It was upon a birthday trip so fine that I made my way to the wilds of Cumbria and a walking I did go with my good lady upon my arm. Over hill, dale and even across the glittering water of Windermere did we travel in search of adventure and nourishment for our minds and bodies; the smog of London gently being lifted from our hair (and our souls) by the lake breeze.
Many miles did we wander, beautiful sights did we see, good food and drink did we imbibe, but night’s dark cloak drew in and nearing the station I was drawn to the warming lights of Booths.
I know not what called me to the beer aisle like a clarion call, but as I stood staring and blinking in the bright artificial lights my eyes settled upon a few labels. One of the names inscribed was familiar to me so I reached out and took two of its kind.
As I turned to go something stopped me; a ringing in my ears, and lo I knew my mistress waited near the magazines tapping a muddy hiking shoe, that ringing turned to words that shouted “two is not enough!!”. It echoed around my mind and I tried to shake it knowing there may be consequences if I tarried but a moment more. Yea, before I knew it I was turning back to the glassy glow.
Hungrily I hunted the rows, there must be a reason for my return, where was it to be found? As if a curtain was suddenly lifted I spied the bold packaging, how could have I missed it before? Just gazing upon those brown bottles in their resplendent robes of blue and black edged in white; I knew one thing, I must posses them.
All four little gems travelled tucked in my case back to London town, arriving safely. It twas high time I drank the buggers…
My previous knowledge of Coniston Brewery related solely to an evening tasting Britain’s Champion Beers at which I sampled their extraordinary No. 9 Barley Wine. Champ in 2012 and my favourite beer from the 2000-13 CAMRA winners. It was on that strength that I procured their Bluebird Bitter and charmingly named Old Man Ale.
The BB at 4.2% had the look of warm amber, giving off aromas of wet fall leaves, burnt caramel and horse blanket. Sipping revealed some woodiness, iron filings, dry earth, a touch meaty, some resin but cleansing, fresh, easy drinking with a tart floral finish.
In the glass it looked to me like melted brown sugar with a rich thick shaving foam head. Sniff sniff: lovely floral complexity (owing to the Challenger and Mount Hood hops), warm rye bread, hints of gingerbread spices, fruits of white peach and sweet plum with the vaguest whiff of caramel coated hazelnut.
Let me at it! A balanced 4.8%, creamy rum raisin, air dried beef, dandelion and burdock, with a clean, dry woody mushroom and sage leaf finish. Very very good and not a whisper of the war.
Completely new to me were Stringers Brewery, however their brewy base in the market town Ulverston is a place close to my heart. Some years ago, for about three weeks yours truly nested at the grade II listed Friends Meeting House while I rehearsed a play in the less memorable Barrow-in-Furness.
It had a rich Demerara sugar hue with a happy soapy head, then sticking my nose where it did belong my brain did the deciphering: newly cut hay, runny golden syrup, creamy banoffie pie and fresh baked pear tatin. To my lips and then… sharp clean crisp, dry mushroom, round malt and finishing in lemon pith.
Solid and tres drinkable. Bring it back.
Staring into the abyss of my glass, a dense moonless midnight winter black topped with thin charcoal fluffy clouds. Wonderful full bodied aromas of iron rich earth, liquorice, jäger herbs, fresh espresso and baked black plums battered my nostrils. Gulp: cold coffee evolving into tiramisu, some savoriness giving way to Jerusalem artichoke and finishing in dry cocoa. Concentrated and textured yet remains very fresh.
Truly as good a stout as I’ve ever had (won a few awards as well).
And that was that, was that then.