When I was a boy, my father had a copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to North American Birds. The book was covered in green cloth with a brown ink version of the title printed on the front. The back pages were blank and my father, as a young man, had written in blue fountain pen ink a list of all the birds he had seen. Although he grew up in the ’50s, he was a well-traveled lad, spending copious amounts of time in Italy, Denmark, Germany and Japan.
For me, the list is an insight into how one should engage with the world – curious, inquisitive, methodical and expansive. Those who are birdwatchers (I am not among this hallowed, eccentric group) are magnificent in their knowledge of the wonder you can find out of your back window.
The English countryside is full of these well-traveled but locally cognisant friends who understand the importance of both roots and wings. To see it represented by an entire brewery is something to behold.
The Old Chimneys Brewery is located in Sussex about halfway between Norwich and Ipswich and I was recently privileged enough to try a grand selection of their fine beers and ales. The beauty of the countryside is known well and you can taste the respect for the land in the beer itself, but importantly in establishing place, Old Chimneys has put a number of the local species, primarily the rare and endangered ones, on the labels. I think the best way to tell you about this amazing brewery then is to go through the list I enjoyed and the flora & fauna of Sussex.
The butterfly on the label is Gonepteryx Rhamni, or more commonly the Brimstone. Primarily yellow, its wings are green when folded up, making it look like a leaf.
Brimstone is billed as a Pilsener Lager and it certainly retains the crispness and freshness associated with Pilsener, but the colour is most definitely in the golden ale category. The interesting thing is the cakebready, malty taste that seems to be more traditionally ale and there are a couple of theories about what they are actually trying to do here.
The ale/beer is absolutely delicious so any unconventional methodologies in regards to brewing process will be left to the drinker and the brewer to decide.
The taste has a large amount of floral notes couple with honey. Although the ABV is middling 6.1%, I would happily drink this all summer.
I think Mr. Peterson might enjoy this ale due to the Firecrest on the label. The common firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) also known as the firecrest, is a very small passerine bird in the kinglet family. It breeds in most of temperate Europe and northwestern Africa, and is partially migratory, with birds from central Europe wintering to the south and west of their breeding range. Firecrests in the Balearic Islands and north Africa are widely recognised as a separate subspecies, but the population on Madeira, previously also treated as a subspecies, is now treated as a distinct species, the Madeira firecrest, Regulus madeirensis. A fossil ancestor of the firecrest has been identified from a single wing bone.
The Firecrest Export Ale is one of the most interesting and fantastic ales I have tasted in a while. It sits somewhere between a red ale and a golden ale and very, very biscuity on the tongue. The ABV is high at 7% but the complex of flavours more than balances that out. The carbonation is especially strong, but the orangey, woody depth carries all the way through.
Good King Henry
The name of this beer is perfect. Blitum bonus-henricus, also called Good-King-Henry, Poor-man’s Asparagus, Perennial Goosefoot, Lincolnshire Spinach, Markery, English mercury, or mercury goosefoot, is a species of goosefoot which is native to much of central and southern Europe.
Good-King-Henry has been grown as a vegetable in cottage gardens for hundreds of years, although this dual-purpose vegetable is now rarely grown and the species is more often considered a weed. Much like le bon roi Henri.
This beer has been considered the best beer made in Britain due to its consistently high rating of 100 on ratebeer.com. In a fine trodden of Imperial Stouts, it is inky and viscous when poured with very light carbonation making almost no head. The oily finish tastes of cocoa, stewed fruit, vanilla and aromatic tobacco, but the finish that seems to be controversial for some is the woodiness from the oak age. Don’t listen to the them. This is a fine beer and the ruddy complexity of taste easily matches up against the wine-like ABV of 11%. But, please, just have one. A day.
Overall, my impression of Alan Thomson is very high. He has been making beer from local ingredients since 1995 and the results have been fantastic. The case I was sent have more than few more beers in it which I have yet to taste, including the Black Rat Milk Stout, the Barbastell Rye & Oatmeal Porter and the Parnassus IPA. I will let you know how that goes but the long and short of it, you should try this brewery.