Beer nerds exist, and by God, they’re all over the Internet. Their stock and trade is the beer review, a ballot dutifully cast into the sprawling forum that is Youtube so that the reviewer may convey their earnest assessment of the hottest new Double Imperial Green Hopped Cascadian Dark Lager or whatever. If favourable, the review will typically present as breathless proclamations of the brew’s magnificence, solemn assertions that the likes of such a beer have hitherto gone unseen and untasted, or more usually, some bloke just banging on about ‘Huge Hop Aroma’.
I’m going to posit something controversial; I believe that a determined scouring of the bottle shops, beer menus and ale bars of our world, in search of the elusive few batches that will provoke such epiphanic claims is not particularly necessary; even if it’s made out as some sort of wrote testimony to a drinker’s true love of beer.
A great beer can be positively clandestine. The first pint may have been chosen because your usual was not available, by a friend’s recommendation, because everyone else was drinking it or just because it was there. It was palatable and subtle, and with each following occasion upon which you sampled it, the quality of the ingredients, care taken in its production and the excellence in taste developed; crystallising your certainty that it was one of the best brews you might have ever had.
Some beer, however, is just utter shit.
Tops vs Slops will observe both ends of the spectrum, and with each edition it will make a claim over the best and worst beer in three different style categories. I also heard it was nominated for the Blog Post With The Most Painfully Contrived Name of the Year Award (better know as the BPWTMPCNOTYAs).
Bernard Pivo Pilsner 3.8%
Right out of the gate is a Pilsner by which every other lager should be judged (and ultimately discarded, the Bernard is that good). Hailing from the Czech Republic – home of Pilsner – This is a beer in which every ingredient is pulling its weight. Clean, bready, golden malt with caramel body derived from the decoction method of mashing; Herbal, peppery Saaz hops which bring expert balance against the malt; and soft, sparkling water with a light mineral character that makes Barnard unbelievably drinkable. I’m reminded why I love beer every time I have one.
A lot of mega-lagers are bad, but I feel like the brewers at Carlsberg deserve special mention for the manufacture of a beer that must surely test the patience of every drinker who buys one. Absent hop character; cloying sweetness that coats the tongue and makes the beer taste warm, even when it’s super-chilled; and water treated to accentuate the lingering soapiness that no one wants in something they intend to drink.
Samuel Smith’s Sovereign
Like a bat out of Tadcaster, Sovereign is a fine KEG BITTER. Still with me? Haven’t thrown your computer against the wall with sheer revulsion? I’m glad. Imbued with a bit of carbonate sparkle, Sam Smith’s packages Sovereign without the use of Nitrogen; present in such infamous pseudo-bitter calamities as Caffrey’s, Boddingtons and John Smith’s (yes, there is a relation), making it sessionable to a tee. Dark gold in colour, malty, smooth and with a satisfying hop character, you could drink 10 and still want more.
Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter
Opposites Day at Samuel Smith’s brewery continues with a beer that is upsettingly both their only cask product and the worst beer they’ve brewed. If you like your pint of bitter to taste starchy, tart and yeasty then you’ll sink right in with the old boys propping up the bar, the ones who think that drinking beer should be a masochistic experience.
Harvey’s Old Ale
The West Midlands – heartland of dark mild – will be dismayed to learn that my top choice in this category is technically too strong, brewed in the South and isn’t even called a mild. Harvey’s is a venerable Sussex brewery that goes back over 220 years, and generally does the classics exceptionally well. Old Ale (which doesn’t taste anything like a true old ale, y’know, for the lulz) is smooth, sweet and nutty, with just a sprinkling of bittering hops to iron out any cloying notes. Unfortunately, at 4.3% ABV, Harvey’s Old isn’t as sessionable as a true mild (which sits typically at 3%). Chasing up a close second, the Original Mild from Banks’ of Wolverhampton will accept that accolade with gusto.
Dark Star Over the Moon
Dark Star is like the tattooed, scene-kid younger brother of Harvey’s. Brewed only a short hop over into West Sussex, Dark Star is the darling of many a craft beer drinker in Brighton. Ninety-five percent of the time this favouritism is deserved; they were one of the few early cask ale brewers to adopt American hops and craft-brew techniques in their beer, and their range contains a number of incredibly well designed, delicious malt beverages.
This run of good form stops dead when it comes to mild.
Pouring jet black out of the hand-pull, Over The Moon looks as though it might have a subtle and pleasant malt body. Unfortunately you can’t tell, as your mouth will have been blasted out by what seems like a long ton of acrid bittering hops. On the aroma, you’re met with something akin to a blend of granny’s hand soap and Pontefract cake. I think I understand what it would be like to drink the liquid out of an Airwick plug-in air freshener.
(EDIT: Don’t worry, ratebeer.com gives Over The Moon a score of 93% overall, and 100% for style. I feel the desire to write an article about RateBeer coming on thick and fast…)
Next Tops vs Slops will be over Anglo-American IPA (as pretentious as it sounds), Geuze and Real Cider. If you want to express your own opinions or suggestions over styles and good/bad examples of them, drop me a line or leave a comment.