When I posted last week about the Sportsman at Stockton Brook I mentioned that I was looking forward to an even better pub that night, which many will have guessed to be the Blue Bell at Harding's Wood.
The Blue Bell is a (mostly) unspoiled canalside pub still retaining the feel of a multi-roomed establishment. It specialises in beer and conversation and whilst there was no shortage of the latter in what was, for a Wednesday, a very busy evening the beer was a let down.
It was "proper" cask beer all right and well-kept. There were five "real ales" and all from small, independent breweries. It was also cheap (by today's standards).
So what was wrong? Well perhaps I caught it on a bad night but of the five beers available one was a stout (and not a particularly distinguished one), whilst the other four were all light, golden ales brewed with American or New Zealand hops to give an overwhelming fruity or citrus flavour. Now I know this is the modern style. It's meant to encourage younger drinkers and woo them off the heavily-advertised lager they'd otherwise be drinking. As such, it is encouraged by CAMRA although I feel that if such beers had been foisted upon us by the big brewers in the 1970s CAMRA would have dismissed them out of hand. I accept there is a place for them in the broad church of British brewing but they are taking over! Call me old-fashioned (because I am old-fashioned!) but I happen to think beer should taste of BEER: malt and hops, not blackcurrants, citrus, hedgerow fruit or kiwi fruit! (all beer-descriptions that appear in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide).
To get back to the Blue Bell: Someone there is obviously aware that in a pub selling an ever-changing range of beers customers need guidance as to what they are going to get for their hard-earned cash. The beer menu identifies the style of each beer by labelling them from "A" (Light, Golden Ales) through to D (Dark ales and stouts). You would think whoever compiles the menu would have thought that perhaps having four "A"s and one "D" with nothing in between was perhaps just a little lacking in balance.