There’s no such thing as a free beer

It really is amazing, when you write a blog such as this, just how much free stuff people will send you. Seriously. Ask and ye shall receive unto yourself gifts most bountiful.

Except they are not gifts, they are payment in advance. The work you carry out for them is the writing – and they are hoping you are not a dodgy workman leaving them with shoddy foundations.

But enough half-baked 7am analogies, this blog is all about working off some debts that have been hanging around. Over the last few weeks I have been given several beers and ciders from Westcountry producers and nary a word has been written about them. My bad.

To start, a trio of beers from the St Austell Brewery. I supped each of the brewer’s three main tipples: Tribute, Proper Job and HSD.

Ale-met by sunlight, proud Titania...

Now I like Tribute. Quite a few of my friends and peers find it a bit too fruity (calm down), but I like it because of that, simply because it is a bit different to other real ales you imbibe in this part of the world. It’s a light, fruity beer, you know the one, probably, because you can buy it in loads of pubs down here and also in selected supermarkets and some of our fine independent shops. I even saw it in cans  the other day *shudder*. That notwithstanding it is a really good beer for a summer day in a pub garden.

The one I really like however is Proper Job. Hidden slightly in the shadow of Tribute’s popularity, it is the beer I will choose to have if I stumble upon (and into) a pub which has it on tap. It’s nowhere near as fruity as Tribute, but its a good hearty ale which again is excellent in a pub garden in the summer. If there is a summer of course, but it is equally good, as I have found, with a meal or drunk on its own at the bar of a night.

The only one of the St Austell trio that didn’t ring my bell was HSD or Hicks Special Draft. It’s “based on the original cask recipe”, but even so, I have to admit, it did very little for me as a beer. It just didn’t stand out.

Right, that’s one brewery down. The next to provide me with the means to get tipsy and chubby was Bristol Beer Factory. These guys sell to a number of pubs in the Bristol area and have their own beer boat in the city, which adds brownie points IMO. They are even available in Plymouth now at the Seco Lounge. Yes, I know it is a chain bar but it is a Westcountry-born one (I think).

I bumped into the guys from the Beer Factory at a food festival a few weeks back and picked up a couple of bottles, one of which was their Milk Stout and the other their Gold ale.

I was intrigued by the Milk Stout, because certainly in the South West I haven’t come across many microbreweries that make a full-on stout. And anyone who even locally challenges the faux-Irish cheeky chappie Guinness hegemony gets a gold star.

The Milk Stout is so-called because it has lactose sugars added during the brewing process. This, while not making it into a beer-flavoured white Russian, does add a lovely velvety smoothness as it slips down your throat. And it was a really nice drink as well, I do like a dark ale, a complete contrast with the St Austell ales but a great flavour nonetheless.

The Gold also is worth checking out if you can get hold of bottles (they do mail order if you are far away) – light and golden. I won’t mention a pub garden on a summer day, otherwise I’d be in repetition hell. But you get the idea.

Last but not least, get on some cider.

Cornish Rattler has been, in my own humble opinion, a bit of a teenagers drink in the past. Not in the “illicit consumption in parks, avoiding dog turds in the dark” sort of way. But with its cobra bar taps and the shades-wearing snake on its labels it was aimed at the young legal drinker getting tanked on a Saturday night market. Which is fair enough. But it has recently undergone a bit of a rebrand. The shades-wearing cobra has been relegated to the neck of the bottle in favour of a more upmarket label, with maker Healey’s looking to get in on the slightly older thirst quenching market.

I tried three different flavours – the straight cyder, berry cyder and the pear cyder.

The berry cyder was, well, slightly strange. I know there are other varieties of berry cider on the market, but I’d never tried them. I found it a bit weird. Not necessarily bad, just a bit weird.
The plus point was that the berry taste was not all-conquering. The taste of the cyder still came through, with a berry hint, if I may go a bit Loyd Grossman. But counting against it was the fact that, for my taste buds at least, it was too sweet.

The same went for the pear cyder. After marking them down for not calling it perry it again was a “bit” too sweet for me. But then I started to think about it and all other perry/pear cider I have had in the past has been artisan at beer and cider festivals. Perhaps I’m being a little over-purist to expect market-produced drinks to taste like that. Overall, I preferred it to the berry cider.

The best of the lot was actually the straight cider. Punching its way into the ring at 6% alcohol, it has been the downfall of several evenings out when I didn’t check its strength beforehand. But supped serenely it is actually a nice cider – cloudy, not too fizzy and it slipped down pretty nicely after a hard day at the writing coalface, as the sun set over Cornwall in the distance.

And I leave you with that mental image. Over and out.

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