Cask Strength

I realise I’ve neglected this blog for a while – for various reasons but mainly because of the publication of my orthonym’s latest book, “Granny Griggs’s Pig and other tales”.

Thinking about beer this morning (I do tend to think about beer in the morning and drink it in the evening), it struck me that strong cask ales are becoming a rarity.

As I’ve probably said before, the strength of a beer is part of its character. Whilst there is nothing wrong with dark milds or pale hoppy ales at around 3.5% ABV – both can be admirably refreshing – certain styles of beer need that extra dose of alcohol to balance their full body and rich flavour. Indeed, body and strength are interrelated, both basically derived from the amount of malt used. (Yes, I know that’s an oversimplification and brewers can do clever things these days but I’m not into low/zero alcohol beer and suchlike).

In the “craft beer” world there are plenty of imperial stouts at around 10-11% ABV and double IPAs at 8-9% but these are invariably offered only in keg or canned format. When it comes to cask ales there seem to be very few over 5%. This wasn’t always the case, so what’s going on here? Some previously excellent beers have been emasculated – I’m thinking particularly of Young’s Winter Warmer which became literally a pale shadow of its former self a few years back. Others have just disappeared.

Is it that brewers have stopped producing them or that drinkers are less inclined to drink them and publicans are therefore wary of stocking them, given the limited shelf life of cask beer? Or both? Market forces being what they are, I suppose the latter would inevitably lead to the former.

I just looked up some strong ales I’ve enjoyed in the past. Owd Roger is now only available in bottles (and slightly reduced in strength at 7.4%). Likewise Old Tom. Exmoor Beast is apparently still in production, but I haven’t seen it for years. It’s been a long time since I visited the Sair Inn in Linthwaite, so I don’t know whether the formidable Enoch’s Hammer is still on tap.

You may wonder why I have such a strong preference for cask ale when many drinkers, including some highly respected beer writers, are unbothered by the method of dispense or even dismissive of the traditional hand-pumped or gravity dispensed pint. Well, the fact is that I like my beer to slip down easily; I actually dislike the prickly mouthfeel of carbonated beer. For that matter, I have long eschewed all manner of fizzy beverages, apart from tonic water suitably diluted with gin.

Last night I enjoyed three pints of Palmer’s Tally Ho! at my local. It probably won’t be on tonight and the next beer scheduled for that pump purports to be a “pale white chocolate stout” at 5.3%. I’ll try it of course but I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it’s any good.

Update – I tried the white chocolate stout and it’s not unpleasant, though possibly stretching the definition of stout somewhat. I could happily drink a small glass with, say, a slice of Bakewell tart – but it’s not a beer for drinking multiple pints of.