I learnt today that Colonel Williams East India Pale Ale, the collaboration beer I brewed at Brain’s brewery last month, sold out in less than 16 hours when it went on sale in the Goat Major in Cardiff last week, the fastest-selling craft beer the pub has seen.
That’s good – it very much suggests that people were coming back for more than one pint after the first. But what is particularly surprising about that is that Colonel Williams is six per cent alcohol by volume. American readers may say: “So what?” But British draught beer drinkers simply don’t normally drink beers that strong in quantity. It appears that, completely inadvertently, I may have designed a beer that goes down like a session bitter, despite having
almost a third half as much more alcohol than session bitters normally do. Dangerous.
The news certainly fits with my own experience when I went down to Cardiff by train to try the beer myself. Met up in the Goat Major with a group from Brain’s including head brewer, Bill Dobson, the man who actually did all the work in brewing “my” beer, and Laura Overton, Brain’s highly efficient PR person, who organised my collaborative brewing experience, plus South Wales-based beer blogger Arfur Daley. Saw that the beer had come out at six per cent – we had been hovering between settling on 5.5 percent or six when setting up the specs, depending on how the beer turned out after fermentation was over – and thought: “Just a couple of pints for me then, it’s lunchtime, and that’s strong.”
Ate one of the excellent curried lamb pies designed by pub manager Chris Rowlands specially to go with Colonel Williams. Found the beer, a lovely pale-to-mid oak in colour, went down very easily: a long, hefty hit of rotund, mouth-filling Maris Otter malt, with masses of powerful green bitter bite underneath from the triple addition of Goldings: twice in the copper, once in the fermenting vessel. After the Brains crew went back to work, stayed chatting to Arfur, Chris and a Goat Major regular, Greg Prince (nice man: he said Colonel Williams was “the best beer I’ve had in this pub to date”, and I don’t think he was just speaking to flatter me). Found that without noticing, I’d managed to drink four pints, not two. That’s probably more alcohol in a single lunchtime than I’ve had for decades. You’ll not be surprised to hear that while I made it back to the station on time, I fell asleep soon after my train left Cardiff and slept all the way to Paddington.
So: why does Colonel Williams seem to be so moreish, despite its strength? I think it’s because, semi-deliberately, I set out to make an IPA that reflected old-style British bitter beer virtues: no real emphasis on hop aroma, malt-forward, but with an underlying firm platform of bitterness to give balance. Modern, aroma-filled, floral, citrussy IPAs can be very fine, but you don’t want to drink too much of them, I suggest: the palate becomes tired. They’re fine for beer cultures where you might only have one or two beers in an evening. British beer culture (and I’m dragging the Welsh in under the blanket of Britishness here, hope they don’t mind) prefers beer in quantity, and a beer you’re going to have several pints of needs not to smack you in the mouth with over-exuberant flavours.
I enjoyed Colonel Williams very much – yes, of course I’d say that, it was made to my specifications. I was trying to think of any beer it particularly reminded me of, and I couldn’t: more bitter than the usual run of British “extra special bitters”, I think, and fuller in the mouth. But what I really liked about it was that with just four simple ingredients – pale Maris Otter malt, a touch of black malt for colour, Goldings hops, Welsh water – and a standard Welsh beer yeast, Bill Dobson had taken my recipe and turned it into something people evidently want to keep coming back to the bar to try again.
There’s a list of pubs where you can try Colonel Williams EIPA here: if you’ve drunk it, please let me know what you though of it. Be rude about it if you want to be. I had huge fun making it, I hope everybody has fun drinking it. And many thanks once again to Bill, Laura and everyone at Brains for giving me the opportunity to drink it, and Chris Rowlands at the Goat Major for serving up excellent pints and excellent pies.