21 January 2016

Shropshire drops

Not far from where I spent Christmas in the Shropshire countryside is the Red Lion pub in the village of Longden Common. It's as pleasant a country inn as you could wish for: ceiling beams, an open fire, hearty food and so on. And there's the added bonus of The Shropshire Brewer producing beer in an adjoining building.

Sawn Off and The Golden Arrow
Three of the house beers were pouring on cask when I dropped by on the night before Christmas Eve. My first was The Golden Arrow, a 3.8% ABV pale ale. The fingerprints of burtonisation are all over this, with the slightly farty aroma and spicy, sulphurous, vaguely cabbagey element in the flavour. It's smooth for all that; light without being watery and delicately hopped though very much going for edgy bitterness over fruit notes. A simple and decent house beer, really.

All the dials get turned up for Spire Dancer, though it's only a little bit stronger at 4.2% ABV. This is a darker shade of gold with rich golden syrup malt notes, shading even towards candy sugar, and green waxy bitterness. The texture is heavy too, and more than anything this beer reminds me of German pale bock. I'd have reverted straight back to the Golden Arrow, but there was one beer left to try.

Sawn Off is a traditional brown bitter and gets to work quickly with the caramel and chocolate, both in the aroma and flavour. Though enticing to begin with it gets overly sweet very quickly. Definitely not a beer to stick with either.

I suppose I should consider myself lucky that there was one beer to my taste available on the night. Other Shropshire Brewer beers are available.

Off round the backroads a different way there's The Bridges, a pub owned by the Three Tuns Brewery. I started my brief visit here with a pint of Cleric's Cure IPA, a golden 5%-er. It has a little in common with Spire Dancer in that it's a heavy, waxy sort of ale, but it also had a delicious kick of spicy sandalwood in its flavour profile that helps prevent the palate getting overwhelmed.

I followed it with a swift pint of Three Tuns Stout which is one of those very sweet ones, putting me immediately in mind of the Arthurstown one I reviewed recently: it has the same sort of treacle pudding effect. The texture is beautifully light which makes it very easy to drink despite that slight stickiness.

Before leaving I got a taste of the Three Tuns winter seasonal XXXXXXX (that's seven of them), a 9.5% ABV winter warmer with, according to the pumpclip, added coffee, chocolate and cognac. It's not as crazy as that spec suggests, though the dark gold beer is extremely thick and definitely not one to drink in a hurry. It's smooth and, while I couldn't detect any coffee or chocolate, there is a little bit of a brandy kick in amongst the very beery warmth. It seems odd to say a beer like this is subtle and balanced, but this one is.

Finally to Salopian Brewery and I didn't get any of their beers on draught but picked up a couple of bottles of their prestige range at the Beer Me Up Scotty stall in Shrewsbury Market Hall. Very little information is supplied on the bottles, but they look nice. The first was Midnight Express, presumably a stout of some sort. There's an annoying ice-cream-float head that meant it took ages to get into a pint glass, but that did give me time to appreciate the aroma: a gorgeous spicy green hoppiness suggesting black IPA rather than stout, perhaps. In keeping with the somewhat gloopy texture, the stiff head is a handsome dark tan colour. Unsurprisingly, hops are at heart of the beer's flavour: bitter cabbage and then a livelier lemon sherbet and grapefruit zest. A little bit of sweet café crème brings the darkness to the taste, but only briefly. Tongue-tingling citrus is how it finishes. While thick, it's also smooth so very drinkable, and packs a lot of complexity into 5.2% ABV. Stout, porter or black IPA, this is a masterfully designed beer.

The next one, Boomerang, also started out unpromisingly. Only 33cl to pour here and it looked a bit tired and flat: a murky yellow with a white skim of head. The yeast doesn't get much of a look-in past the hops, however: there's a strong, almost sickly, bang of tropical breakfast juice. If anything, the sharp yeast edge gives it a bit of balance, introducing a grown-up rind element to the kiddie juicebox. At 6.9% ABV I was expecting some heat but it's surprisingly light and zippy. It would be nice to try a cleaner draught version of this but it's certainly interesting and tasty as-is.

That's all from this trip to England. I spent 12 hours at home before heading off on the next excursion, which I'll cover next week.


  1. The Three Tuns Stout looks like a lovely pint in the picture.

    1. Damn near perfect, you might say.

  2. The Red Lion at Longden Common appeared in this documentary about Red Lions in 2009, when it had recently closed.

    "Yes, you find unhappiness in the Red Lion, and people trying to drink away their loneliness. But there's also lots of good times, companionship, cameraderie and laughter. The saddest Red Lion by far is the one in Longden Common. It was the centre of this tiny Shropshire community; everyone went on a Saturday night, unless they were ill, and they tried not to be on a Saturday. But then it closed, and with it went the village's main point of contact. They used to do stuff together, go on holiday even; now they stay at home and watch telly. I hope they watched this at least, because it was a lovely portrait of a peculiarly British institution."

    Good to hear that it's reopened and, from what you say, thriving.