BOLTMAKER V SUSSEX BEST BITTER
On a recent visit to the Blacksmiths Arms in St Albans, two familiar pump clips caught my eye. The badges are the faces of two old friends – Boltmaker by Timothy Taylor and Sussex Best Bitter by Harveys. Though I’ve spent golden times with both of them, I’ve never formally introduced them to each other.
Timothy Taylor displays a barley sheaf and Harveys has an image of the brewery. It’s like the image was taken through the smoked glass of a Victorian picture box. Maybe alcohol has some genetic effect on the genes that recall the past because like a mash rake in a tun, something stirs within me. There is the refined sugar nostalgia of the imagined past; a longing for a harked after time I never witnessed (and probably never was). There is also the more recent nostalgia for when pump clips like these would represent the only cask ale in a pub serving Fosters and Carling Black Label. Those days have genuinely gone.
Timothy Taylor is a brand I can recall throughout my life in Britain. Its more widely found Landlord bitter can be found a long way out of its west Yorkshire homeland in Keighley. I can remember seeing their distinctive green bar runners engorged on spilt beer for decades. Last year Boltmaker won Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival in Olympia.
Harvey’s is a brewery whose badge I only started seeing when I became London-centric. They’re based in Lewes in Sussex and set up in 1790 – right back in Georgian times. They still deliver their beer to the pubs in Lewes by dray horse. They have always sold beers in smaller 275ml bottles and their website and shop are subsequently like sweet shops with the Willy Wonka colours to match. They have pre-empted the current craft bottle size trend though the lack of heady new world hops easily distinguishes them from it.
Both beers look exactly the same. I try and lever some difference between them but cannot. The liquid in both glasses is clear and of fluxed copper. Both have attractive white hop oil heads. Both have exactly the same ABV and both are in good condition. I start with Boltmaker.
It’s a fruity natty bitter. The initial taste is of blueberries, redcurrant and orange (Bramling Cross hops?). The taste doesn’t linger on the palate making it a bit ginger biscuity. It has a dry Pumpernickel malt dimension. The aftertaste is a combination of oaty brown bread and ginger loaf with a hint of Demerera sugar too. If this beer were a sweetbread, it would be packaged in red and purple vacuum bags and be suffixed by an “een”.
Sussex Best Bitter:
This beer is deeper and maltier. Dark berries – blackcurrant and black cherry on the initial taste but it’s the backup that’s the main character – luscious mellifluous malt (the word mellifluous was possibly coined for this beer). The malt’s like a butterfly’s wingbeats in milk chocolate. A caramel duvet. It’s a pastelator – sharp flavours are blurred into a myopic warmth. On the nose there’s a secretive whisper of Brandy too. These notes could only be picked out on cask!