Name – Joseph Williamson
Brewer – Liverpool Organic
Classification – Bitter
Strength – 4.1% ABV
Verdict - At A Glance
On the eye – Lustrous deep red chestnut. Stunning.
On the nose – Solid tantalising malts and vivid spiced-citrus hops.
On the tongue – The most complete bitter I've yet discovered. Nothing less than a religious experience.
On the subject – If a sense of this brewery is what you're looking for, I think it's probably better to read on...
On the market – I could summon thunder with indignation! What I mean is, this beer is way too hard to come by as things stand. If you're outside of Liverpool, try the brewery's own online store.
On the whole – 9.5/10
On the whole – 9.5/10
It would be extremely reckless and hotheaded for me to begin this review by blurting out an insanely sweeping statement along the lines of “this brewery is currently producing the best bottled beers in Britain” – so I'm going to take whatever steps necessary to avoid saying that, or anything else remotely along those lines.
I'm going to avoid it so determinedly because such a statement would be a dangerous combination of unscientific (I haven't tried bottled beers from every other brewery in Britain), sensationalist (there are ways of praising a company's efforts without singling them out so dramatically), and most crucially – it would be downright risky (my already questionable reputation would be in danger of total collapse if I were to go so far out on a limb for just one relatively small firm.)
I mean – let's just be perfectly honest here. There's little doubt that any writer who opened with such a bold claim as 'this brewery is currently producing the best bottled beers in Britain' – would clearly have little interest in journalistic values or the search for ultimate truth, they would quite obviously be far more interested in attention-grabbing sound bites and the sort of smutty, reductive titillation that appeals only to the most spineless and amoral demographic.
There really is no question about any of that.
In this particular case, however, my chief obstacle when trying to avoid use of such sweeping statements happens to be a very significant obstacle, and that obstacle comes in the shape of the following fact...
This brewery is currently producing the best bottled beers in Britain.
You see my dilemma.
Like I say, there was very little left of my reputation anyway – so what the hell.
One way or another, this is how I see it. The extensive range of bottled beers that Liverpool Organic are churning out at this point in time are – without doubt – the freshest, most vivid, most immediate and ultimately the most impressive brews on the open market.
Other beers may match the quality of these ales, but it would be a rare beer indeed which bettered them.
I've sampled around half of the full spread of ales that they have to offer so far (with some reviews already out and more to follow), but that's enough for me to get to the point where I simply cannot contain myself any longer. There are literally a small a handful of trend-setting breweries in this country at present, whom all other breweries (micro sized and larger) look to for inspiration and ideas, and it can sometimes seem that those 'hot' breweries are simply those with the greatest number of Tweets and Facebook updates. (Run the numbers on this theory if you have time, you'll be amazed at the link between 'social networking', 'influence' and ultimately 'sales'. I've long argued that the wireless hub has now become the most important tool in the brewhouse.)
Imagine a world where beer, and beer alone, builds reputations. In that world, I believe Liverpool Organic would currently wear the bottled crown.
But, as we are all obliged to live in this world, I can only suggest that L.O. get themselves a Twitter account as rapidly as possible and start sending out a semi-constant barrage of meaningless drivel.
Because it works.
Sales will triple in eighteen months, and I'll be able to stop putting my reputation on the line with sweeping statements about how superior their beers are – because everyone will already know.
This particular beer of theirs, 'Joseph Williamson' (part of their 'Heroes Of Liverpool' range) has a somewhat unfortunate title. Joseph Williamson himself was a real-life champion of the working people of Liverpool, and as such he has every right to have things named after him, such as libraries, museums, social clubs, roads, leisure centres, a bridge, a stadium or anything with an important public profile. But not a beer. And certainly not the finest craft bitter in the nation. The problem with the title Joseph Williamson that is 'says', or 'suggests', or 'conjures up a sense of' absolutely nothing to most people in the world. Consequently, most people will have no idea about what to expect from this beer, and most consumers would be put off by that.
This problem is elevated from nuisance level to far greater severity by the fact that it's not even called a 'bitter' on the label. It's called 'TunnAle.' This, basically, is a private joke between the brewers and any people in Liverpool who have an above-average knowledge of local history. Anyone outside of Liverpool is left to wonder what a strange and curious thing a 'tunnale' might be, before deciding not to risk any money on it and buying themselves a bitter instead.
Now, I wouldn't normally bother with such trivialities as branding (the bottle does actually look lovely, and there's no problem at all with the general styling of the brewery's 'image') but when the beer in question is as good as this, I feel duty bound to get it poured down the necks of as many people as possible – and that (sadly, but truly) is often the point where branding becomes every bit as important as the product. A name or a bit of bad design can so easily prove a hindrance to an excellent beer. In this case, I just wish they'd found a more creative way to 'honour' this man without simply using his name. Did he not have a nickname, or an unusual hobby? Or why not just call the beer 'TunnAle', keep the gentleman's very nice portrait on the front, and tell us all about the link on the back? It would still be in his honour, and we'd all know what we were buying. Or if it absolutely has to be called Joseph Williamson, it should at least say 'bitter' somewhere to help us out, instead of a 'joke' beer variety, which is guaranteed to amuse far fewer people than it will bewilder.
Anyway, enough of all this.
I suppose I'd better say a little something about what this beer is actually like.
Don't think I can't hear those groans of relief!
Well, believe me, this is no easy task. Focussing on a single beer in Liverpool Organic's range is like trying to focus on a single star in the clearest of night skies. However, the one advantage that Joseph Williamson has over all the other liquid miracles on the list – is that this is perhaps the most magnificent.
As I've already suggested above, this is the most complete bitter I've yet to find during this project, and easily as good as any I'd found in all the years before.
A dry, crisp, lightly smoked and spiced, sharply citrus, richly nutty, medium bodied, easy drinking festival of a beer. There's nothing remotely 'old school' about it, and yet there is an instant sense of familiarity, and I find this element alone to be an essential part of any favourite beer.
It's an enigmatic ale, but it's no show off. It is refined and elegant, but it feels 'inclusive', like a drink which wishes to be enjoyed rather than admired.
But admire it you just do. It leaves you with no choice.
The hops are dynamic and vivid, but they merely co-exist with the sumptuous malts, which themselves never stray into outright sweetness – but tantalize you with the feeling that they might.
The true highlight, though – as with all of this brewery's offerings – is the exceptional freshness of the drink. The sense of 'nature alive' (probably stemming from the all-organic ingredients and the very well executed bottle-conditioning) is as stunning and as vibrant as ever here. Beer can seldom taste more fresh, in bottled form or any other.
Rounding things off is the gentlest and most mesmerising 'finish', which floats airily around in the mouth like the kindly ghosts of all cherished beers past, present and future. I did try to explain it with less whimsy, but this really is the closest description I can provide.
All in all, I was genuinely moved by this drink.
It was only a glass a beer, so that really shouldn't have been possible.
But it's all very true, and I suspect that only by drinking this ale could you ever properly understand.
I urge you to go and do so.
(UPDATE - 08/11 - Six days after this was posted, Liverpool Organic were up and running on Twitter. Would I be so deluded and egocentric to imagine this post was responsible? You bet I would! Either way - it's a great development! Find them at @LivOrganicBrew)