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23-02-2014, 11:06
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http://goodfoodgoodbeer.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/captain-oates-pump-clip.jpg?w=208&h=300 (http://goodfoodgoodbeer.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/captain-oates-pump-clip.jpg)Years ago, when I was meekly attending beer festivals with a notebook in hand, dragging my wife along with me (I didn’t really know anyone in ‘Beer’ then), most of the beers I chose were chosen purely because of the pumpclip, or the scant tasting notes offered by the festival guides. I had no real awareness of what I wanted, what was ‘good’, or even what the liquid inside those barrels, jacketed and reclining*on stillage, would offer.
I resorted to something I might still do to some extent today; if there’s a link to something that appealed to me, I’d pick it. Something football-based, perhaps. Horror films. A brewery that I knew was near me. Something with a dog on the label (rich pickings in the world of real ale, I’ll tell you). Or, like this week’s beer, one named after a goldfish. Well, kind of.
Years ago, when we first started ‘courting’ (I do like that term. It’s warm, fuzzy. Nice.), Louise and I bought some goldfish. Nothing too high-maintenance, we thought. One – *mine – was a bold, boisterous white guy called Morrissey. Louise’s was a more graceful, demure golden variant called, oddly, Captain Oates. Despite her naming it after a character’s horse in The OC (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_O.C.) – a show she liked at the time – it wasn’t until later that we found out that Lawrence Oates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Oates), a Londoner who famously met his end on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica , served in the West Yorkshire Battalion; so there was an unintentional link there.
It was the pumpclip – named after my goldfish, it would seem – that made me choose Captain Oates Mild (4.5%abv), brewed by Susan and Keith Simpson at The Brown Cow Brewery (http://browncowbrewery.co.uk/) near Selby. It was delicious; one of those beers that really, really stays with you. It’s a multiple award-winner, and I have to say I’ve passed it up on previous beer festival trips since then. It was ‘ticked’, done, tasted. It was good. It was recommended.
So a recent shopping basket of beers from Yorkshire Ales (http://www.yorkshireales.co.uk/) brought a bottle of it into my palm again. All those memories of that festival, the link with the pet, Louise excitedly spotting the name and imploring me to try the beer, came flooding back. The beer didn’t disappoint; topped with a creamy, tan head, the near-black ruby beer carries a nose of bitter chocolate, mild coffee and digestive biscuit notes. The body is smooth, comforting and throws a little nut character into the mix; almonds, to be specific. Sweet, then smooth, then subtly drying in the finish. A moreish, creamy dark mild with an award list as long as your arm, it was immensely satisfying to return to a beer after all those years and find it better than your memory serves. Often it’s not the case, when it comes to beer.
http://goodfoodgoodbeer.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/thriller-in-vanilla-2011-2.jpg?w=209&h=300 (http://goodfoodgoodbeer.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/thriller-in-vanilla-2011-2.jpg)I paired it with *Mrs Simpson’s Vanilla Porter. Subtitled ‘Thriller in Vanilla‘ , this 5.1% abv Porter is as satisfying as the previous beer, if not more so. Black again but with an almost purplish hue when held to the light, the aroma bursts with cream, some oakiness, rummy truffle-led notes and more of that signature chocolate digestive-biscuit personality that the Captain Oates had. It’s a heady mix, and one that prepares you for a muddled taste but it never happens – the taste is light and graceful – a fruity, rich porter with black fruit notes and just a swirl of cream at the end to live up to its flamboyant billing.
Brown Cow are one of those breweries that don’t make a fuss and brew a small range of beers incredibly well; practices honed after years of getting the recipe ‘just right’. It’s also great to link up with a beer from the past again and find it in rude health. I hope they continue, and I hope our paths will cross again – sooner, this time.

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