Caught by the River

Pint by the River: Beer of the Roses (Part 1)

Ben McCormick | 27th November 2011

By Ben McCormick & Roger Clapham

BM: Yorkshire. Land of flat caps, too many sheepdog trials and the curmudgeon. Loser of the original Wars of the Roses and, amusingly, relegated to the second tier of County Cricket again this year. It’s England’s largest county, despite the modernisation of some parts into Humberside and Cleveland, and remains notorious for the bluntness and thriftiness of its inhabitants. Across the Pennines is my own county of Lancashire, a truly green and pleasant land where the rain never falls and the people have just the sunniest disposition.

Yorkshire’s also the birthplace of fellow Pint by the River stalwart Roger Clapham, with whom I’ve agreed to rekindle the spirit of the Wars of the Roses by way of a ‘beer off’. The concept was simple: meet in a pub, drink beer from Yorkshire and Lancashire, decide which is best, then give the opponent two bottles from the home county breweries of your choice. The idea was to then write up the results of this experiment. In theory an easy undertaking, though the first round was somewhat extended and it’s safe to say neither of us bargained for the hefty porter with which we ceased hostilities.

RC: So, starting off at London’s Mason & Taylor, round one was to be Manchester’s Marble Brewery versus Huddersfield’s Magic Rock boys, with the former’s Lagonda set against Magic Rock’s High Wire pale ale. I had high hopes for a glorious start for the White Rose county with Magic Rock, they’ve received a lot of plaudits in the past year and have been creating some really interesting beer. Sadly, High Wire, despite its 5.5% strength and flavours of tropical fruits (not to mention the beer bloggers approval rating), wasn’t all that. There’s an almost overpowering grapefruit taste accompanied by a savage dryness, leaving us in no doubt – don’t believe the hype. The Marble Lagonda knocked it into a cocked hat with ease – proper citrus flavours, no dry aftertaste, and it came in at similar strength of 5.2%. Bugger. 1-0 to them.

BM: So Roger’s given me this bottle of ‘English Summer Beer’ from the Wold Top Brewery in Driffield. If you don’t know it, Driffield is cattle country. Its name appears in the Domesday Book and means, literally, dirty manured field. There’s nothing particularly exciting about it, especially since the cattle market closed down after the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001. Plenty of threat, though. Pretty much everyone I’ve ever met from the town has huge hands and knows how to make a belt out of bailer bind.

The beer – Golden Summer – is one of a seemingly exponentially growing number of golden ales launched over the last few years by brewers trying to tap into the lager-drinker market. That generally leads to fairly bland, flavourless fare, but this Wold stuff isn’t too bad. OK, the Styrian Golding’s and Cascade hops and Maris Otter malts used are somewhat predictable, but it has a pleasing tartness about it that would genuinely brighten up an otherwise typically drab Yorkshire day in Driffield. But it’s the label that really steals the show. Wheat-straw coloured paper adorned with butterflies, flowers, the words ‘Wold Famous’ and a resting lady in a summer meadow whose breast profile looks uncannily like Ilkley Moor. I fear it’s beaten at least one of my Lancashire offerings (big) hands down.

RC: Which is exactly what it did. After a bike ride on Sunday, I necked my own bottle of Golden Summer (to ensure an unbiased report) and opened Ben’s first offering – Lancaster Brewery’s Amber. This is a 3.7% session ale that frankly couldn’t appear more Lancastrian if it tried – a red rose on both the bottle (twice!) and its cap, with said bottle making a point of carrying a full pint rather than the standard 500ml. Had it not been an inanimate object, it’d have demanded a brew and then set off to fell the nearest chimney stack in tribute to Fred Dibnah. Sadly, the beer was tame, overly sweet with strong toffee and malt flavours, and rather underwhelming. A disappointment. However, the good news for me was Yorkshire had roared back, making it 1-1 at half-time…