Caught by the River

Pint by the River – St Peter’s India Pale Ale

26th February 2010

Last year, Jeff, Andrew and myself sat out on the back stoop of the Dove doing our usual thing – drinking a few pints of foaming nut brown ale while concocting plans of what we could or should attempt next. We’ve always liked talking about beer. Liked drinking it a bit more than that if truth be told. So we thought we’d start a CBTR beer section. An ongoing conversation about ale, if you will. Hopefully it’ll be sporadic yet seasonal, informative yet slightly sozzled. It’ll be a bit like that conversation we had that day in fact.

St Peter’s India Pale Ale by Roger Clapham

You may have seen the distinctive, old-fashioned medicine bottles of the St Peter’s Brewery range in your supermarket. At their site in Suffolk within the grounds of St Peter’s Hall – originally a private residence that dates back to 1280 – they produce a wide range of different beers, some of which are based on historic recipes. Whilst the imagery may suggest a grand medieval pile long-populated with overly-refreshed monks, the truth is somewhat different – the brewery is a thoroughly modern affair, operating since 1996 in former agricultural buildings on the site. The brewing process itself takes place around a courtyard at the centre of the site and the required water is sourced from their own well, having dug a borehole deep into the Suffolk chalk below the site.

The vast majority of their output is bottled and is now available worldwide, although cask versions do turn up as guest ales at some of your finer pubs, chiefly in that area of the country. They have won a multitude of awards for their beers, and both the Best Bitter and the Golden Ale are especially good. If you have a particularly raging thirst a selection of their ales can be sampled at their cracking London pub – the Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell – a fine old Dickensian watering hole and a winner in’s pub of the year awards last year.

Their India Pale Ale is arguably their finest brew; it’s certainly my own favourite. There is some discussion in real ale circles over what makes a genuine IPA, however I believe St Peter’s version can claim to be the genuine article, being in possession of the characteristics that would see it survive the long sea voyage to the subcontinent. It’s brewed to a robust traditional recipe so it’s strong tasting and noticeably hoppy, but not gassy either – qualities that should allow you to neck a few pints of it in the same manner as a parched East India Company employee may well have done in the eighteenth century. Although without the scurvy or the fancy breeches I’d hope.

At 5.5% I’d consider it more of a Friday night beer than a leisurely session ale, it does pack a reasonable punch. You’d thoroughly enjoy it though as it is delicious, and those medicine bottles it comes in hint that it may be doing you some good. Quite how much may be open to debate though, as a good number of these and you wouldn’t want to be operating heavy machinery in the morning. Amen to that. Cheers…