Fresh from my trip this one. I picked it up in the lovely beer shop at Hog's Back Brewery after seeing them there the last two times I was down - a bunch of ales with feathers in the label and in good strong looking deep brown bottles and with a good range. Mindful of the fact that other people that drink ale have been having ales that can be aged and are a bit special I thought I would splash out and buy a couple of these. I am saving the stout, but the weather was clear and sunny enough for me to try the 1643 Leveller Bitter in the garden.
This is from Two Cocks Brewery in Berkshire which, as the bottle proudly proclaims, was featured on Grand Designs and was set up as a sustainable farm with a brewery side by a couple from London seeking countryside idyll. From a quick trawl on the intertubes they seem to have done a good job business wise and I shall certainly be looking into visiting in person to see if I can nab any of their smaller batch brews in person next year. Would you like to know more?
I had chilled this for another night and taken it out and everything, but a spike in temperatures and a massive amount of rain whilst I was trying to sort things meant that it never happened, so back in the fridge it went, dust lines and all, because it had been sitting in storage for a while before I bought it. However, this made for a big whisp of carbon dioxide on opening without much activity and zero head bar a small skein of wort-like bubbles on the pour. Chocolately aroma exuded from the chestnutty amber liquid with not much fizz in it (but I wasn't using the special pint glass from Hog's Back Brewery that makes a bigger head). The bottle, and the website, points out that each batch has some hops taken from local hedgerows in it and I wonder if that is the source of the rather bitter and dark chocolate aroma - I mean, there is a malt but it doesn't smell like that is the source of the bitter darkness on the air.
First taste carries none of that dark chocolate, but the bitterness remains and there is a scratchy quality that reminds me, oddly, of chalk cliffs and gorse bushes - the sort of feeling I recall from the air in the Somme Valley when I've been there on long summer days. It's thin, but in a good way, with good containment of the taste and the malt so that it doesn't slop about all over the place. The water is from a local borehole and has not undergone the Burtonisation process that I've read about elsewhere and, I can't believe I'm saying this, it makes a big difference to the mouthfeel. It's warmer, spicier, more earthy and reminiscent of arid grassland in the middle of a heath in the heat of a summer day whipped by wind and blasted by sand and dust. This is very interesting. The yeast has bite, the bubbles carry piranha and that dusty and musty sensation carries through the middle of the taste as it slithers across the tongue, warming around the sides of the mouth as it reaches the back of the throat and dries like a blonde, but still with the moist edge of an amber, leaving a dry bitterness at the back of the throat and a sort of scratchy wetness in the sides and front of the mouth after it passes. There's an element of blackberry there, not sharp and sweet like in a good cake or torte, but the kind of earthy bitterness and sourness of the berries you pull from the wayside in the beginnings of autumn from bushes that have had plenty of sunshine but limited water supplies.
As I go through the bottle I find that this odd sensation doesn't go or get more mellow, rather, none of the stages stay in place long enough to be identified and each taste is slightly different. It evolves on the tongue and the aftertaste is constantly changing, metamorphosing from side-of-the-road wild fruit to precariously balanced malts and back again with everything inbetween. I'll admit, I had very high expectations for this one, with its feathers and a price that was north of what I'd normally pay for a bottled ale, but it is smashing these expectations into tiny pieces. In two ways: firstly, it's completely not what I was expecting, it is very different and secondly, it's actually nicer than I was hoping for. At 3.8% ABV this is also a decent drinking bitter and my main regret is that I didn't buy more of this - I can see that this is the sort of ale that I would have another of in short order. This is an accolade that I've previously only given to Pendle Witches Brew by Moorhouses (the review is here) and I am a bit stingy with applying to others.
This is surprising, pleasantly so, and I would be happy to have more of it. I am now determined to visit the brewery and see if I can organise a crate of their selection for the future because there's no portal for ordering online. I will recommend this highly! I don't do scores and grades and things because I think that ales are an enormously subjective thing to taste, but I would happily say to any of my ale drinking friends that this is worth a pop, even at the over £3 a bottle price I paid. In fact, I would happily pay £4.90 for this without quibbling, it's very worth it.
Enjoy this anywhere at any time but sunshine and a back garden or beer garden wouldn't be a bad accompaniment. Be ready, clear the decks and take your time - not quite savouring every mouthful but not quaffing like a Lord with spillage and song either. It may take conversation, it may even take a meal, but it can stand alone, by God it can stand alone! Have more on standby when you inevitably want a second or a third and marvel at the feather which is a very nice, Parliamentarian, touch.