What’s This? “Juicy Bitter” on Cask?
My first day in London, which I had targeted solely as a day to survive, has instead revealed the first great discovery on my fact-finding mission. And what a discovery!
I’m staying with Mark Dredge (writer most recently of A Brief History of Lager), who took me out to what Twitter confirms are two of London’s great pubs. The first stop was pure Alworth-satisfying cask. The Pembury, which is the house pub for Five Points Brewing, was A wonderful welcome back to England. It’s the kind of place that has that pubby feng shui Americans never seem to quite pull off. Five Points is a relatively recent brewery and they’re making some classic cask. Their best bitter is something to behold: classic down the line, including Fuggle hops, but with a rather hefty wallop of them. I couldn’t have asked for a better first pint.
Next it was off to the Cock (and please, address your complaints to Buckingham Palace), which has a huge array of engines, many devoted to cider. It will become a refrain on this trip, but I regret I have only one stomach to give to this adventure—it means leaving many delicious potables unsampled.
What we did have was a beer called Galatia from Wylam (Newcastle). It was a cask bitter, just 3.8%. Ah, but instead of an earthy little wreath of English hops to accent the yeast and malt, it presented a locomotive of juicy. The brewery describes this as “heavy absorbed dose of New World hops,” and it seems to have both New Zealand/Australian as well as American varieties. The remarkable thing is that it managed to create the kind of balance I’ve never encountered in a session IPA. Putting it on cask allowed the malt to emerge, both as a flavor note and textural element. Session IPAs are comparatively top-heavy: all hops with nothing underneath to support them. Patrick and I discussed this in our recent pale ales podcast. This “juicy bitter” solved the riddle by going on cask.
The presence of malt is what makes this beer sing, but I suspect we can taste and feel it on our tongue largely because the hops additions have been dialed back. On keg, I wouldn’t be surprised if everything seemed a bit pallid and sad. But putting it on cask, serving at 55 degrees, and allowing those hop aromatics to blossom, changes everything. You get intense juiciness, but not just juiciness. Less hops on cask means more flavor—of both malt and hop. Amazing. I don’t know if Americans will ever drink cask, but they’d damn sure drink Galatia.
(To acknowledge the obvious: yes, I am aware that the phrase “juicy bitter” is as absurd as “black IPA.” But here we are.)
All right my lovelies, I’m off for day two—