09 November 2009

A lorra lorra bitter

I went over to Liverpool on Friday with Séan, to represent Irish beer drinkers (what do you mean you didn't elect us?) at the meeting of the European Beer Consumers' Union -- a great bunch of people, and very sympathetic to what we're trying to do over at Irish Craft Brewer. I hope it won't be the last time we're in touch.

It was a highly enjoyable trip -- meeting up with my sister whom I don't get to see nearly enough of, as well as regular commenter Laurent and fellow blogger Melissa Cole, lovely people one and all. We visited some absolutely cracking pubs and I ate more pies than is probably healthy, but this sort of exotic food just has to eaten when in foreign parts, right? But there was one bit I didn't really enjoy, now that I think about it. I am sick to my eye-teeth of bitter. If I never see another pint of mildly hoppy, softly carbonated, yellow-to-brown ale, it will be too soon.

Things started out well enough on Friday afternoon, coming in from the rain to the cosy Victorian splendour of the Phil and a pint of Cains Bitter: a heavy and warming brown beer, with an interesting dry chewiness and a touch of honey. When we moved down to the Fly In The Loaf (my favourite pub of the trip) I was still able to enjoy the bitter yet balanced Shropshire Gold, though my attention started to waver over a sharp but still drinkable Hopback Odyssey. Choosing dull and musty Newman's Druid's Choice, however, was regrettable. Bitter fatigue was setting in.

I pepped up a little with Beartown Ursa Minor, enjoying its cool lemony freshness. But Wapping Gold, on tap next to it in the Lady of Man, was much less inspiring -- nothing wrong with it, just crying out for a bit more hop oomph. As we moved on to the Ship and Mitre, there was the crashingly dull brown Allendale Wolf, though some level of redemption in Wentworth's Amber Gambler which had some interesting bubblegum malt and a solid hoppy kick. The evening finished belowstairs at the Everyman bistro with Coniston Gold, not a beer that was going to keep me awake contemplating its complexities.

We spent Saturday afternoon meandering. Things were quiet down by the docks, but the commercial centre of Liverpool was thronged. As any UK beerophiles will know, JD Wetherspoon has its annual festival running at the moment and I managed to drag our small band into the dark heart of one of Liverpool's mammoth branches. Yes, I know I shouldn't have -- it was horrible -- but there was one of the specials on: Toshi's Amber Ale. That's got to be good, sure isn't Toshi Ishii of Yo-Ho one of the greats among world brewers, and his amber ale is just going to be loaded with zingy hops, right? Right?

Nope, just another boring brown bitter. A bit sweet but a huge let down. The manager only managed to squeeze one half out of the cask, so we also had Everard's Old Original, which had a pleasant piquancy tempered by a touch of caramel, plus one other bitter so boring I can't find any reference to it on the Internet, so I'm not going to bother naming it. Maybe I was hallucinating by this point.

The ring of bitterness came full circle with our final pints back at the Phil. Utterly sick of bitter but with basically no other choice I went for Brewster's Hop-A-Doodle-Do, sighing at the name, and hoping against hope there'd be something more to it. But no: this was a lightly hopped brown beer with a teensy bit of fruity hops in the middle and absolutely no legs at all. Down it went, and we were on our way back to the airport.

I think I can see why some British beer drinkers are so down on tickers: basically, there is no point in ticking English bitters. They're all too alike. The way to enjoy them is to pick one and settle with it for the session. Flipping between lots of them is just unsettling. That's my lesson learned (though whether it'll change my behaviour is another matter entirely).

Sounds like Liverpool was a bit of a washout beerwise, eh? Far from it. I had lots and lots of really interesting beers, most of them on the darker side of the house. But that's for another post.


  1. I'm sorry you had such a dull time with the bitter, but it gave me an entertaining morning read :) (no, that's not Schadenfreude)

  2. Toshi's stuff was actually rather good when I had it. If you got the last half, then it was likely knackered by then.

    Know what you mean about boring bitters though. See my latest post.

  3. I'm not sure it was the last half. It was pouring extremely high and my server just got bored decanting foam between thimbles while the queue at the bar snaked out towards Birkenhead. Having consolidated three halves of foam into a single glass of beer, she turned the clip round.

  4. I know what you mean about bitters, I found the same thing in London but since bitters are not something we get much of in Ireland they at least kept me amused trying to find one that was a little more interesting. Of course the most interesting beers were not bitters in the end. Fullers London Porter on cask being the obvious orgasmic example :D

  5. I tried Toshi's last night and found to be most enjoyable. Occasionally I’ll have a pint of bitter when I will think, “why did I bother”, but most of the time I still love the stuff.

  6. I've had the odd pint of transcendent bitter in the last year or so, but it is often tired and cardboardy, especially in London. Yellow beers and black beers are much more likely to get me excited, although some yellow beers are very disappointing -- just the brown ones with the caramel left out and the word "sun" in the name.

  7. Every time I got a yellow pint I was filled with hope, but it rarely lasted.

    And yes, there are of course transcendent bitters. Why everyone isn't cloning Taylor's or Harvey's Bests is beyond me.

  8. I also ended up with bitter fatigue but enjoyed the milds and stouts when I got them. Fuller London Porter on cask; delicious.

  9. I'm getting to that.