They say if you give a monkey a typewriter and leave it to it, sooner or later a coherent sentence will be produced. Whether the monkey would be aware of this is quite another matter. Thus it was today at JDW in Middleton. This has to be around the bottom of any qualitative list of JDWs, at least as far as cask ale is concerned, but today, on the first day of JDW's Autumn Beer Festival there occurred a moment of simian lucidity. The list was good, even if they didn't know it.
I had thought it might take me some time to pick up the most desirable beers on the list, but here, in the Harbord Harbord*, all but one of my chosen few, was there for my delectation. This was unprecedented, of proportions so unlikely that I had never thought it possible. One would have been a bonus, but four, yes four, all at once? Never. But it was so. I was in a daze as I ordered.
First up was a trio of Mikkel's Viking's Return, brewed by a Dane in Jennings Brewery in Cumbria, then, Firestone Walker California Pale Ale brewed at Marstons and lastly Yo-Ho Yona Yona brewed at Bank's in Wolverhampton. All promised an American style approach to hopping so how did it turn out? Well, good and not so good really. The first one I tried was the Viking's Return. The nose was a blast of resinous cascade hops, though there was a bit of chocolatey malt there too. Beer was dark, sumptiously bodied, with a full on cascade bitterness which got deeper the further into it you got. It finished bitter and hoppy. It is a very good beer indeed. Next was the Yona Yona. This was a bit different. Thinner bodied, no discernable nose with a subdued floral bitterness, a crystal malt edge and a bitter resinous finish. It was clean and reminiscent to me of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, though lacking that beer's complexity and panache. I had been realy looking forward to the Firestone, but it was thin, weedy, slightly sulphurous with a short, bitter finish. Hmm. Not what I was hoping for, but it is early days. I'll try it again if I can find it.
My second trio of thirds included Spinning Dog Autumn Gold which was not a golden ale despite what they say. It was bitter, slightly alcoholic and malty, but not too sweet. Just OK to my palate, but no more. My other "tick" was CAMRALE, brewed by Wadworth and chosen it seems by 12 CAMRA types in a tasting of five beers all brewed by Wadworth. Well yes. If it was the stand out best as alleged, goodness knows what the rest were like. It was OK in a typical Wadworth way, but again dominated by sulphur and the typical house Waddies taste. I'm guessing here, that the panel of CAMRA peeps were not from the North West. In fact I'll bet my bottom dollar on that!
My last third was a repeat of the Viking. Of course! So that's it. Just the Baron's Black Wattle Original left that I'd really like to try. I'm betting it will prove elusive!
* Sir Harbord Harbord was born on 26 January 1734. He was created 1st Baron Suffield in 1786 and gave the land on which the present pub stands. I'd have called it the Lord Suffield myself.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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