one has when one is already into one's cups. That said, I think Blue won the evening for me as it most closely resembled what I had been searching for in an ale when I set out. Even so, the better ale house was, and perhaps always will be, the Burnt Pig. I think they do some Chimay too, so I must remember to get some in some time.


  1. I do like Chimey. Powerful stuff though!

    1. Agreed, but so worth it. Left me fuzzy-headed the day after. Thank goodness for weekends!