03 January 2014

Into the sunset

My wonky palate is no stranger to WTF reactions: beers I like that nobody else does; beers I can't be having but which are lauded far and wide by those in the know. It rarely bothers me, though if the plaudits are loud enough I will go back for second and third helpings of something I didn't enjoy, and sometimes this pays off eventually: Timothy Taylor Landlord is my reference example of a beer that took me ages to "get" but whose attractions I now understand. It's extra pleasing, though rare, to watch a popular beer I don't like gradually fall out of favour with the commentariat. Are your ears burning, Doom Bar?

Why all this concern over the relative merits of beers? It's The Session once again and the theme is Against The Grain: those instances where our tastes vary from the wider drinking community, and the broader question of what makes a beer actually a good beer: what we're tasting, or what everybody else thinks?

I'll admit that when it comes to making recommendations I do distinguish between the ones I like and which lots of other people say they do too ("This is an excellent beer") and the ones where I'm on less sure ground but want to share my experience ("I'm particularly fond of..."). The bottom line, of course, is that taste is subjective, but there's a lot to be said for the consensus. While the front and back ends of the beer rating bell curves are full of herd mentality nonsense, there's lots of very useful information in the middle ground and I believe it is possible to determine the relative value of a middle-range beer from what value the raters and advocates have collectively assigned to it. Cheers to them.

Today's beer hasn't had enough Beer Advocate ratings to warrant a grade, but scores just 14% on RateBeer. Was it the attractive shiny packaging that attracted me to it? The chance to tick a beer from a brewery that no longer exists? Or was it the €1 price tag? Probably a combination of all three is what made me ignore Richard in DrinkStore's warning that Cains Calcutta Pale Ale was no good. In favour of his argument it's a piddling 2.8% ABV, brewed for the tax break and also two days past its best before. But look at the (African?) elephant carrying the hop flower! Awww!

It's a happy darkish amber colour with a thin layer of fine white foam on top. It smells quite minerally with subtle hints of sugar and spice. No wateriness at all about the mouthfeel: it's thick, even a little sticky. Yes, there's not much by way of flavour: mild toffee is the most prominent quiet element, followed by something slightly metallic. Not far off brown bitter territory, really.

This recreates admirably the sensation of drinking real beer and is certainly far better than any alcohol free beer I've tasted. There's little point in me recommending it to you, or lauding it as something to trawl the bargain buckets for, but I consider my euro well spent.

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