It wasn't all fancy pub-hopping in England over Christmas. I was well looked after by my sisters who sourced a selection of bottles for general drinking.
Among them was a box set from Adnams, one of my favourite English breweries. While I'm familiar with most of their output, there were a couple of new ones in here. Most of all I was keen to get my hands on Ghost Ship, their new pale ale. It's so pale as to be golden, but branding it a golden ale would be an insult: it's a style that few breweries do well and tends to be more of an attempt to catch the lager market than to make genuinely good beer. Not so with Ghost Ship: no grainy malts or bubblegum stickiness here, just bright and snappy peach and pineapple flavours sitting atop the signature Adnams crispness. That balance of dry minerals and New World hop candy makes for a fantastic flavour combination.
Also new to me was Gunhill, a sweet red ale with a thick off-white head. First sip reveals bags of milk chocolate plus some brown-maltish roast coffee dryness. A subtle bit of hop spice in the finish offers a little seasoning on what's otherwise a very much malt-driven beer. Though heavy, it's only 4% ABV. A warmer at this strength is a rare and welcome find.
The official warmer from Adnams, however, is Yuletide, which I found on draught in The Moon Under Water in Watford. On Christmas Eve afternoon this crammed JD Wetherspoon put a new spin on the phrase "Orwellian nightmare". Having elbowed enough uncollected plates aside to have somewhere to put my pint, I found Yuletide to be not all that dissimilar to Adnams Bitter: brown and quite crisp with just a little bit more of a dark taste, a sweetness which includes some bourbon biscuit and plum. Reasonable fare, though I'm sure the ambiance didn't help my appreciation. I should have gone to The One Crown down the street. I know this now.
And while we're on a liquorice kick, here's Bad King John from Ridgeway, a 6% ABV stout and former winner of Sainsbury's's annual beer competition. Reuben found it silky and chocolatey, but it tasted much drier to me, with lots of almost harsh bitterness, leading to that liquorice quality. Lots of roast and a big hit from the 6% ABV, it's a bit of a monster and I'm not at all sure I liked it.
Leaving winter aside altogether, the last bottle for now is Up 'n' Down, brewed by Hobson's as a fundraiser for the Walking With Offa pub walks promotion, hence the change from their usual minimalist label style. It's an easy-drinking 4.2%-er, pale and pithy with some assertive orange sherbet and grapefruit sharpness. With the carbonation kept low it makes for a very refreshing experience, which I guess is the whole point of a walkers' beer.
An eclectic bunch there, but a clear indication that pale 'n' hoppy is where it's at with mainstream British beer, if I'm any judge.