Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Day 86, Beer 86 - Royal Tunbridge Wells' - "Royal"

Today's Beer

Name - Royal

Brewer - Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewing Co.

Classification - Best Bitter

Strength - 4.1% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye - Deep, rich chestnut. A very nice looking beer, providing you ignore the lumps of matter lying on the bottom of up your glass. ('Oh dear, not this again', I hear you cry...)

On the nose - Sniffable darkness. Treacle, liquorice. 'Darth Beer.'

On the tongue - A revelation. Multiple beer styles, combined and refined to unique effect.

On the subject - Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewing Company is barely more a year old, but this beer suggests a far greater heritage. Simon Lewis is realising his dream in fine style. Him and his small team have to be one of the most exciting prospects for British brewing. One sip of today's beer would convince anyone of that.

On the market - Just inexcusably rare. Having said that, this beer (like so many other great beers from small micros) will never be a best seller whilst it is delivered with poorly executed bottle conditioning. Breweries who cannot afford to do this process well simply have to ditch their obsession with being awarded that ill-conceived CAMRA approval badge and focus more on sales. CAMRA may approve of bogey-like slabs of yeast in their bottled beers - but most ordinary consumers do not. Not one little bit.

On the whole - 8.5/10*

(* - Another fine beer marked down half a point due to the same old poor bottle-conditioning reason! Heartbreaking.)

Full Review

A tough review, this one.

In fact, it made me start thinking about not doing beer reviews any more.

I've grown monumentally tired of discovering wonderful beers which arrive in my glass in a state of self-inflicted ruination. I've grown even more tired with having to moan about it. I've also grown tired of feeling like I'm lacking the necessary PhD in 'Pouring Ale Correctly'. Most of all though, and in a nutshell - I'm tired of having to downgrade my rating of great beers because they've been spoiled by poorly executed bottle-conditioning.

Yes, the self-inflicted ruination I speak of is that which causes some beers to bring with them into my glass big solid lumps of horrid looking stuff which has absolutely no business being there. Or rather, they have no business being there beyond keeping CAMRA happy, who feel that - by virtue of the gloopy lumps being there at all - they can comfortably award the drink their badge of approval.

'CAMRA says this is real ale' - says the badge.

'Well, in that case I know it's probably full of gunk, so I need to avoid it' - says the ever growing number of enlightened consumers.

It's so terribly disheartening at the best of times, but I don't mind saying that when the drink being spoiled is one such as RTW's 'Royal' - it begins to feel less upsetting and more like a criminal offence.

This beer is quite simply sensational, and in honour of what this beer was before it was so very badly packaged, I'm going to set aside my grievances (even though those grievances are so severe that I will never buy this product until the essential changes are made) and I'm going to tell you what this majestic drink experience would be like in an alternate universe where only good bottle-conditioning techniques existed.

This is being sold as a 'best bitter', and I guess that's fine by me, but it drinks like no other 'best' I've ever come across, and although many of my favourite ales are classified in this way, I think this beer is being done something of a disservice by being labelled in this way.

Basically, this brew is far too revolutionary and unique to be adequately served by the best bitter name.

This recipe is off the grid by any conventional standards, and it shows that the people who plonked all that yeast into the drink at the last minute are the very same people who exacted the most scintillatingly high standards to every other stage of the process. This beer demonstrates tremendous flair and ingenuity, and it's clear that the majority of the work going on in the brewhouse is absolutely first class.

A brooding, darkly complex beer, which borrows greatly from the 'dark beer' model, and yet it is happy to grab elements from all other beer styles like stout, golden ale and even experimental spiced or fruit beers.

It's no car wreck though, all of these styles intertwine, compliment each other and enhance the overall effect. It really is quite dazzling. It sits comfortably alongside no single beer variety, but seems instead to rise above them all, like some one-label beer style all of it's own.

Treacle, gooseberry, cinnamon, grapes, parsnip, black cherry, passion fruit, grapefruit, caramel - all at the most quaffably judged intensity.

It smells like the beer version of a classic movie villain - menacing and darkly charismatic - yet it drinks like the smoothest of matinee idols. This is an epic scale, Cinemascope offering from a small micro, but the only way you'd ever know this beer was from a small micro, is by the way the whole magnificence of the experience is reduced almost to a none event by blobs of yellow grime that have no right to be there in the first place

Get rid of those blobs, and this beer can be enjoyed for what it is - an indisputable modern classic.

As things stand - it can barely be enjoyed at all.


Curmudgeon said...

Perhaps you should simply confine your tastings to brewery conditioned beers, or BCAs from the more established breweries.

I had some very nice Thwaites Indus Pale Ale the other day - extremely bitter for a big brewery beer :-)

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

PC - That would solve the problem, but I feel inclined to showcase the micros where possible, particulary when many of them are producing such fantastic products.

My hope is that they'll discover a cost effective system that puts an ends to all this chucking yeast in by hand, which seems to be essentially the case for many small firms.

'Hand made' is often a good thing in the world of manufacturing. 'Hand bottle-conditioned' is not so good in the world of brewing.

Baron Orm said...

I'm not convinced that you have fairly scored this bottled ale, after all your blog is all about the bottle (as it mine).

If the BCing causes the beer to be rubbish I can't see how you can ignore that fact and give it such a high score. People who view your score but don't read the full review will be in for a nasty surprise.

If it's crap could you please say it's crap in both words and the score?

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

Baron - I think you make an excellent point, and I thought about this dilemma a lot before posting.

The fact is - the beer is not 'crap' as you say. Not at all. The beer is very good. In fact, the beer is excellent.

The bottling of the beer, however, is crap. The question is - do I blame the beer for the fact that someone bottled it badly, or bottled it using a poor system of bottle-conditioning due to lack of funds?

Feeling duty bound to the beer and not to the bottle or even to the brewer, I elected to overlook the production line compromise (in terms of the score) and to address the issue within the review itself. I did this partly in order to show that this is a great product being ruined - as opposed to it being a poor product in the first place - which is a much more heartbreaking scenario, and much more in need of dealing with.

As for those people who don't like to read the ghastly old 'full reviews' - I think those folks already know to avoid this site entirely and visit yours intead, where things are far more time efficient. I write my postings for those looking for something different, and make no apology for any readers who elect not to read the post in detail. It's up to them if the miss the point, especially when the point is there to discover if they wish.

I did include an explanation of the amended score in parenthesis for those who can stretch to reading entire lines of English placed between brackets, hopefully they worked it out and saved themselves that 'nasty shock' you mentioned.