In 1983, I wandered the short distance from where I lived in east Oxford to the Oxford Beer Shop. It was run by a former colleague of mine and was, in many ways, ahead of its time. The shop sold cask beer that could be taken away in containers, something that would surely be all the rage now. I popped in there regularly to see what was new.
One that was certainly new to me was Beechwood Bitter, an ale from the Chiltern brewery in Aylesbury. The brewery was also new, having begun operations in 1980. I enjoyed the beer and had it a couple more times.
What would have seemed inconceivable after my last pint of Beechwood was that it would be another 38 years before I was to renew acquaintance with Chiltern. I was delighted to discover that they sold minikegs for delivery and duly ordered a few. Sadly, Beechwood was not available at the time, although at the time of writing, it is back on the menu.
Pale Ale (3.7%)
This is a 3.7% amber coloured ale, not as pale as some of the many beers of this type. This is just about right for a session beer and has a good malt-hop balance. A sign of this is a gentle sweetness at the beginning, slightly fruity in this instance, before the hops and bitterness kick in, giving it a good hoppy finish. Enjoyable.
Earl Grey IPA (3.9%)
The brewery got together with the London-based tea business Birchall to come up with the beer. It’s a rather gentle IPA at 3.9% and that’s exactly what it tastes like. There is a light orange tang and a decent bitterness. It’s certainly a pleasant beer and good for quaffing, but I struggled to get much of an Earl Grey taste. Perhaps it’s better that way or it might prove a little overpowering.
Black beers can be quite hard to find in minikeg or minipin form, so this was most welcome. At 3.9%, I imagined a slightly strong dark mild in the manner of Brain’s Dark. In fact, it’s much more like a stout and they’re not kidding when they call it ‘black’ – even holding it up to a bright light shows nothing but blackness. The first sensation is of a rich, chocolate kick, more bitter dark chocolate than sweet. You then get some roasted barley taste and a little coffee. The bitterness remains throughout. It went down extremely well and revisiting this one seems inevitable. Yet another thumb-to-the-nose towards the “ultras” who sneer at anything less than 5%. Your loss, and more for the rest of us.