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The Session #66: One Beer To Rule Them All

This month’s session is being hosted over at DrinkDrank, and ask : What’s your perfect beer?

I guess it’s all about personal tastes; as I kicked this one around in my head, I cam up with all sorts – a beer to go with my favourite food, one for perfect occasions, anniversaries or even holidays. But it doesn’t boil down to that – it’s purely about taste.

Which led me to really ponder what ‘my taste’ is. As someone who spends a lot of time writing about, and drinking beer, you like to think you’re a jack of all trades, someone who is having just as much fun drinking Weizen as quaffing pints of Stout. But a quick look at my photo folder reveals otherwise.

You see, it turns out I’m a Pale Ale kind of guy. Why? Well, I guess I do have a massive predilection towards ‘Session beer’ – and I mean that in the purest, most exciting sense. When drinking socially, I only turn to heavier, stronger beers at the end of the night, taking the place of the nightcap with a third of Imperial Stout or something of that ilk. For me, drinking socially is about – and yes, I dare say it – volume and refreshment. Chuck in a healthy dose of what a lot of my socializing revolves around – Football – and you get the picture. Anything heavy and dark is usually sipped at home, giving way to introspection and reflection.

There’s too many fantastic ‘Session’ beers that fit my bill out there, though! From Rooster’s Yankee to Magic Rock’s Curious, from Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to Redwillow’s Headless. Camden Pale, Marble Pint, Oakham’s Citra, Fyne Jarl, Saltaire Cascade, Acorn’s Barnsley Bitter, Cheddar Ale’s Potholer, Kelham’s Pale Rider….the list is endless.

For these purposes, the two that most fit my tastes are Sharp’s Monsieur Rock and Buxton’s Moor Top. So I guess my beer would be like that; Pale Malt (From a Yorkshire Maltings, obviously) with a touch of Wheat thrown in; a combination of my favourite hops ; Cascade, Saaz and Bramling Cross, and a soft finish to make you want another one straight away. There you go. If someone will brew it me it, I’d be massively grateful!

And the name? Christ, that’s hard. I guess something simple; Session Pale. Inspired by, and to be drunk in.

The Session: Pale in Comparison

I was surprised to read The Beer Babe’s assertion in The Session that there’s a certain ambivalence towards Pale Ale in her part of the world. Surely not?

Is it a cultural thing? Is this true, America? Is this true, UK? Are we so conditioned towards hops or extremity in style and taste that there’s no room for a simple, tasty Pale Ale? In certain circles, yes, we probably are.

With the greatest respect, does any other style lend itself to utility as much as Pale Ale? The alcohol content alone usually means it’s the one reached for when the mercury rises, or when the day’s work has been physical and the throat is dry. Pale Ale is the beer that I the most of in my stocks, because when there’s a game on or I’m cooking, that’s what I want.

Many brewers make the mistake of launching their ranges with ‘a hoppy pale ale’.’ Although seemingly easy (as they’ll sell well), this can be a mistake from the respect of taste; Pale Ale offers no refuge to the inexperienced hand, one untrained in balance . Many Pale ales have suffered due to this; dusty, insipid affairs that show no personality of anything; let alone the brewer’s personality.

When done right, the results can be breathtaking. Buxton’s Moor Top is probably my current favourite, but it’s a close tie with Hawkshead’s NZPA. Actually, what about Magic Rock’s Highwire? Mallinson’s Now That’s What I Call Hops series? Kirkstall’s Majestic Three Swords? Oakham’s Citra, Harviestoun’s Bitter and Twisted, Camden’s Pale…the list goes on. Superb Pales, each one different, each one tasty and – perhaps most importantly – easy to drink.

During this mini-heatwave (which seems to be over – so much for summer), I found myself enjoying two pales from the bigger boys of UK Brewing. First up, Adnam’s Ghost Ship (4.5%abv). I’ve been buying this by the armful of late, because it ticks all the boxes for a great warm-weather drinker. The nose is full of Grapefruit pith and lemon-rind, and there’s just about enough malt in the body to back it all up; leaving the beer drying in a pleasant way; not too sweet, not too dry. It’s a deft beer; and one that I’ve enjoyed in bottle more than cask. The bottled version just seems brighter, more effervescent and alive. Wonderful stuff.

I wouldn’t be able t count the amount of Pale Ales out there that have relied on good ol’ Cascade hops to impart the requisite pine-and-citrus profile that modern Pale ales seem to demand. Thwaites’ Triple C (4.4%abv) is simplicity itself; sweeter than Ghost Ship but still refreshingly green in the nose; freshly cut grass battles with Pine in the nose, and all that freshness bobs along on a pronounced digestive-biscuit base.

Both beers are simple, too easy to drink and, importantly, were the right beers at the right time. I just hope that brewers continue to respect the humble Pale Ale, and don’t toss them off as an afterthought or a ‘must-have’ in the range. If you’re going to do it, do it right.

Drinking with Levon: The Session

This post was originally going to be very different. The spirit of this Session, I felt, was more to do with stripping the ‘moment’ of beer down, and not elevating it to heights that maybe remain hard for people to relate to. The People’s Moment, if you will. I had a few ideas, and spent a few days kicking them around in my head, as you do. As it happens, I fear somewhat that I have missed the point entirely of what Pete was trying to achieve.

Anyway, this was entirely out of my hands. On Friday the 19th, Levon Helm died.

Now, unless you listen to The Band, or music of that ilk, you probably won’t know – or care – who Helm was. To me, he was representative of something; a simpler time, and a period of my life that I look back fondly on.

When I was younger, I played in a band. I played Bass and sang, and was lucky enough to call a quartet of men who loved the same music I did – mostly termed ‘Americana’ or ‘Alt.Country’ nowadays – friends. We’d hoover up albums by Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Richmond Fontaine, Iron & Wine, Ryan Adams and countless others, regurgitating them into our own sound. We were good, to be honest. It was a great ten years or so.

I remember one evening in our rehearsal room, tooling about with some covers, and we decided to try out “The Weight”, one of The Band’s more famous songs. We sounded good, as we were, right up until the chorus. The song, if you don’t know, has this gorgeous harmony on the chorus; a rotating, rough-but-beautiful cascade of words and melody – it stops you in your tracks and puts a smile on your face.

Of course, we failed horribly. We couldn’t do the song justice, so we left it, stumped by that magical moment. We were missing that one thing that The Band had – a spark. The harmony isn’t technically hard; but it needed to come from the heart. And we didn’t have that, I guess.

When Levon died, a part of that memory became more poignant; I didn’t remember The Band – or Levon specifically – but my mind rewound to that night, those laughs, those red faces, and those renewed respect for artists who remain true to themselves, living together, living for music, in the moment. It was the whole package; knotted together. The music is the man, and the man is the memory.

There was only one way I could pay respect to that. The albums came out; headphones on, beer poured; a Coniston Old Man Ale (A subliminal nod to Neil Young, perhaps?)  Eyes closed, its amazing what you hear when you really listen to something with a new impetus. The beer was good; it was fine. Rich, smooth, subtly strong; it seemed to suit the rough-hewn, salty feeling of The Band, a throwback to simpler times in an age of Psychedelia. I sat there for two hours, rocking in my chair, dog at my feet, beer in my hand.

It wasn’t maudlin; just me, a beer, music and memories.

The beer, ultimately, was unimportant. The feeling was what was important, the warmth of alcohol’s kiss ushering in reverie over any superficial style or ingredient. But I sat there, rapt, living in the past with a beer in my hand, and I’m sure many others did the same over the weekend. It wasn’t maudlin; far from it. It felt right at some point to acknowledge – in the best way I know how – a time of my life that I really, really enjoyed; with a beer.

At the opposite end of the scale, (and maybe more in line with Pete’s original vision), one of those ‘moments’ cropped up a few days later. I was in Sheffield, enjoying a lunchtime pint (Blue Bee’s Amber’s Nectar) at The Rutland Arms. The place was quiet when I got in, but soon filled up with people partaking in mammoth sarnies and good-looking pints. I sat at the end of a table, opened my paper to the sports pages, and started poring over the hype for the upcoming Manchester derby.

A few minutes later, a shadow fell across the table. A chap appeared, and sat opposite me. We looked at each other, nodded a greeting, and he did the same as me; opened his paper, took a gulp of his beer, and settled in to study his news in silence. Two men, enjoying a beer, with no obligations or need for conversation. If I could verbalise the feeling, the best I could say is ‘contented sigh‘.

I can’t boil down ‘The Moment’ in any definable way. There’s too many moments in life  – and Beer – to do that. That’s the beauty of it. There’s always a moment around the corner, everywhere, and it could be with any beer, with anyone, or alone.  Events transpire. So, that week, these were my moments. This time. 


The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community which was started by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. On the first Friday of each month, all participating bloggers write about a predetermined topic. Each month a different blog is chosen to host The Session, choose the topic, and post a roundup of all the responses received. For more info on The Session, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s nice archive page.

The Session: The Best Day of The Year

Here’s my submission for the session, a monthly blogging event where you post on the same topic. It’s my interpretation of ‘A Dickens of a Topic.’ The Session is hosted this time by Phil over at Beersay, so get over there and check out the other entries. Hope you like it.

Christmas, 1990

My grandparent’s house; always the venue for Christmas day because it was detached and cavernous enough to hold us all. In the living room, the floor littered with new toys and my brother and I wearing our new jumpers, we’d sit goggle-eyed in wonder of it all; obsessed with whatever toy was sitting in our laps, even then salivating it the thought of all that food to come. A true butcher’s spread; an obscene amount of meat, vegetables and pastry. Decorations, Gold and Red. Mum and Grandma in aprons. Gravy boats. Party hats. Cartoons on TV. The sound of the knife being sharpened in the kitchen cutting through tipsy chatter. The best day of the year.

My Dad, Uncle and Grandad are going to the pub. When they reappear, cheeks a little rosier than when they left, the crate of beers appear. A never-ending supply,  kept under the stairs, sitting cold. There’s no room in the fridge anyway; too much Ham and Pork Pies, Relishes and Cheeses even for those sleek tins.

Snap- sssht.

Snap- sssht.

Snap- sssht.

The sound of cans being popped, the toffee-brown contents poured into glasses with slogans on them. Orange cans, crumpled, sitting in the bin. Stones Bitter. Tetley’s. These are the beers my dad drinks. These are the beers my uncle drinks. Sitting on their laps, watching Morecambe and Wise and Only Fools and Horses. Little hands reaching up – a little sip for us won’t hurt! After all, it’s Christmas – The best day of the year!

Christmas 2009

My dad’s place. Me, my Dad, Brother and Sister. We’ve all helped with the cooking, and now we sit eating at the table, party hats on, laughing and joking because this is Dad’s year for Christmas. He makes out like it’s no big deal but I know it is – how can it not be, it’s the best day of the year. There’s a plate of pigs-in-blankets the size of Everest at the head of the table because it’s his favourite food and we can do what we want now.  Turkey, Cheeses  –  Yorkshire Pudding, even. Key Lime Pie in the fridge, nestling above a mountain of Profiteroles. Plus, I’ve brought round some expensive, rare beers for us all to try. They’re sat outside in the garden, chilling down in the frosty air; beers from America. Beers from Italy. Beers from Scotland.

But on the table there are crumpled cans amongst the remains of crackers; the yellow-and-black wasp-bodies of Boddingtons; the familiar Red Triangle of Bass. Easy beers. Beers for Christmas Day, when you start drinking when you get up because it’s the best day of the year.  As the meal wears on and the trousers get tighter, our cheeks redder and voices louder, the cans keep piling up in the bin. Outside, light fades. My imported bottles sit in shadows now. I keep casting glances to them, sitting behind the patio door glass like puppy dogs – but as soon as I do, another can appears at my hand. It’s Christmas, the best day of the year, and these are the beers we drink. My Dad, brothers and I.

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