Monthly Archives: June 2011

Peculiar Peculier

The Legend

During the dreary, rain-soaked summer of 1978, a few friends and I were camping in a peat bog on top of the Yorkshire moors above Wensleydale. We were amateur astronomers, and were willing to camp in a bog on account of the clear, dark skies that grace remote rural sites. Trouble was, it rained every day, and the continual wet, total absence of facilities (when I say we were camping in a bog, we really were – no shower blocks or loos or even running water, except a tannin brown floaty sheep dung trickle of a stream) forced some of our party out of the tents and down into the nearest small town, Hawes – a seven mile trek. Not so bad going down but a swine coming back up again. The morning after one of these forays into town, the guys who had gone told us about this amazing and incredible beer they had discovered called ‘Old Peculier’.

Now I was only 16 at the time, but on a lunchtime visit to Hawes later in the week, one of my older friends bought me half a pint of this wonderful beer he’d discovered. And it was. Obviously at that time I had no great experience of beer, but to find this amongst all the Watney’s Red Barrel was a find indeed. I loved it from the start. And thus started a lifelong love affair with this particular ale.

Now considered a bit passe by many sophisticated beer drinkers, Theakston’s Old Peculier maintains its No 1 slot on my favourite beers list. But it’s wobbly. The problem with OP these days is consistency. Now we all know that when brewing real ales, slight differences do occur from brew to brew, barrel to barrel, and this is one of the great joys of drinking real ale. But OP can be wildly different. It can range from the truly sublime to the passably ordinary. When I talk about OP to my fellow ale enthusiasts, it is always this matter that is raised. It’s not hard to find OP in pubs these days, but it is hard to find it in peak condition. I find this bizarre, because Old Peculier has been brewed since the 1890s. Surely they should have got it right by now. On a recent toddle round some of my favourite watering holes in the Lake District, I had three pints of OP in three different pubs. The three different pints (all drunk on different days) were respectively ‘alright’, ‘good’ and ‘mindblowing’. The ‘mindblowing’ pint (OK, I had two!) was at Tweedies Bar in Grasmere, a venue that I’ve noticed in the past takes very good care of its beers. How much of the difference can be put down to indifferent cellarmanship is debatable, but the two other pubs are definitely not noted for keeping beers badly.

The other problem with Old Peculier is the bottled version. Deeply disappointing, it just doesn’t taste like OP. If you’ve only ever drunk this ale from bottles, then you haven’t really had it. Even the dullest of Cask OP is far, far better than the bottled version. Theakston’s should produce a bottle conditioned version of this beer – now that I would like to try, but in its pasteurized form, it’s just, well… flat.

On a side note, a few years ago I found a truly interesting beer in the Royal Oak in Ambleside in the Lakes. It was called Theakston’s Peculiar Peculier. I’ve only ever seen this once, and I imagine it was a one-off never to be repeated brew, which is a great shame. This was some time in the 1990s, and therefore may have been a celebratory brew for Old Peculier’s 100th birthday. The taste was undoubtedly that of Old Peculier, but the beer was a clear, bright yellow in colour. It looked like a regular pint of bitter. I’ve never met anyone who remembers seeing this beer. If there’s anyone out there who does, I’d love to hear from them.

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Posted by on 10 June, 2011 in Cask Ale


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Three Bottle Conditioned Ales from Bitter End

Three bottle conditioned ales from Bitter End

The Bitter End brewery was opened in 1995 at the Bitter End pub on Kirkgate in Cockermouth, where they proudly proclaimed that it was Cumbria’s smallest brewery. The pub remains, but the brewery has now moved to an industrial unit half a mile or so away on the other side of the river Derwent.

I bought three bottles of Bitter End ale from a supermarket in Windermere; Lakeland Bitter, Lakeland IPA and Lakeland Golden. The names may not seem very inspired, but I’ll come back to that. The bottles are simply but attractively labelled in a uniform format, each label proclaims Bitter End’s motto – ‘Beer without compromise’ and also with the warning ‘Not to be confused with bland, tasteless mass-produced beers’. With both statements noted, I poured my first glass.

The Lakeland Bitter is mid orange in colour, more romantic observers than me would probably call it amber. At 3.8%, it’s clearly intended to be a session ale, and is very fine indeed. Exceptionally smooth, slightly nutty with hints of citrus, there is a nice bitter finish with just the tiniest hint of dry earth at the very end. All the beers tasted in this session were made with Maris Otter, Pale and Crystal malt. The bitter also has Chocolate malt, presumably to add depth of colour and a rounder flavour typical of a good bitter ale. There is just a single hop variety in this beer, First Gold, giving the whole a real taste of a high quality traditional bitter.

Lakeland IPA is the strongest of the three beers tasted at 5.5%. This is a good alcohol level for a traditional IPA, many more recent versions of which have reduced the alcoholic content considerably away from the original specification of IPAs. It’s a bright, mid yellow in colour, and on the first taste provides a mouthful of hoppy flavours, Simcoe, First Gold and Cascade hops being used in the brew. The hop flavours never descend into unpleasant bitterness, however. This is an excellent IPA, and I’d be happy to drink it at any time.

Lakeland Golden has the same three malts as the other beers tasted, but has three hop varieties – Challenger, Chinook and Cascade. This gives the beer a slightly lighter taste than the Lakeland Bitter, despite its stronger ABV of 4.3%, and a pleasing hoppy finish. Lakeland Golden is perhaps the least interesting of the three Bitter End beers tasted, but is still a rewarding and enjoyable beer.

These beers were all bottle conditioned, resulting in lively, lightly sparkling ales, each with a small amount of throw in the bottom of the bottle. As I had kept the bottles carefully, and upright at all times, the sediment had settled and adhered to the bottle bottom, so there was no cloudiness in the glass.

I enjoyed my foray into Bitter End beers, and whilst I was drinking, I thought about the plain but eye-catching labels and the rather dull names. It occurred to me that what Bitter End is doing is providing no-nonsense (to steal a marketing phrase from a vastly inferior product) products that ‘do exactly what they say’ on the bottle. They don’t seem to have been distracted by thinking up ludicrous names for their beer, nor by designing complicated cartoony labels. It’s not about that. It’s about the beer. It is beer without compromise, and these beers are certainly not to be confused with bland, tasteless mass-produced beers.

Bitter End – a name to watch.

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Posted by on 3 June, 2011 in Bottled Beer


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