From the largest island of Greece to the valleys of Wiltshire, this month’s Swift Halves includes a 60-year-old classic, a modern West Coast pale ale and ciders from a reggae-loving cidermaker. Cheers!
Marble, Cross Collar West Coast Pale
Marble is famed for its dramatic beers, lively head brewers and for owning one of Manchester's must-visit beer bars, The Marble Arch Inn. Pale, one of its hoppy creations, has gone on sabbatical, temporarily replaced by Cross Collar West Coast Pale. The brewery has teamed up with Brook House Hops to forge Cross Collar, the latest in its new hop-forward series of beers. Delightfully vibrant, Cross Collar has dank, almost resinous pine hops mixed with marmalade notes, plus a well-judged sparkle lending a refreshing finish.
Brook House Hops, a new hop grower in Herefordshire, sells direct to brewers while also doubling as an international hop merchant, hence the link with Marble. Brook House ambassador Jonny Bright joined with Marble head brewer Joe Ince to fine-tune Cross Collar’s recipe, tweaking the malt bill to let the hops truly shine. Bright is best known these days as co-owner of Hereford Beer House, and he has previously worked on the brewing front at Brodie’s and Weird Beard.
Cross Collar is available in cans now and is being rebrewed to emerge in keg form in December.
Anything else? Ince is a big jiu jitsu fan, so the name, Cross Collar, along with other new beers in the Marble firmament, is inspired by various martial arts moves.
5.2%; £58.80/24x50cl can; £95/30l keg; marblebeers.com, email@example.com
Presshead, Ital Drop, medium-sweet cider
Based in the leafy Slaughterford Valley in Wiltshire, Presshead, or Handmade Cider as it was formerly known, shot to fame on the cider scene when it picked up the coveted Farmhouse Trophy at the Royal Bath & West Show back in 2015 with its White Label medium cider.
In business since the turn of the century, founder Denis France keeps things as natural as possible. Rather than shake the trees, to ensure full ripeness France waits for the fruit to drop and works with orchardists who deliberately let the apples ripen on the ground before collecting them.
And it’s the ripeness which comes through in Ital Drop – more on the name later! Using the keeving method and wild yeasts, Ital Drop has light, elegant sweetness with a hint of astringency. There are baked apple notes plus a sprinkle of tangerine zest. The sample I had was still, but it’s normally lightly carbonated.
The name is a blend of France’s love of reggae – he was listening to the music of Horace Andy while working on the cider. ‘Andy sang “Ital is vital”, and “Ital” is rastafarian patois for “food that is as close to natural as possible”,’ France said. ‘So I hybridised the word with ‘drop’, which in Somerset refers to cider.’
Anything else? France will be among the first to adopt the new cider quality mark, 90% fresh juice, set to be launched by the Small Independent Cidermakers Assocation in December.
Shepherd Neame, Bishops Finger, extra-strong ale
Sixty years ago, to celebrate the end of malt rationing, Britain’s oldest brewer Shepherd Neame released a strong Kentish ale named Bishops Finger. Part of the repertoire ever since, these cooler days and nights offer the perfect time to revisit this enjoyably complex beer. The poised balance between its toffee, raisin and sultana notes, warming spices and well-judged sparkle gives this great food-matching potential with everything from bangers and mash, to beef wellington, to quiche, from sticky toffee pudding to spotted dick.
The name comes from the local Kent signposts that directed pilgrims towards the tomb of Thomas Becket in Canterbury.
Anything else? One of very few British beers to possess a PGI, Bishops Finger also has its own brewing charter. This stipulates not only that Kentish hops and barley must be used, but also water from the brewery’s own artesian well. And that it can only be brewed on a Friday.
5.4%; £28.86/12x50cl; £19.24/8x50cl; Shepherd Neame, 01795 597060
Septem, 8th Day IPA & Lava, Imperial India Red Ale
The craft beer scene in Greece is evolving, and one of the highlights for beer writer Roger Protz on his recent trip to Athens for the Craft Beer Expo was a visit to Septem brewery. Inspired by Protz’s enlightening interview with its award-winning co-founder, Sofoklis Panagiotou, I requested a few Septem beers from Greek specialist Maltby & Greek. What an enjoyable discovery.
Sofoklis established Septem with his brother Georgios back in 2009. Formerly a winemaker, Panagiotou brings a lightness of touch to the beers and an obvious delight in the flavour complexities possible with judicious blending of hops.
It was tough choosing between the four that arrived. In the end the 8th Day IPA and Lava, an Imperial India Red Ale, won out over their two bestsellers, Friday Pale Ale and Sunday Honey Golden Ale, but I’d recommend you try them all.
The 8th Day IPA shows wonderful aromatics and flavours of pineapple, apricot and tangerine zest on the palate with Seville orange on the finish. Well balanced with a perfect sparkle, it’s versatile on the food front.
Lava would be the perfect Christmas beer. It mixes Sorachi Ace, Centennial and Motueka hops. Mahogany in the glass and on the palate, Lava has plenty of toffee, sultanas and candied peel notes.
Anything else? Sunday’s Honey Golden Ale uses copious quantities of Greek orange blossom and flower honey, along with Styrian Goldings and Tettnanger hops.
8th Day, 7%, £38.79/20x33cl; Lava, 9%, £39.07/12x50cl; Maltby & Greek, firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 7993 4548
Toast, Much Kneaded, lager
First off, this is good lager. There’s a refreshing sparkle building on light rich tea biscuit malt notes, and a welcome bitterness to finish. It's pilsner in style and the hop selection includes Perle and Hallertau, but perhaps more significantly, part of the malt bill is fresh surplus bread. Furthermore, the profits go to the charity Feedback, an environmental organisation dedicated to end food waste, making it a triple win.
Brewed for Toast at Wold Top Brewery, it’s great to see this as one of the 14 new beers to join Carlsberg's Crafted range, taking the total to over 60. Toast’s Purebread Pale Ale has also joined the fold.
Anything else? Toast was the first British beer company to become a Certified B Corp, a certification that requires businesses to meet certain environmental and social standards.
5%, £23.15/12x33cl; carlsbergwedelivermore.co.uk, email@example.com