Name – Butty Bach
Brewer – Wye Valley
Classification – Premium Ale
Strength – 4.5% ABV
Verdict - At A Glance
On the eye – Caramelised, honeyed apricot.
On the nose – A whole world of malted buttery loveliness.
On the tongue – A proper classic-style bitter. Nutty, fruity, and laced with pleasing hints of British woodland foliage. Sounds great doesn't it, so why am I sobbing in the corner? (Read on...)
On the subject – Herefordshire's Wye Valley Brewery have, courtesy of this beer, brought my entire life to a crucial moment. (Read on...)
On the market – This company's reach has been increasing of late, with various supermarkets now getting the message which, obviously, is great for them. If only this could be said of so many other fabulous British breweries of similar size. I weep. Anyway, contact the brewery direct for sales info.
On the whole – 8/10
On the whole – 8/10
There ain't nothing wrong with this beer.
Now, it could be argued that opening lines such as the one you have just read are deliberately ambiguous. Sometimes, sentences of this kind in beer reviews are significant purely in terms of what they don't say.
After all, just because a brew is largely free of faults, it doesn't necessarily follow that it's overrun with plus points.
Personally, I'd say I must have imbibed hundreds of 'faultless' beers which I'd completely forgotten about seconds after they've been swallowed.
An awful beer, on the other hand, will almost never leave you alone, even if you only took a couple of sips from it over twenty years ago. This is a devastating reality which ruins not only individual evenings, but can also set back careers, break up families and end worlds.
I'm exaggerating only very slightly there, as anyone who's ever had to politely sit through an entire glassful of their mate's rubbish home-brew will know only too well.
But the far more widely experienced reality here on Earth comes in the form of that extensive bunch of beers which fall into the rather curious category of 'being perfectly pleasant.'
In fact, probably the majority of the beers we'll ever taste will fall within that catchment.
Now, given that I'm talking in these terms here today, you would be forgiven for suspecting I'm going to include Butty Bach in this pretty enormous group of ales.
Well, for a while, that's exactly what I thought was going to happen, until I took a moment to put the sampling of this beer into context, and what happened next was rather profound.
Before this beer, I had reviewed several beers which represent (in stunning fashion) the very best of what is increasingly referred to as either 'contemporary', 'new wave' or perhaps most commonly 'craft' beer.
I'm talking about beers such as Oakham's 'Green Devil IPA', Odell's '5Barrel Pale Ale', Moor's 'Revival' and Thornbridge's 'Chiron' – each of which is quite simply 'big' in its impact upon your body and soul. As is arguably the defining characteristic of craft beer, 'more is always more' with these creations, whether it be in terms of flavour, process, or the sheer amount of ingredients.
As my reviews of these beers make clear, I happen to like these brews a heck of a lot. I've welcomed all beers of 'this kind' to the party and I sincerely hope they stay until the very end.
But my response to these beers has triggered an unfortunate side effect.
When I subsequently sit back down with a beer like today's – which faithfully represents the sort of drink which got me interested in 'beer' in the first place – the closest I can get to a full-on positive reaction is nearly always the same...
“There's nothing wrong with this.”
For someone who has loved beer for so long, this is a pretty grim experience to find yourself having.
I'd really like to hear from anyone else who has faced this situation head on, either now or previously, because I'd very much like to know what can be done about it.
In the meantime, let me just say that Butty Bach, for all I know, is probably an exceptional example of a beer style I'm a little bit indifferent to right at this moment. It's got some excellent malt elements – rich and buttery, nutty, with soft caramel and granary loaf undertones – it also has a good range of fruit notes, it's woody and herbal in just the right places, it's bitter but not harsh, it's sweet but not syrupy... it really sounds like I'm talking about a very good beer here.
And I probably am.
Maybe Wye Valley could take everything this drink is already doing and simply 'ramp it up' a little, and make it come at me with a bit more conviction, perhaps even with a little bit of a swagger. But wouldn't that just be inviting the beer to cross over into the 'other' camp, thereby depriving it of the very identity it always intended to have?
I think I'm a bit confused.
I think my allegiance to all my 'old favourite' beers is probably now officially in question.
I think perhaps 'craft beer' has lot of bloody explaining to do.
For now, though, let me end like this...
Butty Bach is a very good example of a classic style English premium ale – and the significance of that conclusion is very different today to what it would have been 157 beer reviews ago.
And I honestly don't know how I feel about that...