Many of us are perfectly aware of how an ever changing beer scene has developed so rapidly in the past three to four years and approaches to drinking have changed too.
One thing I’ve probably thought about very little in the past 24 months is something I could have once recited from the top of my head; that would be a list of my top 5 favourite beers. The list would have mainly included beers I had accessed regularly, drank in various forms and could consistently say I’d loved. At least three of the five probably hadn’t changed since my late teens.
One of the beers that was always included was Abbeydale’s Absolution.
It is odd how your enjoyment of a beer can be affected by so many factors and variables. Location, favourable breweries and timing can always play a factor and, in many ways, Absolution had everything going for it when I first drank it at 18.
At that age, I was enthused by darker beers; stouts and milds and chestnut red ales were more favourable to me. I could often tell whether I’d like a beer by its colour and anything like the sun coloured Absolution was not to my taste. Indeed, the first time I came across Abbeydale was on a family visit to the unbelievably excellent Three Stag’s Head in Wardlow Mires, Derbyshire. It is an odd little two roomed, flagstoned pub that is the closest you will find to a Middle Earth-esque style drinking establishment that isn’t actually stylised to be so. All the short bar serves is four cask ales; all from Abbeydale brewery.
On my first visit, all the rest in the party had visited the Three Stag’s Head before and all the beer drinkers in the group were swift to recommend and salivate over the Absolution. At just 18, I found the taste too flowery for my pallet and soon moved onto the Black Lurcher. The rest of the group were incredulous and their love for this one beer was infectious.
Yet I loved the pub itself more than any pub I’ve come across since. Seeing my Father and brother exclaim such joy for a particular beer they didn’t really see anywhere else was inspiring and new to me. Absolution became a little bit of an enigma that I longed to see. Moving to Wakefield at 18 and then living in Leeds for a few years certainly made access to this brewery more frequent. I grew to love it as much as my family did and it soon became a little bit of a joke to text each other or send pictures whenever we spotted Absolution on draft. With no bottle availability, it was probably the only beer that I've longed for so much that, in my time, has had to be hunted down on draft, what with visits to the “only-accessible-via-a-drive” Three Stag’s restricted to once every couple of years. Abbeydale themselves were our favourite brewery. I even had a poster of Abbeydale’s Moonshine proudly hung on my wall at university and wrote a short story surrounding the famous crumbling abbey.
There can be no doubt that, as much as I loved Absolution, the connection to my Father and Brother, a pub I adored and the hunting exhilaration were additional factors that made it my favourite cask beer.
Absolution was a light, golden ale at 5.3% that drank like nectar. There was a hoppy bite to it that wasn’t desperately bitter, as is the style now, but was seldom seen much ten years ago (comparitively speaking.) It was also “Very Abbeydale” in that it had similar tastes and characteristics seen in much of the brewery’s core range, something I admire greatly as I spoke about in one of my favourite ever posts nearly two years ago. I have a very strong memory of being sat in The Six Chimneys, Wetherspoons in Wakefield in 2006 and drinking it. My companions at the time asked to try this beer I yelled so highly about and, as it was passed round, they all pulled similar disgusted faces and agreed that it tasted “soapy.” In many ways I understood what they were getting at; it was my first reaction upon my first taste. But as my palate developed that soapiness became a quality taste.
As the market has become flooded by micro-breweries all available in bottles these last few years, the need to “hunt” your favourite beers down has become less necessary. In fact, that is where the lines became blurred and I have had so many excellent beers recently that I no longer could tell you my five favourite beers. Even if I were to still love Abbeydale Absolution, could I honestly say it is better than To Ol’s First Frontier? How could I compare it to the mega experience of Clown Shoes’ Vampire Slayer? How does one pick a favourite cask classic when I try so many new ones each week and don't have the same one consistently?
Seeing Abbeydale beers on tap became more infrequent, apart from on the odd visit to Sheffield. I’ve been rather unimpressed with the Dr. Morten’s range that I’ve seen often at the Grove, Huddersfield. My love for them has waned, yet two check-ins on Untappd to Absolution back in 2012 saw me give the beer 5 stars; a rare award. Perhaps it does still taste this good.
So a look on Stalybridge Buffet Bar’s Twitter page this week showed that Abbeydale Absolution had hit the pumps and I simply had to have it. I even rang
my mate who I’d spoken to about this brewery in excitement to make his way down. For the first time in a few years, after hundreds of different beers tasted in between, I was to drink Abbeydale Absolution again. The enthusiasm still remained.
So how was it?
After years of missing it and giving it such hype to my friend, it was all a little disappointing. The crisp, drinkability for the strength remained and it went down very quickly. Yet it lacked any of the “Abbeydale character” I recall from their range. My mate found it a little vinegary and I did understand where he was coming from. This could have been the pub’s fault of course. It wasn’t perfect this time for the first time ever. Although, after years of intense hoppiness and palate exploration, was this me just having different tastes now? After all, I can remember quite enjoying Timothy Taylor’s Landlord as a youngster, and then one day around four years ago I ordered a pint of it and asked “Was this always unbearably malty?” Assumedly it was, but once I had enjoyed that.
It doesn’t change anything for me. It won’t stop me ordering anything with the famous ruined abbey on the pumpclip in future. I hear they are in the process of a collaboration with Founder’s which is pretty much the perfect mix of my early drinking memories and newer experiences. Yet it is nice to be reminded where the beer geekery began.
I often describe myself as being lucky to be the last generation to do anything as everything seemed to change just a couple of years after I grew passed them. We seemed to be the last generation to play on the street – even though we had game consoles. We seemed to be the last to not bury ourselves in technology – even though we had basic phones. We seemed to be the last to have our first, late teens nights out in local towns with hundreds of pubs to go at. We also, in beer terms, seemed to be the last to have a small number of beer options available to us and have to go to very specific pubs to be offered up to three options. What does a 16 year old do now? Is their beer palate defined by Founder’s Centennial IPA? Will they progressively grow to love Goldings and Fuggles or more malt driven beers once their tastes have tired of hop driven new wave beer?
Whatever the answer, Abbeydale Absolution remains a beer I have very fond memories of in very specific places with very specific people. Those are the life moments that cannot be replaced by a bottle drunk at home. Cheers to that.