This week, I looked at the number of Something For The Weekend articles which had been posted on the Cask Marque website. Twenty six. I also stared out of the window for lengthy periods of time, dusted the skirting boards, ate way too many chocolate Hob Nobs, and generally faffed around when I should have been writing this article. Twenty six. The number of miles in a marathon. What is it that marathon runners say when they’ve gone a certain distance? They ‘hit a wall’. This is the way I felt looking at a blank page and wrestling with my conscience about choosing this week’s beer.
It’s not that there aren’t enough beers to write about. Or lack of experiences and escapades associated with those beers. It’s about getting the balance right between picking off the niche beers for the aficionados, and recommending a mainstream brand to novice cask drinkers. A bit of a dilemma for me. Cue another Hob Nob.
So, I’ll get straight to it, and ask for calm amongst the hecklers out there: this week’s beer is Old Speckled Hen.
This beer perfectly demonstrates why there can be no single definition of what ‘craft’ beer is. All beers started out as craft beer. Produced in small quantities, using quality ingredients, made with care and skill, with a great back story.
Old Speckled Hen started off small batch. First brewed in 1979 by Morlands, it was originally a commemorative beer to celebrate the arrival of the MG car factory in Abingdon 50 years previously (I know it’s a tenuous case for a knees-up, but hey, what the hell).
Maybe it was the name which originally got everyone intrigued. A dodgy MG used at the factory as a run around had become so paint splattered it was fondly known as ‘Owld Speckl’d Un’. So the beer had a connection with local industry. The iconic MG octagon emblem was reproduced on the pump clips and bottles.
Its popularity grew because of its consistent quality, fruit ‘n’ nut aroma and the moreish toffee flavour. Oh, it also helped that the original cask version was particularly high in strength at a time when bars were awash with meh beer. (I don’t actually know what ‘meh’ means, I just know that teenagers utter it whenever they describe something which has no significance. I’m down with the kids, me).
Old Speckled Hen was unique for its time, it was cool and it was hardcore. Sound familiar? A bit like we describe craft beer today? Gets you thinking about how easily we’re all influenced and judged by the beers we drink.
I’m not a beer snob. I never turn my nose up at a beer because it’s immensely popular. I do turn my nose up at bad beer though. Whilst I might lament that Old Speckled Hen isn’t the strength it used to be (although my liver would argue otherwise), I have never abandoned a beer because it wasn’t considered ‘cool’ anymore. Does it really matter if a beer becomes mainstream as YOU enjoy it? Does it make it any less a beer?
So I’m championing the lovely, delicious, delightful beer that is Old Speckled Hen. I’m breaking through that wall of insecurity which makes me feel I need to justify writing about it. And I urge you to do the same this weekend – choose any mainstream brand you want because you’re the one who’s going to be drinking it. As long as it’s good, who the hell cares how cool it is?
Oops, nearly forgot amongst all this dusting and examining the weeds in the garden, what food would I eat with a glass of Old Speckled Hen? It’s cheese all the way: cheese on toast, quiche Lorraine, macaroni cheese or if you’re impressing the other half, whole baked Camembert.