Caught by the River

Pint By The River: Beer War Of The Roses (Round II)

Ben McCormick | 13th December 2011

Ben McCormick & Roger Clapham

BM: Aha. What’s this I see? A beer from York Brewery, with whom I’ve crossed swords before. Then it was the yappy Yorkshire Terrier, which though fairly standard had enough brio about it to stand repeated drinking. This one is a much more robust affair, doubtless stuffed to the gunwales with malts, dried fruit and the smell of festering slag heaps from the nearby abandoned coalfields. It’s called Ghost Ale, which however you say it sounds like it’s an off ale waiting to happen.

What wine buffs would dub a powerful nose this beer has in sackfuls. It’s plummy and full, but with faint floweriness and a mild hint of burning Yorkshire pudding. In fact it smells like it’s got as much hustle and bustle as a night out in Huddersfield. Disappointing then, that the first thing about the taste that strikes you is its similarity to smooth-flow Guinness. Granted, there are some truly rewarding washes of sweet, round fruitiness and clarty chocolate bar afterwards that stem the tide of cheap stout, but there’s nowhere near enough tang in the finish to make this as moreish as its canine stablemate.

But then the further through the pint I get, the more beguiling it becomes. Despite the obvious prevalence of malt, the cocoa creaminess balances it out nicely. And as time drags on, I’m warming to its more subtle, nagging aftertaste. It’s almost like getting off with someone, then finding out she’s a Leeds United fan. I am rather taken with it while feeling it’s inherently wrong on lots of levels.

So will my marvellous Manchester-born Marble make enough of a case for ultimate victory in this trans-Pennine tussle? Or has this smooth-talking Yorkie of a beer cheated history and all the laws of righteousness? I can only close my eyes and hope. While finishing off this pint, of course.

RC: So Ben’s final Lancastrian offering is another Marble beer. This time it’s their Tawny No.5, a premium bitter; very premium actually, considering it’s 5.7%. While a beer of that strength is unlikely to replace Newton & Ridley in the Rovers Return, it was very welcome in my house. I like the idea of a high-strength but sessionable beer – it satisfies my borderline alcoholic tendencies.
So, with the rain coming down outside in a typically Lancastrian way, I supped up and found it to be pretty good… but not as great as I had hoped and feared.

It was quite lively out of the bottle, the carbonation had really gone to town in there, but the flavour was great – some citrus, some orange zest, a big sack of hops frankly, but well balanced against the malt too and with a smoothness that would suggest a much lower strength ale – I’d happily drink another. But it wasn’t as good as their Lagonda we’d had the week before and halfway down the glass, the flavour did wane a little. Now I suspect the draught version would be better but as it is, in bottle-conditioned, CAMRA-approved format, it’s no better than the Ghost Ale. And perhaps more importantly, it didn’t make me feel like I was getting off with a Leeds United fan, which I’d actually have quite enjoyed and which from now on will be the true taste barometer of any beer.

So I guess we’ll have to call it a draw – a result for diplomacy if nothing else. The M62 will remain open, the barricades outside Hebden Bridge will remain unmanned and there’ll be no more regional stereotyping on here (for a bit).

Check Ben’s Beer Advent Calender website here.