There are beers and there are beers. There are beers for watching the football or rugby to, and if it’s a really good match, it may well not matter what beer you are drinking – a cheap and cheerful bitter or lager will do. There are beers for the quiet evenings in the pub, perhaps craft brewed real ale, or quality continental wheat beer – these are the beers to savour and enjoy with friends. There are beers to accompany dinner – these will be full in taste and compliment your well-prepared food (see related article: ‘Beer as a Food Accompaniment’). Finally there is that special class of beer, full of textures, tastes and aromas that are too good to be spoilt by bad refereeing decisions, gossip and even the distraction of good restaurant meal. Sometimes you just want to unwind (alone in minimal good company), settle down in you favourite chair and sup slowly on a bottle of the finest brew available. These moments, to be sure, are rare, and will be all the more enjoyable for that. The trouble is, with so many beers to choose from, you may get in a tizzy just picking the right one (thus ruining the perfect moment). Not to worry, help is at hand, as the ‘Beer Expert’ has elected himself to trawl through the vast array of choices and come up with a selection to get you through those occasional well earned nights in!
Beer Expert’s Top Five Beers
The following beers are to be savoured. Try one, of a quiet evening, possibly to the accompaniment of music (light classical or Pink Floyd – drum and bass and metal are best avoided), and possibly enjoyed with a quality dark chocolate, or cheese, but not too much of either; you don’t want to spoil the unique flavours of your chosen premium drink.
It must be noted that as these are ‘beers stay in for’ we are restricted to bottled beers. For some, this may pose something of a problem – many people swear that hand pumped beer is of a far superior quality than the bottled variety. However there is no reason why the bottling of beer should denote inferior flavour or aroma, and, as is said, the proof is in the pudding, so tuck in!
Some of these beers will be easier to source than others. If in doubt try an internet search for the brewery (all of which are stated below). From there you should be able to find a supplier. Brace yourself… here’s the choicest ‘staying in’ selection!
- Fullers ESB: This is the strong ale favoured by beer lovers. Its rich ruby red to golden copper colour straight away gives away this medium bodied drink as a classic, with its initial warm vanilla flavours and aromas. The range of aftertastes, from its blend of four hop varieties, to its fruity ‘fig’ flavour makes this an ale to savour. Since the 1970’s this has been voted the Campaign for Real Ales (CAMRA) best strong ale 7 times! Too good to share! (5.9%)
- Ringwood’s Old Thumper: Spicy and tart with a delicate suggestion of apples, Old Thumper certainly packs a punch as a strong ale with a unique flavour. The taste of hops comes across as strongly as the sweet fruit aromas, giving a unique blend to this one time CAMRA beer of the year award winner. (5.6%)
- Liefmans Kriekbeer: Liefmans Kriekbeer is a cherry fruit beer brewed outside in Belgium in the Lambic style, but is not strictly a Lambic beer, as it is brewed in the wrong region. It has the characteristics of a lambic beer and tastes all the more natural for it. The cherry suffuses this beer with a sharp taste, not unlike sorbet. It is crisp, dark red, with a cidery aroma, and an overall decadent feel. This beer is definitely at the sexier end of the spectrum and goes well with lace (hers, not yours!). (6.5%)
- Meantime Chocolate and Meantime Coffee: O.K. strictly this is two beers, but they both deserve a mention and – as coffee goes with chocolate – why not in the same breath? Made by the conscientious and trend-setting Meantime brewery, these are beers to appeal to the new, more discerning 20 – 35 year old market. Don’t be put off if you are an old connoisseur though – these beers are brewed around a real ale base, with coffee and chocolate added at the early stages of the brewing process. The Chocolate brew is subtle yet distinctive, with the dark malts and vanilla flavours blending well; the coffee blends well with barley in a similarly subtle combination. (6.5% and 6%)
- Caledonian Deuchars IPA: An Indian Pale Ale, which naturally means that it has been brewed for a long journey (as ‘IPA’s’ were initially brewed in England for the Indian colonial market), contains a large amount of hops and alcohol. The light golden colour is reflected in the hoppy taste and smooth and creamy textures, of this several-time CAMRA award winner, which is finished superbly with a butterscotch aftertaste. As with most well made IPA’s, Deuchars carries a very bitter after taste and is best enjoyed slowly and sparingly. (5.8%)
This is, of course, by no means a definitive selection, and the exclusion of quality lagers, wheat beers, stouts, and so on, is unfortunate. However, the above selection reflects a mixture of old classics together with some less obvious choices and is a good place start. From hereon the rest is up to you!