One 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.