Monday, 31 January 2011

New Beers from Coniston Brewery

I do get a bit bored with the super-abundance of session ale in Cumbria. In my home county, by and large, I can only dream of the exotic beers of Belgium, the USA and elsewhere.

Nonetheless, a session beer I do always look out for is Coniston Bluebird, winner of CAMRA's CBOB in 1998. Bluebird is high art. A light biscuity malt background carries a layer of Challenger late-hop in a particularly elegant way. A bottled version is contract-brewed elsewhere but we get the real thing brewed at Coniston. All their beers are created by brewing consultant David Smith, a former Sam Smiths man, who favours simple single-hop recipes with relatively low bitterness.

Last November Pete Brown was in Cumbria doing a couple of readings. I took him on a all-too-brief tour of some of the region's pubs. We called in at the Black Bull Inn, home of the Coniston Brewery. We discovered a newcomer to the Coniston portfolio – a keg beer, "Thurstein Pilsner"*. Naturally, we gave it a try. Wow! If only all keg lager was this good surely "keg" and "lager" wouldn't have such negative connotations amongst certain beer-drinking types. In keeping with the house style we found it to be biscuity with a floaty hop character – Hallertau in this instance. A six week cold-conditioning ensures the beer is especially coherent and integrated. Some gentle lemon-ness redolent of Robinson's Barley Water and a hint of white pepper contributed to what adds up to be a tremendous new thirst-quenching addition to the Cumbrian beer landscape.

I have subsequently discovered another Coniston newcomer – Number 9 Barley Wine. This is an 8.5% beer with, what is to me, an old-fashioned flavour profile. At first I didn't quite get it. All I got was a sweet toffeeish beer with a hint of sherry that reminded me of countless indifferent mid-winter offerings from countless UK breweries. But I persevered. As the beer warmed up I became more aware of the key Coniston flavour characteristic – floaty hop character. While the liquid lingered on my palate aromas delivered themselves by mysterious internal passageways to my olfactory sense. Deliberately breathing in simultaneously through nose and mouth confirmed the flavour (or rather, aroma) of a generous late addition of Fuggles  Challenger.

Now here's the exciting news: I had a good old chat with brewery boss Ian Bradley. He's happy to give some samples to bloggers who'll promise to give the beers a review. If you write about beer, either on the internet or dead-tree media, you can have a couple of bottles. All you need to do is leave your details here.

* A note to pedants: Yes, the brewery knows "Top-fermented lager" is an odd description. They really wanted to call it a K├Âlsch, but that's a protected designation. It was thought preferable to use the term Pilsner as it would make more sense to the potential consumer. Awkward, yes.

1 comment:

junklight said...

I loved the bottle you left with me. I haven't got all the words you have to describe it but I found it very tasty - and like you I appreciated it more as I got further down the glass. Not as "in your face" as some barley wines I've had but I will certainly be looking it out again.

(also I also knew I recognised the taste - but "sherry" never occurred to me. Thanks for solving my mystery :-) )