Pure beer and dirty Rhône

Purity Brewing

(by peter)

I thought the best way to welcome our wine-trade friends, who were visiting us last weekend, would be to set up a beer tasting.

We’d been sent a three-pack of beer by the proactive people at the Purity Brewing Co, an independent brewery based in Warwickshire. In the press release that accompanied the bottles, they cite the 2009 Cask Ale Report by Pete Brown which found that, “there were 400,000 new cask ale drinkers in the last year and that the number of female drinkers has doubled to 1.3m”.

I’m not quite sure where they get their figures from, but all I do know is that the more I learn about wine, the more I want to know about beer. (And tea, and coffee, and food, and geology, and meteorology – etc.) And I do think there is a genuine revival of interest out there for characterful beers, the kind that aren’t screamingly bland, and that do go with food precisely because they have a gentle (or otherwise) bitterness to them from decent hopping.

All four of us tried the three beers with and without food (roast chicken with haloumi salad), as well as with and without rugby. Being quite a relaxed environment, it wasn’t a rigorously focused tasting by any means, but it was enough to appreciate the full body and lovely tangy nature of the Mad Goose (my favourite), the lighter, easier drinking style of the Pure Gold (probably the least favourite on show, being the least challenging or individual) and finally the in-the-middle style of the Pure UBU, medium to full bodied, smooth, dry and quite complex – which probably ended up as the overall consensus favourite, just ahead of the Mad Goose.

All beers were very well integrated and harmonious in nature. The fizz was delicate and refreshing, the flavours subtle. The different styles worked in their own way. All in all, a solid showing.

It was inevitable, though, that some wine would feature. Our guests had very kindly brought along a bottle of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe 1997 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (14%). Southern Rhône isn’t always to Susie and my taste – often a bit too sweet, rich, ripe and alcoholic – but this was gorgeous: elegant, mid-weight, self-contained and refined in texture, it showed meaty and yeasty aromas with a long, gentle persistence and warming spice. Perfect for a late lunch on a frosty, rainy winter’s day when you know you’re heading out later on.

We countered with a bottle of Côte Rôtie 2004 Bernard Burgaud (12.5%), one of our favourite producers. Still very young but dense, savoury and showing great finesse. Again, it had a feral edge to it that we also found in the Vieux Télégraphe, and liked. A slight dirtiness that doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment but rather adds to it, in a style that ripe-fruited perfection can never attain.

Both beers and wine made excellent partners for our food. Not to mention the atmosphere – by the time we headed out into the freezing drizzle, we were steeled and heartened for the occasion.

That’s what I call a winter warmer.