Monday, 26 May 2008

Review: St Peter’s Winter Ale

St Peter’s Brewery

If any brewery is attempting to break out of the musty, fusty world of beards and pullovers that dominates real ale in Britain, it has to be St Peter’s. Their beers lurch into Belgian territory nearly as often as the Wehrmacht with elderberry, lemon and ginger brews, while their Clerkenwell pub, The Jerusalem Tavern, mixes oak panels with suited pavement-overspill. And even their bottles, a weighty recreation of a 1770 original, have an aesthetic charm beyond mere function.

They are also experimental brewers, recreating long-forgotten varieties and even attempting some other soon-to-be-forgotten fads such as gluten-free beer. But this Winter Ale isn’t going to be the one to unite the pin-striped City types and the cardigans from CAMRA. At 6.5% it’s strong but insubstantial; winter ales should be warming, but here the booze is just a background note.

Instead, the flavour of this mahogany-shaded ale reminds me of Marmite. That’s right, Marmite – that Berlin Wall of yeast-based taste, dividing brother from sister and father from son. There is something in the thin, sweet, malt flavour that reminds me of the smell of burnt-toast soldiers too. Marmite, toast and alcohol? Unless you’re Shane McGowan most of us avoid beer at breakfast.

Hail to the ale

I don’t have a beard. In fact, I don’t have any facial hair, bar a scraggy fluff-patch below my lip that even a four-bladed battery-enhanced Nasa-influenced razor with lubrastrip somehow missed this morning. I’m also still young enough to tick the ‘25 to 35’ age-box on surveys, to watch TV online and to know that White Denim is not just a summerwear faux pas. I’ve even done it with a girl. So why do I love real ale?

It’s because, in spite of the image of murky drinks served in half-pint pots to bifocal nerds whose guts protrude over their jeans in a marvel of cantilevered engineering, British beer is joy in liquid form. That’s right, ale - that flat, opaque, old-fashioned, borderline-warm bitter - is a thing of rare beauty.

The reason that I hail the ale is that every taste of a fine beer is like taking a holiday, without leaving the cosy confines of the pub. Every region, every type of pint, every brewery, and even every individual pint, tastes different. From foamy whiffs of lemon to satisfying smokiness and even lip-tingling chilli-heat, their variety is almost infinite. Instead of each and every sip of mechanical fizz being another plodding step on the road towards inebriation, that journey is skipped along with giddy abandon, high on the delight of discovery and brown booze.

What I want to do is bring you along on this path towards pissedness. Not all the way to tongue-lolling traffic-cone-theft, but to have you too discovering the delight, the depth in British beer. To put down those over-chilled chemical lagers, the over-ice faux ciders and the over-rated flowerpots of Belgian foam and to reawaken your tastebuds.

The problem that we face on this shared journey is that most people’s first, and often only, taste of beer will probably have been something as brown, dated and indigestible as their parents’ G-plan sideboard. But these creamflow, nitro-kegged liquids reflect the current microbrew pints as much as dinner at the Little Chef, Heston reflects Heston’s molecular gastronomy.

These are daring drinks, produced in small numbers for the cognoscenti with passion, skill and flair. They are also often green. ‘Local’, ‘ethical’ and even ‘organic’ are as much watchwords for brewers and drinkers as they are for chefs and food critics. Try to think of these bold people as mini-Blumenthals, but with a mash-tun instead of a dry-ice machine.

It’s also a growth industry. New breweries are opening all the time, often supplying just one or two locals in the immediate area, making the drink as much part of the holiday memory as the scenery. And while alcohol sales are down and costs are up, micros continue to show growth.

And that is why the Good Beer Blog is here: to persuade the nation to give our national brew another chance. It’s here to cajole, inspire, advise and even hector everyone into forgetting their previous bitter experience and to again lift a pint of artisan ale. So read on and hopefully you too will soon learn to embrace the ale, cheer the beer, never doubt the stout and, perhaps, even test the best once again.

So amid the myriad of words, alliterative allusions and overwrought metaphors found here, there will also be news on new brews, articles on ales and a place where you can track down the best bottled and draught bitter. So keep reading the Good Beer Blog and we promise to keep it clean (shaven).