Name – St Wulfram's Summit
Brewer – Oldershaw
Classification – Bitter
Strength – 4.3% ABV
Verdict - At A Glance
On the eye – Deviously traditional. A 'new wave' beer walking among us disguised as an old favourite.
On the nose – Tree bark. Tree sap. Tree fruits. Tree mendous. (I tried not to write that. I honestly did.)
On the tongue – Peppery, sharp citrus bitterness, pine nut and savoury biscuit malts. Decidedly 'unbad.' (My word. Leave it alone.)
On the subject – Proof positive that this brewery, having taken recent giant strides, is now among the most exciting micros in the land. The branding is new, the bottle-conditioning has been greatly refined, and somehow their beers just keep getting better.
On the market – This was initially brewed to showcase the restoration of Grantham's principle landmark, but responses have been so positive things may be looking more long term. Contact the brewery for the latest on this.
On the whole – 8.5%
On the whole – 8.5%
In some ways, Oldershaw Brewery have spent the last few years spoiling their own party.
And my life.
The good news is that they've simultaneously been planning a much better party, and thereby giving people like me the chance to live much richer lives - in place of lives that were actually far less fulfilling than we'd ever realised.
Let me explain.
A few short years ago, a beer like today's beer would have shot straight to the top of my high score chart. After all, today's beer – for all it's contemporary use of multiple high citrus hops sourced from across the world – is essentially a beautifully balanced amber bitter.
Since those days, Oldershaw's glorious party-wrecking has got well under way, and this has come in the form of some extraordinarily dynamic and creative beer creations, which have quietly placed this small brewery right at the heart of the modern 'hop-concious' craft beer scene.
Basically, the beers which Oldershaw and certain others have been producing (such as Blonde Volupta, Regal Blonde and Alchemy) are possesive of so much which is dynamic, vibrant, complex, exciting and just plain old delicious – that after while they make all the old classics seem just a little bit dull.
Personally, I now find even a well kept pint of Pedigree to be somewhat underwhelming. That's rather like an Archbishop losing interest in the Bible.
But as surprising and distressing as this apathy towards established favourites is, the rewards derived from these new beers are numerous enough to more than compensate.
However, what the beer world has needed for a long time now, is for some of the most exciting breweries to take a fresh look at a beer style which has fallen out of favour during this recent period of creativity. Falling out of favour is bad enough, but far more significant in these PR concious times is the fact they've fallen out of fashion. Fashion has become a dominant force in the world of craft beer, and one beer style in particular has become its victim.
That beer style can loosely be described as 'amber bitter.' Or 'the browns', as they are so often referred to by those who would have them disappear for good.
It's actually not rocket science. We've simply needed someone to step up and create a 'brown' which has a sense of it's own place in time. Less of a Gordon Brown, and more of a James, or an Ian, or even a Cleveland Brown.
For a good few years now, the beer world has been in urgent need of a 'cool' brown. And – slowly but surely – such creations are gradually beginning to emerge.
Breweries who care just a little bit more about beer than they do about new-media lead popularity contests are starting to sneak out some amber, bitter-style beers which are, in themselves, every bit aware of the recent developments in beer recipe creation and the huge changes in the wider public's preferences that these developments have inspired.
Admittedly, even with this new approach, these new browns still feel less abundantly and immediately attention-grabbing than the ultra-hopped golden beers or even the sumptuous new breed of 'roasty toasty' darks, but making a massive instantaneous impact is not the only purpose of beer, and I firmly believe that a permanent loss of this middle ground beer style will spell disaster for Planet Ale in the long term.
These beers have been the rock against which all the recent displays of flair and ingenuity have been tethered. Many 'browns' were the very inspiration for all of the magnificent creativity we've all benefited from over recent times. But the way in which the beer scene has turned against them – like teenagers turning on their devoted parents – has been pretty regrettable in my opinion, and the potential for their permanent disappearance is worrying to say the least.
And so, even though Oldershaw brew beers which are clearly more 'jaw-dropping' and 'mind bending' than this beer, I'm possibly more glad of it's arrival than I have been about any other title on their list.
'Summit' has zero sweetness, a dynamic and refreshing bitterness, with a subtle savoury biscuit/nut base, and it has been brewed by a company who stand at the forefront of the recent march away from boring brown beer.
This is exactly the kind of product that the market needs.
A distinctly modern beer for the traditionalists to savour, and for the fashion victims to be reminded that the world of beer is a lot less 'black and white' than they've recently been telling themselves.
Brown is the new black.
And it's tasting great.