Beer Blog

La Terreur or Terroir?

retired-martins-photoOne of Retired Martin’s excellent posts, and his sideways acclaim of Wadworth’s 6X, Marston’s Pedigree and Woodford’s Wherry sowed the seeds of this one, particularly the  above photo and the caption – That would have been exciting 20 years ago!

I’m not sure about Woodford’s Wherry? I’ve had it before, but I couldn’t tell you when or where, or much about it.

That’s not the case with Wadworth’s 6X though. Going back some thirty odd years, I drank it as often as I could. I’d never heard of it until I went to live in Bristol but I quickly learned to appreciate it and actively sought out pubs that sold it because it wasn’t universally available, even in Bristol.

Wadworth’s web site now proclaims 6X as a crafted amber ale of 4.1%, I always thought it was a bit stronger than that because the Bristolian locals always said it was one to go steady with, certainly a bit stronger than the average bitter of the day. They didn’t put the strength on the pump clips much back then though, and it wasn’t ‘crafted’ back in the mid 80’s neither, instead they brewed it, and it was lush.

There’s something about Bristol that keeps me returning, and if I ever had to move away from The Great North then it would be a very strong candidate. Last time I was down I had a pint of Wadworth’s finest in the city centre. I got quite excited at first, but to be honest, it was nothing special. Nothing wrong with it, it wasn’t badly kept or anything like that, I just thought it was … only alright.

So what’s changed, me or Wadworth’s? I reckon Wadworth’s will have stayed pretty much the same. They still have dray horses, wooden casks, a cooper and a fine tradition dating back to 1875. Okay they have messed with their description to make it sound trendy(er), but it’s still a Best Bitter. So it must be me that’s changed then?

My enduring memory of the, then revered, Marston’s Pedigree, a rarity in Sheffield at the time and I don’t think I ever saw it in Barnsley, was at my first beer festival, Sheffield CAMRA (circa 1983). Myself and a mate went to the press preview, courtesy of CAMRA’s invitation to my old man, and other landlord’s of selected hostelries. We got chatting with one of the other landlord’s who ran The Cocked Hat, which was one of the first, if not the only Marston’s pub in the city at the time? He claimed to sell a far superior pint to the one on offer at the festival, he would do wouldn’t he. Anyway, at the end of the hospitality session it only seemed proper to climb into a taxi, with his mates, and head out to the wilds of Attercliffe to try it.

You always say it when you’ve had a few don’t you, but it was the best pint of Pedigree I have ever supped, before or since. It made no difference that it was free. Not to be out done, the landlord’s mate invited us back to his Italian restaurant which was equally nice as financial assets were at pretty low levels at the time. I’m not sure how we eventually got back to Pond Street bus station, but I will thank the driver of the X68 and fellow passengers who patiently waited for us at Wortley whilst we answered the call of nature.

Now that middle aged bus driver will have been retired a long time now and the X68 Sheffield to Halifax service no longer runs. The Cocked Hat in Attercliffe has been closed for a while and sadly, although he went on to be my best man a few years later, my mate died in tragic circumstances. A lot of other stuff has passed under the bridge since then and the only thing left is me and my memories of Marston’s Pedigree?

I couldn’t actually tell you when I stopped drinking it? I gave it enough chances too, I just tired of it’s mediocrity. I don’t know whether it’s the beer itself, they say it’s still brewed in Burton in the traditional way, so it should taste the same. Maybe it’s the pubs, the way they are run or who’s operating them? Maybe Wolverhampton and Dudley Brewery, sorry Marston’s are mixed up about what they do, pubs or beer? If it’s beer, which beer, whose beer? They seem to brew more different beers than you can shake a stick at and ‘own’ more original breweries than they actually have brewing plants for now. That can’t be right can it? They even brew ales for other ‘(big) brands’ in their beer factory, making a mockery of the brewers claims that the source liquor has a massive impact on the finished ale. Or, is that claim still valid and it’s these big brewers that are making a mockery of a lot of beer drinkers?

Yes, I know that a chemist can analyse and change water quality in one area to replicate the water in Burton, Leeds, Blackburn or wherever, but is it exactly the same? I know what the answer is. The French know too and it’s why the Appellation laws came in, they knew that the locality affects the end product and that some quality control was required.

A conversation with a progressive brewer recently led me to wonder just how real some of the, so called, real ale big sellers actually are and whether they might have been fined and filtered to death? To the point where they may not actually be as real as they claim? Has this had an effect on my perceptions of some of the more popular traditional brews?

Funnily enough, in this little tale, the only thing that has stayed the same is CAMRA and their dogged insistence on real ale, as opposed to exceptionally good ale. Looking at Marstons, and some others, it looks like they may have stealthily evolved into what was the old enemy, and are operating just like the Big Six of old, dominating beer and pubs. Maybe it’s about time that CAMRA should do something about things to make it easy for people to differentiate between the bland processed beers being pushed by the big brewers and the traditional beers whose very existence is, thankfully, no longer under threat?

What’s that you say? How does that explain my perceived decline in Wadworth’s 6X? Well, It’s entirely possible that my tastes have changed. In fact I think … No … I’m certain they have. And I think I know why, because comparatively there are so many other good beers out there now offering endless competition against what might these days be just average. Yes, it would have been exciting 20 years ago, it’s not now.

11 replies »

  1. This post has been edited. As Pubcurmudgeon quite properly points out Wadsworth’s is actually spelled Wadworth’s, hence the tweak to the spelling and apologies to Wadworth’s good name.

    In my defence, I will always, wrongly, pronounce it Wadsworth’s and naturally spell it in this way. Probably because there was a local family, who lived down the road from us when I was a kid, the head of the family, and quite a character, being called Willie Wadsworth.

    Anyway, I got it wrong and apologise for any inconvenience this has caused.

    Richard.

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  2. I missed it too, and I was nosily reading your draft when I cheekily stopped off for a coffee. Amazing how our brains work, not noticing things.

    Anyway, it’s good to disagree with you on this one (a bit). I reckon Pedigree and 6X (and Bass and Theakstons) are still as good as they were, because occasionally I have really good pints of them, often in unusual places (Leighton Buzzard, Stoke). So my view is that it’s the pub serving less beer, or serving it too soon/too late/too warm.

    Even using predominantly Beer Guide pubs, only 1 pint in 5 justifies that view, the rest of the time you’d be perfectly entitled to wish you’d had the Cloudwater, or the Northern Monk, or whatever.

    So my task for the next trip North will be to try and find a pub where you could enjoy Pedigree/6X/Bass within a hop of your lovely village.

    Can’t say fairer than that.

    Wherry was good 15 years ago in Norfolk but I’ve given up on it.

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  3. I can’t remember ever seeing Bass OTB in LS23 Martin, indeed that’s why I am unable to have an opinion on that particular contract brewed by Marston’s ale. Again, a beer that was sublime in the era I return to above and the red triangle was worth seeking out. I can’t remember seeing it anywhere in Leeds recently, or not in the pubs and bars I frequent in the centre. I am sure they will have it in The Duck and Drake on occasions, they have a good ever changing selection of well kept ales in there for the traditional real ale drinker – including regular beers from the wood: Bass has never been on when I’ve been in though. I probably don’t get in there often enough, but Mrs C refuses to go in, on account of the toilets.

    I shall start tasting for a good source of 6X/Pedigree, there is a bar nearby (Boston Spa) that has Marston’s ales on rotation (probably tied through a loan?), sadly beer quality is only 1.5 to 2 at best

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  4. The 1977 GBG has 6X at 1039 OG, rising to 1041 in 1982. Currently it’s declared at 1040.5 GB, 4.1% ABV, so it’s not the case that it’s become weaker over the years. The bottled version is 4.3%.

    I still find it an excellent, distinctive beer, and it’s one (along with the likes of Draught Bass and Brains SA) that I will pick out if seen on the bar. One classic place to drink it is the Anchor at High Offley in Staffordshire, well away from its home territory.

    I’d say it’s more the case that other beers with strong flavours have shouted louder, not that it has deteriorated in quality.

    On the other hand, I haven’t had a good pint of Pedigree for ages.

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    • Thank you for that clarification on the strength of 6X Pubcurmudgeon, it is appreciated, and it just shows how personal perceptions can mislead us.

      I wholeheartedly agree with your point on stronger flavours and I have to admit that my head has been turned. There are still some real gems of traditional beers out there which are excellent when properly kept. It is a shame that Pedigree doesn’t seem to be one of them any more.

      Maybe I should have stuck solely to the point of ‘The demise of Pedigree”?

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      • 2000 GBG has 6X as 1040 OG, 4.3% ABV, so it does seem to have fluctuated a bit over the years. Off the top of my head, without looking it up, I would have said it was 4.3%.

        It’s interesting to think how, 35 years ago, beers like that and Brains “Skull Attack” SA were regarded as distinctly strong and deserving of respect.

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      • Very much so Pubcurmudgeon. Although you have provided the documentary evidence that 6X is, in current parlance, not particularly strong by comparison. My anecdotal memory is that it was one deserving of respect … I wish I had written more down, rather than waiting for thirty odd years to remember it all!!!

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  5. Interesting Mudge mentions Brains SA. I only really got into real ale mid-90s, and on regular trips to Cardiff it was all Dark and Bitter (both excellent). The 4.2% SA was almost regarded as a beer for show-off or occasional Friday night treat, almost in same vein as someone who drank Old Peculiar or Riggwelter would be now.

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