24 December 2008

Over by Christmas

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;
-- Philip Larkin, MCMXIV

Since the pubs were open all day, it's perfectly possible that Larkin's fresh-faced new recruits to the British Expeditionary Force had adjourned for a celebratory beer before the ink was dry on their enlistment papers. If there was a Whitbread pub near the recruiting office, Tommy and pals could well have been congratulating each other over bottles of porter or SSS stout, beers Ron Pattinson commissioned De Molen to recreate. He very kindly donated a bottle of each to me back in August, and I reckon it's now about time I opened them.

Drink the Porter first, said Ron. The cork popped out loudly and was followed by quite a subtle beer -- a hazy dark brown, firmly fizzy and light bodied with a mild, slightly sour, slightly bitter, aroma tinged with a yeasty sharpness. The flavour carries notes of chocolate and coffee, but nothing powerful and nothing that even hints at 5.8% ABV. I realised before long that my fancy snifter glass (a gift from Adeptus) was entirely inappropriate here. Even though Ireland was probably spared the worst of the wartime predations on brewing, this recipe is unlikely to have been current several decades later when Flann O'Brien wrote that "a pint of plain's your only man", yet that's exactly what this is: a plain, no-nonsense drinking porter that begs to be sunk in a straight-sided pint glass.

With the last dregs poured down his clean-shaven throat, Tommy goes to the bar to get the next round in.

The stout, SSS, is a different story. No pop from the cork here, though it's far from flat -- lightly sparkled, leaving a low-lying island of froth floating on a translucent ruby body. Again the aroma doesn't jump out of the glass, but the promise of 9.99% ABV is definitely present among some dry roasted notes. The overwhelming feature of the flavour is bitterness: both beers are hopped with just East Kent Goldings and here they're used to their full extent: vegetal and slightly metallic, like the very finest brussels sprout. This sits on a sturdy base of heavy, dark, treacly malt with a touch of smoke, revealing this bitter old thing to be a sweetie at heart. The contrasting flavours leave me perfectly convinced that stout's dry and sweet variations both descended from a common ancestor much like SSS. I can see how drinkers used to this, and aware of how the powers-that-be were adversely influencing the nature of beer for the greater good of His Majesty's empire, wouldn't object too much when their pint headed off in one of these directions. They still would have hankered after a pint of old SSS, though. It's a beer to take time over. One to sip in silence with the lads and let the reality of what you've just signed up to sink in.


  1. Lovely post.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  2. Lucky git. I've been very interested in these old recipes since I read about them on Ron's.

    One aspect that concerns me is the comparison of the brewing processes used. We can assume the modern day re-creation is brewed under spotless conditions. I think the methods used in the past would have made for a subtly different beer.

  3. Cheers, Laura.

    That's a question for someone else's blog, Thom.

  4. Thom I think its an issue if consistency of the modern world, people to day just expect it.

  5. It's not so much the consistency of the pint but the specific attributes that the older brewing methods would have brought to the beer.

    I have in mind specifically additional microbial contributions and perhaps oxidative reactions that have been eliminated from essentially all modern day operations.

  6. They both sound absolutely lovely, and well done Ron for commissioning them. Some rather deep thoughts there too, just what I needed after finishing preparing the stuffing and starters for tomorrow. Wish I had a SSS to sip on now...

    Merry Christmas.