Caught by the River

Pint by the River – Bath Ales: Gem

23rd April 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.

Bath Ales: Gem by Roger Clapham

The West Country seems to eternally suffer from chronic stereotyping of one form or another. We are led to believe the region is populated by either ultra laid-back Bristolians or tractor-driving Cornish nationalists who want Rick Stein’s head on a plate. Perhaps the most prevalent idea of all though is that the inhabitants of the region are permanently engaged in both the production and dedicated consumption of cider. Frankly, I blame The Wurzels – “I am a Cider drinker” bothered the top ten singles chart and the national consciousness for some weeks in 1976 and mud sticks, as we all know. Add to that cider’s current mass appeal – albeit well-deserved in some cases – and the impression the outsider can get of the South-West is that good old-fashioned ale is merely an afterthought, a second-tier industry for those who don’t have access to an orchard or a cider press. Fortunately, this perception could now be set to change, certainly if the good people at Bath Ales (alongside other regional brewers such as the St Austell brewery) have anything to do with it.

Bath Ales was set up as an independent microbrewery in 1995, and quickly developed an accomplished range of beers. Success soon followed and the brewery has expanded into new premises twice since then, and they now have a number of their own outlets around both Bristol and Bath, including a contemporary take on the grand old British tradition of the chop house. They were also supplying ales to the Glastonbury festival last year, which despite their obvious local links is a highly commendable feat for a smaller brewery – just think of the demand.

The folk there clearly know their stuff and the range they have created is pretty broad, from the light Golden Hare ale to the particularly smooth Dark Side stout. Gem is their version of a modern best bitter, and the most commonly available of their output as a guest ale or bottled in supermarkets and the like. On a basic level, it’s essentially a good, earthy, reliable bitter, and has a long, strong, bitter-sweet taste. It’s a deep, almost mahogany colour like proper beer should be, and there’s a lovely life-affirming whiff of its ingredients about it too, in particular the malt. It’s the kind of beer you can drink all evening – it’s 4.8%, so very much steady away really.

It makes me think of the kind of thing your dad would have drunk when you barely understood what beer was, and were generally rather suspicious of it. And besides that, it’s better than a pint of cider any day of the week – certainly the stuff I was drinking as a teenager near the bus station anyway. Proper beer – great stuff. Cheers…