Wednesday, 12 November 2008

A non prejudiced Vagabond

I was at a meeting last night about the Whitehaven beer festival. Did I tell you about the festival? I did? So are you going.....??

Anyway, the meeting was at the Vagabond in Whitehaven. This is a fine real ale pub. I've never seen more than three hand pulls running but the beer has always been good when I've been in. It has a special interest for me as we bought The Woolpack Inn of the current owner.

On approaching the bar I was of course disappointed to see the predictable Jennings Bitter. I'm never going to pretend that I think this is a very exciting beer. Popular with the locals, but predictable.

On either side of this though,was Ennerdale Blond and Ennerdale Autumn. Great, it's the first time I've had the chance to try these two on the same night. Having reported previously that I was less than totally keen on the Autumn I was pleased to be able to give it second chance.

I started with the blonde. As you can see from the picture there is a good tight head and it's a nice light golden colour, although here the colour is distorted a bit by the dark background. This beer has a very distinct caramel flavour. I questioned butterscotch in my own mind, which would suggest diacetyl, but I'm not sure. Clearly I need some more practice at identifying these flavours. I do not find this beer unpleasant although the creamy, chewy, caramel flavour confuses me because, in my mind, it should be in a darker beer. I'm guessing there is quite a lot of light crystal malt in this beer and a high mash temperature combined with light hopping makes it sweeter than I'd like.

By contrast the Autumn is quite light in texture. A much dryer beer, actually quite bitter but seemingly un-complex. I would wonder if there is only a small amount of heavily roasted malt, or maybe even some plain roasted barley, but a very small proportion of the grain bill made up of adjuncts. My detection of acetic seems not to be here on this occasion. Perhaps last time having Theakstons between times spoilt things or perhaps it was because the cheese and onion sandwiches had run out by the time I got onto my second pint.

Ted in a recent piece that I very much liked talks about prejudice against black beer with a reference to some president elect. I'm beginning to wonder if my prejudice against the Autumn, and Jennings bitter for that matter, is based on it being quite dark relatively boring ale. This does not make them "wrong", just not for me.

I still prefer the Blonde over the Autumn. I think there is an apparent improvement in the beers from Whitehaven brewery as time goes on and with the interest that seems to be there with cask ale, this very recently started brewery can only go from strength to strength as the brewers gain experience and trial new brews.

Thank you Vagabond and Whitehaven brewery for giving me the chance to try them both together. The beer experience was much better than my last visit to Whitehaven.


Alistair Reece said...

Out of interest, does Vagabond use oversized glasses? That picture does look like a nice pint!

The Woolpack Inn said...

No, unfortunately very few pubs around here serve in oversized glasses.

We do though!

Alistair Reece said...

A wonder then his customers aren't up in arms at be swindled! ;)

The Woolpack Inn said...

Well yes Velky Al, there did seem to be a general lack of complaint about anything really. I believe everybody was quite content and thought it was good value for money.

And, for the record, not everybody preferred the Blonde to the Autumn, although I think the consensus was that the Blonde was better.

Anonymous said...

Dave - thanks for taking the time to retry our beers, but I'm afraid I can't give you full marks for the flavour identification. The recipe for Blonde is, of course, a closely guarded secret but I can confirm that there is NO Crystal malt in it, a much greater hop loading than in our other beers,and the mash temperature is a bog standard 63 degrees.
I do know that as the Blonde matures it develops a caramel/butterscotch/banana flavour which I quite like but the chances to try this are limited as we are still selling this faster than we can brew it and we have a queue of customers waiting for the next batch to come out of the fermenter. The same applies to the Autumn - it has a small amount of high roasted malt which gives an initial smoky chocolate 'hit' but we have reports from two pubs of this disappearing once the beer has been tapped for a few days. Again, in most pubs it seems to fly off the bar within 48 - 72 hours and we can't hang on to any to try at different stages up here in the Brewery. You're welcome to visit us to try out whatever we have on hand!

The Woolpack Inn said...

Hi Shelagh, Thanks for taking the time to reply and correcting me.

I would have sworn that there was much more residue sugar, i.e. less attenuation in the blonde than the autumn. There must be some significant bittering in the autumn from roasted grain, making it seem dryer.

I'm not surprised the beers sell well, especially considering, as in the Vagabond's case, I'd choose your's over Jennings bitter any day.

I've noticed several beers losing the initial flavour earlier than I'd like from many breweries.

I will probably take you up on the brewery visit sometime - I was already thinking it might be a good idea - it'll have to wait until January now though.