Durham Brewery is one of the more established micros of the northeast. Brewing commenced in 1994, and they now have a beer list of over 40 beers. This includes occasional and seasonal brews, so don’t expect to find them all at once! Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to sample just nine of these ales from cask, so when I recently came across a small flowering of Durham bottles on a supermarket shelf, I took one of each. As usual, I will review them in order of increasing ABV.
The bottles are attractively presented with uniform labels each bearing a St Cuthbert Cross. St Cuthbert, one of England’s all-time favourite saints, was finally laid to rest in a tomb behind the high altar of Durham Cathedral in 1104, over 400 years after his death. The shrine is still visited by pilgrims today, and must surely be one of the holiest spots in England. It is a space of profound stillness, as will be testified by the many visitors it receives each year. The head of St Oswald (king of Northumbria, 634 – 642) lies with Cuthbert in his tomb. There’s a lot for a brewery that has adopted his symbol to live up to.
These beers are all bottle-conditioned, and yet each poured bright and clear.
First up was Durham Cloister, described as a ‘Premium Bitter’ (there’s that buzzword again – would any brewer ever describe their beer as ‘non-premium’?). At 4.5, I would class this as a best bitter. In this case, the word ‘best’ does actually mean something. Bitters below 4% ABV are simply ‘bitters’, those of 4% and above are ‘best bitters’, and tend to be a bit richer and fuller than their lighter cousins. Cloister pours a clear, bright pale orange with a firm head of close-packed bubbles. The principal note in the aroma is hops. The taste is hoppy and dry with some distinct citrus pith and a touch of spice. Although classed as a bitter, this really tastes like an IPA, and a really good one at that. Excellent.
My second bottle was Durham Evensong, a 5.0% ruby ale. It is a lovely, deep plum colour with a rich, off-white head. The smell contains clear notes of cherry. This is a beautifully smooth ale, the main flavour being cherry, though it’s not overwhelming. That’s good for me – I don’t particularly like cherry, but here it’s subtle and really adds something. Other flavours include toffee and a satisfying bitter hops undertaste. This is very nice beer.
Lastly in this liturgically themed threesome, is Durham St Cuthbert, named after the man himself. It weighs in at a respectable 6.5% and is described as a ‘Special IPA’. The smell is largely sweet citrus with hints of hops. The taste presents a strong, dry, hoppy flavour which is quite bitter but not overpoweringly so. There’s plenty of citrus pith with touches of sweet nectarine just round the edges to tantalise the tastebuds. I can happily place this beer amongst my very favourite examples of the new breed of proper IPAs. It’s got everything you need, high ABV, bitter hops and citrus pith. Truly superb.
I was very impressed by each of these offerings from Durham. I’ll be on the lookout for some of their extra strong beers (which seem to be a speciality) – Benedictus (8.4%), Bede’s Chalice (9.0%), Redemption (10%) and Temptation (10%).
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