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Something for the Weekend – Okell’s Dr Okell’s IPA

One of my friends is a staff nurse at a hospital in Liverpool. She holds down a senior role, has done her job for over 20 years, and even though she has more experience than some of the doctors in the hospital, she frequently tells me that even the most demanding and challenging patients just go to mush in the presence of a doctor. The Doctors are the ‘Gods’ in the hospital, and whatever they say, goes.

I thought of this when I was trying to sell my car a few months ago. When writing the advert for Auto Trader, the contact box asked me for my title. The cursor hovered over ‘Ms’ and then I flicked back to ‘Dr’. If I was a doctor, I would get full asking price, no time wasters, the car would obviously have been as well looked after as any patient. I clicked ‘Dr’.

My other half did a double take and said “At what point did you become a doctor?” I hummed and hawed about my reasoning for reinventing myself as a doctor before he took the mouse off me and clicked ‘Ms’. “It’s fraudulent” he admonished me.

This week’s brewery was set up by a Doctor, and the beer is still brewed by a Doctor. Dr. William Okell, a Cheshire surgeon, started Okell’s Brewery in Castle Hill, Douglas, Isle of Man in 1850. He was not a man to be messed with. By 1874 Dr. Okell owned many of the pubs on the island, and had convinced Tynwald (the Isle of Man’s parliament) to create an act ensuring the purity of beer brewed on the Isle of Man.

Surely all beer is pure and natural?

Well, not during this period in history. In the 19th century, brewing became a science, rather than something which you did for fun by chucking a few ingredients together. Brewers wanted to explore how to develop different flavours, styles and methods, so many brewers started to work with druggists, pharmacists, and to be honest, complete quacks. A similar profession in some ways – both strived to make people feel better and happier. Many druggists advised brewers to use…shall we just say ‘special’ additives?

Some brewers were highly attuned to what was good for beer, and what wasn’t. One of these brewers was Dr Okell. He was determined that all beer should be pure, and as such decreed:
‘No brewer shall use in the brewing, making, mixing with, recovering or colouring, any beer or any liquid made to resemble beer, or have in his possession any copperas, coculus indicus (a poison with stimulant properties), nux vomica (strychnine), grains of paradise (a spice related to ginger), guinea pepper, or opium or any article, ingredient, or preparation whatever for, or as a substitute for malt, sugar or hops.’

Which kind of suggests a lot of brewers were using these ‘special’ ingredients. It went a bit too far in the early 1900’s and arsenic was a common additive to beer which resulted in hundreds of people dying. Mistakenly, the deaths were frequently attributed to alcohol poisoning, as the symptoms were similar to arsenic poisoning.

The Manx Brewing Purity Law is still adhered to today at Okells, and it’s overseen by Dr Michael Cowbourne. Putting my neck on the line, Dr Cowbourne is the original craft beer hipster, and when I first met him he was standing at the controls of his Brewhouse manically controlling hissing cauldrons of pure beer perfection. He is one of a very few Doctors of Biochemistry, and has a real influence on the complexity and taste of Okell’s beer recipes.

So as an apology for almost passing myself off as a doctor I’m nominating Dr Okell’s IPA as this week’s Something for the Weekend beer. Despite its pale colour, this 4.5% beer is fully loaded with aroma and flavour. It starts out sweet from the abundance of pale ale malt, and then the hops kick in. Six varieties of hops to be precise, all adding individual dimensions to the beer. Spice, citrus and dryness counteract the sweetness. My food match might sound a bit random, but stay with me: drink this with a mound of fajitas – prawn, chicken, beef and veggie all work well. The spices in the dish are complemented by the tangy lemony hops, and the sweet malt cools everything down. This is a perfect beer for Mexican food.

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