There's a pub in Cornwall, so I'm told, where the locals are banned from mentioning the word "millennium", just as they were banned from talking about the eclipse earlier this year. As effective as the idea may be in shielding regulars from the pub bore, not everyone can afford to ignore the subject.
Independent publicans, restaurant and hotel owners are a case in point. While most will have stocked up on sufficient bottles of Champagne to see their establishments through the New Year period, how many have given much thought to their beers?
To give them a helping hand, I set up a mini-tasting in the Caterer office of special-edition millennium ales. Unfortunately, several breweries - such as Brakspear and King & Barnes - had already sold out of their limited stocks, but I still managed to rustle up a selection of five different brews. My fellow samplers were Caterer's news editor David Harris and Mike Dennis, drinks editor at Supermarketing magazine.
First up was C Twenty One, a "modern beer from ancient grains" emanating from the Hogs Back Brewery in Surrey. A pale, straw-coloured lager with a sweetish nose and 4.5% abv, this one failed to impress the tasters. "Slightly sharp on the palate," said Harris. "On the insipid side, it could do with a bit more oomph," decided Dennis, "I won't be seeing in the millennium with this one." One for the designer lager set, I think.
Second up was Millennium Ale from St Peter's Brewery in Suffolk. A completely different kettle of fish this, with 7% abv and a deep, reddish hue. It had a roasty, malty aroma - "almost like Bovril", reckoned Harris. I detected a hint of Christmas pudding in the flavour, while Dennis described it as toasty and full-bodied. "A good beer for a cold winter's night, but in limited quantities," he decided. Apparently, it uses juniper and nettles instead of hops.
Next came Millennium Brew from Hampshire brewery George Gale & Co. At 10% abv, it's even stronger than the last beer, with a ruby red colour and a spicy, malty aroma. The taste was also malty and fruity, with a slightly sour note reminiscent of some Belgian beers.
Hogs Back's second offering was its Millennium Ale, which comes in a swing-top bottle and presentation box. The alcohol content is declared as "2000 drachms per kilderkin", the equivalent of 8.6% abv. Dark brown in colour, almost opaque, its complex flavour included yeasty, malty and spicy notes. "A nicely balanced brew with no one flavour overpowering the other," said Dennis.
Last but not least, Millennium 2000 Ale from the Pitfield Brewery in London. This one (sealed with a Champagne-style cork) was malty on the nose and fruity and spicy on the palate. It had the highest alcohol content of the lot at 10.5% abv. "Like a beer with the chaser already added," thought Harris. Dennis found it "nicely balanced, if a little medicinal".
On totting up the scores, Hogs Back Millennium Ale won by a nose, with 48 marks out of 60. It was closely followed by Pitfield's Millennium 2000 Ale (45), St Peters (43), Gale's Millennium Brew (39) and C Twenty One (24). Happy New Year. n
Beer of the month: Millennium Ale, 8.6% abv, Hogs Back Brewery, £28.50 plus VAT in cases of six 500ml bottles. Enquiries: 01252 783000.
by David Shrimpton