One man's dark passion
PUBLISHED: 10:56 23 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:12 20 February 2013
Duncan Brodie needs just two things to see him through the Suffolk winter - some good dark beer and a nice log fire
Duncan Brodie needs just two things to see him through the Suffolk winter some good dark beer and a nice log fire
Local, seasonal food is well and truly back in vogue. Perhaps it is down to the emphasis on quality, fresh produce in a healthy diet or a desire to minimise food miles in the interests of protecting the environment.
It might also, at least in part, be a reaction against the domination of the big four supermarket chains, although they have been quick enough to jump on the bandwagon (even if their concept of local is sometimes a fairly loose one).
Celebrity chefs too have played their part in promoting the pleasure of enjoying foods when the British climate allows them to be grown here.
Beer, like food, has its seasons, but for reasons more psychological than horticultural. While pretty much any kind of beer can be brewed at pretty much any time of year, there is something uniquely satisfying about a darker beer on a dark winters evening, just as much as a lighter beer lighter in colour, flavour and, perhaps, alcohol content hits the spot in summer.
Certainly, most beers brewed seasonally for the winter months tend to be both darker and stronger than the average.
Take, for example, Greene Kings Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale, which is as packed with dark malt character as its colour suggests. It weighs in a 6% alcohol by volume (abv) but that does not tell the whole story.
Strong Suffolk is, in fact, a blend of two ales: Old 5X, which is brewed for maximum strength (reaching around 12% abv) and left to mature in oak vats for a couple of years (at least), and BPA, a dark, full-bodied beer in its own right which is brewed immediately before the blending and bottling processes.
Another winter treat is Tally Ho, a barley wine-style beer brewed by Adnams for the Christmas market, although, since a cask can be laid down like a fine wine, it does make the odd surprise appearance in some pubs at other times of year too.
Tally Ho offers a comforting combination of a rich, fruity aroma with dried fruit and biscuity notes on the palate, and while it has been possible to enjoy it from the cask for well over a century, it was, happily, also launched last December in bottled form (at 7.2% abv).
As a bottle-conditioned beer (meaning it contains active yeast, unlike most bottled beers which are usually pasteurised) it required careful pouring to retain the sediment in the bottle, but the reward is something very close in character to the familiar cask version.
Twist my arm to name my favourite Suffolk winter beer, however, I would stretch a point by opting for Umbel Magna, a truly special porter-style beer from Nethergate, formerly based in Clare but now (technically, by a few yards) across the border in Essex, on the other side of the river Stour.
Umbel Magna (5.0%abv) is based on an original recipe dating from the 1750s which, in addition to the standard ingredients, includes the additional element of coriander. It is closely related to Nethergates better-known Old Growler, a more conventional porter which is essentially the same recipe but without the coriander.
Growler is a great beer in its own right and, like Umbel Magna, is not strictly a seasonal beer, but there is something about the touch of spiciness alongside the smooth roast malt and fruity porter character which gives Magna that extra bit of magic on a chilly evening.
Some other beers, commonly available year-round, also come into their own in winter.
If, for example, your taste for darker beers extends all the way to a full-on stout, then Mauldons Black Adder (5.3%abv) could be just the job.
It is every bit as black as the name implies, with dark roast and nut aromas being followed on the palate by a balance of fruit notes and bitterness, delivering a lingering finish which avoids the harshness of some less subtle stouts.
And to conclude where we began, there are also regular offerings from both Adnams and Greene King which fall into this category, particularly if you are looking for beers to accompany some hearty winter food.
For example, Adnams Broadside (6.3%abv in bottled form), is not only great with stews, pies and sausages but also works a treat when it comes to the cheese course with a good strong cheddar.
Similarly, Morlands Old Speckled Hen (5.2%), another beer from the Greene King stable, has a bitter-sweet quality which makes it an ideal accompaniment for roasts, game and cured meats.
There is, however, one other ingredient required to achieve maximum enjoyment from any of these beers a log fire.
Winter? Bring it on.