Tuesday 14 April 2015

Of Irish gold and gamma rays

Back in the 1990s, following the success of Guinness Draught in a can, Guinness launched “Guinness Bitter”, using the same widget technology. I remember it being advertised showing a fisherman putting his four-pack in the river to keep the cans cool, but it never seems to have been a great success and has long since disappeared from the market. To this day I still have a Guinness Bitter fridge magnet, though.

Now, as part of the initiative that has led to the introduction of Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter, Guinness have re-entered the ale market with the launch of Guinness Golden Ale. As it was on sale at £1.50 a bottle in my local Tesco, I thought I would give it a try. The first thing that strikes you is that, as Beer Viking reports here, it isn’t actually a golden ale. In colour, it’s more mid-amber, a similar hue to, say, Marston’s Pedigree, and certainly nowhere near as pale as the likes of Thwaites Wainwright. I’d broadly agree with his review that it’s a perfectly decent beer, fairly rich and “beery”, with subdued caramel notes, whereas some so-called “golden ales” have a rather insipid, lemony flavour. But I can’t see it winning many converts from lager, and the name is frankly misleading.

Locally, we’ve recently seen the opening of a new combined bottle shop and bar called Bottle Heaton Moor. The owner Corin Bland is someone who is really enthusiastic about his beer, and I’m confident it will prove a successful venture for which there’s a strong demand in the area. There’s a detailed review here on Beers Manchester. My only caveat is that it’s not exactly a comfortable place to sit and have a drink, as the picture above shows. But it’s not really aimed at me anyway.

When I called in, I spotted cans of Beavertown Gamma Ray on sale and bought one out of curiosity. Don’t worry, this isn’t “Mudgie goes Craft!” When they first launched a few years ago, Beavertown were so achingly craaaaaffft that they almost came across as a parody, but they have gone from strength to strength, and Gamma Ray seems to be regarded as one of the defining beers of the current “craft beer revolution”.

It was a distinctly steep £2.60 for a 330ml can of a 5.4% beer. The can has a striking science-fiction design showing an alien with a ray gun. Incidentally, why do “craft cans” tend to have a slightly rougher surface texture than soft drink ones? It pours a bright, almost orangey colour, with vigorous carbonation and a thick white head. The taste is that classic piney, resiny American hop flavour in spades. If you like that sort of thing, it will be right up your street, but I have to say that I see beers of this kind in the same way as highly peated Islay malts – you respect them, but they’re not something you’d like to drink a lot of. Personally I also find it offputting that it’s hazy verging on cloudy. I’m sure they have the technical expertise to brew a clear beer, so it has to be assumed that they are deliberately brewing a “London murky” as a sign of just how craft they are. If I wanted to drink a beer of that type, I’d much prefer either BrewDog Punk IPA or Thwaites 13 Guns.

Apologies for lack of blogging in recent weeks – I’ve just not had my interest sparked by anything. Now that the general election is less than a month away, I’ve reinstated the voting intentions poll in the sidebar – mobile users can access it here. I’d be grateful if readers didn’t share this elsewhere on social media, as last time some did this rather over-enthusiastically, which distorted the results to the extent that they were pretty meaningless.


  1. What's happened? You got banned from Home Bargains or summat?

  2. Well, it looks like I have been banned from the Real Ale Twats Facebook group for telling that lefty twat Carruthers who runs it to stop political axe-grinding.

  3. Martin, Cambridge14 April 2015 at 18:24

    Glad to see recognition for 13 Guns, always enjoy that in the local Greene King pubs round here, even at that strength.

    Share your view on the Beavertown and craft cans generally, though could happily pick the Bengal Tiger in Spoons in curry club.

  4. I suspect that Beavertown might be about to get a bit massive, actually. They're becoming increasingly common at right-on foody type things and in hip, cheap restaurants. It wouldn't surprise me if they got some sort of major supermarket or pub-chain distribution in the next year or so.

    It'd certainly be interesting to have someone competing with Brewdog for the "accessible beer with proper craft credentials" market...

  5. The can gives a good clue to the contents - sweet, sherbety, like a kids' soft drink.

  6. Beavertown do seem to be cornering the market on the craft beer in a can niche, as much due to their graphic design than the beer. From never having seen them except on beerblogs, they're now available at every hipster food stall/restaurant in Cambridge.

    However, at least their beers actually taste pretty good (to my taste), compared to other commonly spotted craft cans such as pistonhead lager.

    Its not really a matter of whether you think the beer tastes good, what matters is that the beer tastes like you'd expect, given the craft branding - and it does. That's all I ask.

  7. Beavertown and Brewdog are stocked in Booths now at around the £1.99 mark

  8. Lancastrian Oik20 April 2015 at 14:42

    Good to see you back, Mudgie.

  9. I do recall that Guinness bitter: it was unremarkable in the way that so many bitters were at the time (Greenalls, Matthew Brown et al). Big breweries find it hard to compete with micros because they want mass sales, an aim that drives them towards the bland. Even Guinness stout itself is unremarkable and often astringent. There is a newish local brewery near here, Parkers, whose stout knocks spots off Guinness.

  10. "Big breweries find it hard to compete with micros because they want mass sales, an aim that drives them towards the bland"

    which is just stupid and cowardly. The bland beer market has been sown up, its an endogenous cost industry with massive entry deterrence. No new brewery stands a chance at breaking into this category.

    Its a much smarter strategy to steer as far away from bland as possible, as there is still a massive untapped market for interesting and unusual (and just plain grapefruity) beer: just ask brewdog how their finances are looking.


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