Sunday, 3 July 2016

Beer Review: Little Willie

And so an ale that commemorates the Somme. I knew it was going to happen, a 100th year anniversary of a conflict long gone that totally transformed British psyche and society. I knew that it would be all over the press and there would be a plethora of talking heads discussing the disaster of the first day, the role of the generals and the politicians and the countries. Then came the Referendum and the result and I had a int of what people would focus upon. They would talk about what the people who fought in that day fought for, they would suggest various reasons with absolutely no backing and, of course, with no surviving people to challenge. Cherry-picked quotes, starting that morning with an item I heard on the radio, would suggest blazing patriotism and love of freedom, a narrative that the army was something to be proud of and an underlying assumption that people then fought for freedom.

I am a student of History. I am a researcher of the First World War. I have read the accounts of many many soldiers who were interviewed, left diaries and sent letters. I have never met one, of course, but who has? Also, I know many did not talk of their experiences. But of their reasons for fighting, of their reasons to be there on that awful fateful day they have spoken. And do you know what? None spoke of freedom, that's amorphous and intangible and impossible. Few spoke of patriotism, that too was beyond the ken of most of the men who huddled in the trenches then went over at the whistle. No, it turns out the main reasons were things like Peer Pressure; propaganda (that they later regretted) and poverty. Their friends were going, they didn't want to be seen as cowards and the wages would put food on the table for their families that wouldn't be there otherwise.

It will come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that I despise the kindling eye of the smug-faced crowd that has returned with a vengeance. To that end I bought an ale, because why not.

Today's review is all about Little Willie. It is named after the first tank that was built and sold in Lincoln as that was the site of one of the first factories to churn out these armoured beasts so that they could take place in the battle of the Somme, doing so finally in November at Flers-Courcellette.

My historical rant is over, would you like to speak of ale?

It's not a bad colour to be fair. Good an amber with the barest hint of a reddish hue. An aroma that owes much to the kind of fruity hops and malt one would find in Belgian ale (but it does rather suggest that this would be the case having French and Belgian ingredients) and a freshness that would not be out of place in something with New World hops in it. Of course, it's much less powerful and clear than those sorts of ales, and the malt does much to dampen the enthusiasm without losing anything of the inviting nature such an ale can produce. Good honest head, bit creamy, but being chilled means that it does not go mental nor does it look out of place in the slightly windy garden as the clouds scud overhead at a rate of knots. There's rain on the air and the tangy scent of my chickpea tikka masala (I am so middle-class) rises in the air from somewhere near my lap.

Taste is forgiving. Smooth and with a filling mouthfeel but without being too cloying or creamy, which is nice, suspect it was brewed to be on the pump but I think it works well with that slightly rough edge provided by the carbonation in the bottle. Being bottle-conditioned also lends an air of hops to it that would otherwise be missing a little. Spears of yeast are certainly present but their barrage is blunted by the sort of malt that spreads a little unction over troubled waters and the freshness of a snowballing set of hops that rolls around happily for a moment before chasing down to the back of the throat for a sort of dry finish that allows you to feel sated. As a companion to the tangy masala sauce I think it works rather well and, as a break from the marking, it is very welcome too.

Rain arrives, so back indoors to finish, watching the sun suddenly shine between the showers and with my trusty laptop for company, here the ale sits nicely, waiting for me to get through the meal and to get through some marking without fuss. Despite being chilled it never feels too cold and also there is an advantage to being below room temperature. At 4.5% ABV this is clearly on the strong side for a lunchtime ale in the middle of a sheaf of marking and yet, coupled with the food, it never feels like I'm going to get light-headed or totally distracted from the task in hand.

Best enjoyed when you're not tortured by allusions to history drifting across media and social media alike. Well-suited to a warm meal, doesn't have to be curry, and coloured nicely to take advantage of my sudden love of the ruby ales that has come from nowhere. Very much a summer ale and most suited to the warmth in the sunshine rather than the shade in the showers. It wants to be outdoors, it wants to feel the freedom of the garden or the park rather than be cooped up inside a house or pub. Almost Belgian, it seems to fare well in the middle of the day. Worth a punt if you find it!


  1. Great review. Good writing too - I felt like I was in your garden. My dad used to be a teacher in Bangor (the Welsh one). There was a teachers' pub and a pupils' pub at lunchtime and never the twain would meet. It worked for both camps.

    1. Why, thank you!

      And yes, I can remember the days of teachers' and students' pubs from when I was a student! Probably still true today, though I shall be honest and say I wouldn't risk it - far too much to be getting on with!