Caught by the River

Pint by the River – Badger Original Ale – 3.8%

Ben McCormick | 16th October 2010

by Ben McCormick.

Biting off more than you can chew. Gilding the lily. Jumping the shark. Call it what you will, we’ve all done it. History books are groaning at the seams with examples of people getting too far ahead of themselves and coming a cropper as a result. Louis XIV was definitely guilty of believing his own PR when declaring he was the state and poor old Napoleon bit off way more than he could chew having a pop at Russia in winter. Popular culture too is awash with similarly misguided folk; just ask George Lucas, who really should have called it a day after The Empire Strikes Back. And then, of course, there’s Clive Sinclair and the unforgettable (and unsaleable) C5.

Such colossal errors of judgement spring to mind as the subtle yet strident flavours of Allspice and dried fruit, delivered by a large glug of Badger Original Ale, wash over my tongue. Brewed by Blandford St Mary-based independent brewery Hall & Woodhouse at a sensible 3.8%, it has a studied, almost clichéd sense of poise and tradition about it. Like a middle-aged bloke clad in a tweed jacket, slacks and a diamond-patterned tank top resting his elbow on the bar of a thatched-roofed country pub in West Sussex nursing a large scotch and puzzling over the Telegraph cryptic crossword. There’s much to mock about the old duffer, but frankly, he knows what he’s about and he’s not trying to be anything he isn’t.

Which pretty much sums up Original Ale. It’s beer with no pretensions, unlike most of Badger’s output. And this is the thing. Quite why they decided to add eighteen boatloads of flowers to their other, more exotically named beers is anyone’s guess, but they really should have stuck to what they knew. Original Ale isn’t going to win any prizes. It’s barely distinct from most other standard ales, is fairly nondescript in colour and hasn’t got a stupid name or garish label. It probably won’t excite you much. It certainly won’t refresh the parts other beers cannot reach. And it’s definitely not the best lager in the world.

Yet it’s an honest beer that doesn’t disappoint and does what you tell it to. Not unlike a journeyman midfielder plying his trade in the lower reaches of the football league or a loyal infantryman who just happens to have a light when the dashing hero requests one. Original Ale is what Hall & Woodhouse should have concentrated on before getting ahead of themselves, buying up other breweries and trying to pep up mediocre beer with a flagrant floral assault on the senses.

According to the sleevenotes, the beer is inspired by the first Badger ale drunk by Dorset farm workers in the 1700s and later by the British army during the Napoleonic Wars. It tastes of old malt loaf, hands recently engaged in metalwork and scythe-wielding farmhands threshing at the wind-tossed wheat fields. In that order. The flavour then crosses the hearth after a 10-hour day, pulls a chair up by the kitchen table, wipes its weary brow and slakes its thirst on a quart of freshly made lemonade. After a passing curt remark to its long-suffering wife, it heads off to bed in preparation for another long day tomorrow. I get the feeling even Jeremy Clarkson would like this beer. Assuming he doesn’t decide to make yet another series of Top Gear, that is.