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Why Dollar celebrates tonight

Tonight, January 25, Scots everywhere celebrate the anniversary of the birth of their national poet, Robert Burns. You don't have to be a Scot, so long as you like beer and/or whisky, you can take part whatever your nationality.

Ken Brooker, an Englishman brews prize-winning ales in the oddly named Scottish village of Dollar (from the Latin dolor, meaning "sadness"). He is celebrating twice this week, and will be sadly hungover tomorrow.

The first celebration followed the annual competition held by Britain's biggest supermarket chain, Tesco, to choose a new champion beer for the spring and summer. Beers are brewed especially for the competition and there were 72 entries this year. The judges are beer-writers, working blindfold. Two champion beers are chosen: one from a micro, the other from a regional or national. Both of this year's top breweries had produced champion beers in previous years.

The winning micro was Ken Brooker's Harviestoun with ale as yet unnamed. As a judge, I noted its full gold color, malty aroma and fruity, bitter, finish. The alcohol content is 5.0 per cent by volume. Brewer Brooker was aiming in the direction of an India Pale Ale. This brew is more assertive than most British IPAs, but far less robust than most American examples. The malt grist includes ten per cent wheat, and hops are Fuggles, East Kent Goldings and Styrians. There are three additions. Ken claims to be a hophead, but he won a previous Tesco championship -- for winter beers -- with his malty Engine Oil. That would be a good choice for tonight.

Among the other micro entries, I liked an astonishingly pale, carbonic, citric beer (it looked and tasted, like sparkling wine), from Ken's near neighbor the Broughton Brewery. Among the English beers, I enjoyed a refreshingly crisp and fruity beer, with a martini-like finish, from the Hambleton brewery, in North Yorkshire.

The preliminary round was in Yorkshire, under the chairmanship of Barrie Pepper, who this year won the Silver Tankard of the British Guild of Beer Writers. Gold Tankard winner M. Jackson, also a Yorkshireman, judged in the final round, in London.

In the category for national or regional brewers, the winner was Young's, of London. Despite its following in the United States (to which I hope I have contributed), this brewery is strongly rooted in a handful of neighborhoods in south-west London. Its entry was a clean, crisp, lemony, golden hybrid. This is brewed from Pilsner malt; hopped twice, with Styrians; fermented with bottom yeast; lagered; filtered; then bottle-conditioned with krausen and top yeast. Total process time is just over five weeks.

The brewer at Young's who developed the beer, Derek Prentice, sees this product as a lager, despite the use of the ale yeast for the

bottle-conditioning. British lager drinkers, accustomed to brews that taste of nothing, may well be fazed by the fact that this one tastes of something.

"It's a lager for people who like speciality brews. It is well hopped, and the bottle-conditioning adds dimension," says Prentice. I reckon the Styrians impart the distinctly citric note. Prentice credits the bottle-conditioning, a process that he greatly favors.

It will be interesting to see how this product fares. It could puzzle consumers on both sides of the ale-lager divide. Or it could tempt them; it is hardly a radical beer. "We wanted to stay within classic ingredients and processes," adds Prentice. We wanted on this occasion to avoid novelty." The hops and/or yeast may impart a citric note, but Young's was not in the mood for fruit or chocolate. The brewery has already been there, done that. Products like Waggledance honey beer; Acclaim passion fruit lager (a past

winner of the Tesco competition); and Double Chocolate Stout are all established successes.

Among the other regionals, I especially liked dry, hoppy, ale from Frederic Robinson, of Greater Manchester. Also a fruity, lively but complex ale from Badger, of Dorset.

Related stories:
- A champion beer for Burns' Night
- Here's what they did with the beer
- How about a Heather Ale on the poet's birthday?

Published: JAN 25, 2003
In: Beer Hunter Online

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