A SERIOUS learning project was under way at the University of Leeds this week as four teams of researchers got their heads together to investigate some of the best bottled beers on the market.
The annual staff festival is an opportunity for teaching staff, administrators and support staff to let their hair down, after the end of one academic year and before the chaos of the new arrivals for Freshers’ Week in September.
I came along to guide almost 70 of them through a series of taste tests, where they were not only encouraged to drink the beer, but also to describe it beautifully.
The beers were a random selection, plucked from the shelves of local supermarkets, so each should be widely available. One of the first we tried was Golden Goose ** which I found on offer at 89p a bottle in my local branch of Lidl. At that price, you don’t expect much, but your spirits are lifted by the knowledge it has been brewed by the excellent Wychwood Brewery in Oxfordshire. It made for a refreshing start with one of the tasters describing is as “a pleasing blend of Yorkshire tea and lemonade”.
Wychwood is perhaps best known for Hobgoblin ***, and this darker, stronger beer was another we tried. Here our tasters were rather divided over the merits of the ‘official beer of Hallowe’en’, one branding it “a curious blend of cola and Marmite”, others commenting on its licorice and aniseed nature, and a rather damning “it’s not as dangerous as it pretends to be.”
Staying in the dark, we moved on to the rich and full-bodied Hearthstone Strong Ale **** from Meanwood’s microbrewery Hungry Bear. The malty fruitcakey nature of this beer attracted positive comments, as did its warming, whisky-ish characteristics and one taster remarked “this is the perfect ale for sipping beside a roaring fire.”
One taster described their beer as ‘A heavenly dessert of caramelised fruit and sweet spices’
From here we headed into the fells and Wainwright Ale *** which is brewed by Thwaites in Lancashire in honour of the famous Lakeland walker and writer. One taster said this was “as malty as a mid-walk biscuit”, others suggested “crisp” and “nutty” – and all agreed this was an easy-going, sessionable ale. “Perfect for drinking in the pub after a long hike up Helvellyn,” suggested one of the team.
It was off to Bradford next, and the first of two beers from the city’s own eponymous brewpub. Solero *** is their zesty, slightly sweet pale ale, and this one had our tasters competing for the most imaginative fruity comparisons with mango, grapefruit, pineapple, passion fruit and “bags of citrus” all cropping up in descriptions – though some noted these were more marked in the aroma than flavour.
The second Bradford ale we tried was Lord of Misrule ***** – see beer of the week, right.
From Bradford we moved just a couple of miles north to Saltaire and the rich smooth taste of Triple Chocoholic **** whose “silky, luxurious smoothness” proved a hit with many of the tasters. The chocolate was evident in both the aroma and the taste, with its bitterness only emerging in the aftertaste. There was definitely a gender split with female tasters scoring it higher than men.
Another which divided opinion was the Co-Op Wheat Beer **. It may be supermarket-branded but this is genuinely German-brewed, and this clovey, cloudy, efferevescent beer is one which drinkers love or hate in equal measure. “A heavenly dessert of caramelised fruit and sweet spices” said one; “sour and undrinkable,” said another. We rounded things off with the crisp, bitter, classic Czech lager Budweiser Budvar ***. As one taster put it: “If only every beer called Budweiser could taste this good...”