Friday 18 October 2019

Barclay Perkins X Ale crawl

I’ve a slow and easy start to the day. Matt arranged to pick me up at 3 PM. I fill the time until then watching some crap TV, while sipping on my hotel whisky. And finishing off the leftover sushi from yesterday.

My room has a decent kitchen. The fridge is bigger than the one at home. Microwave and dishwasher, too. The coffee machine, I’m struggling with. Pretty sure I’m not using it the right way. But I manage to get something resembling coffee out of it. Which sums up much American coffee.

Matt whisks me off to Ann Arbor. A town I’ve visited a surprising number of times. We’re doing a Barclay Perkins X Ale crawl. Never thought I’d be able to say that. Around breweries in Ann Arbor. Through Matt, I supplied local brewers with four X Ale recipes of various vintages.

I like Ann Arbor. A typical old-school, small(-ish) American town. Some recent developments may have reduced its character, but it remains pretty cool. And there are several breweries within easy walking distance. Even for an old twat like me.

After parking up Matt’s truck, we head to Grizzly Peak, where the brewer, Duncan Williams, is waiting for us. It has quite a pub-like feel, with a long bar and lots of wood. So it’s no surprise that the X Ale here is handpulled.

It’s the 1880 version and is a fairly modest 6% ABV or so. As you’d expect of a Mild of the period, it’s pale in colour and fairly heavily hopped. My brewing software spat out just over 100 IBUs. In practice, it’s probably not as high as that. But it’s still way more Bitter than people expect of a Mild nowadays.

Patrick Meehan, head brewer of Blue Tractor also drops by to share in the fun. We’re gradually building up quite a little gang.

Our next stop, Arbor Brewing, is just a short walk away. Chris Davies, the head brewer, joins us for a pint and a chat.  This X Ale, from 1838, is the strongest of the bunch, weighing in at around 8% ABV. Served by gravity from a cask on the bar, it has a fine, deep copper colour. It’s pretty hoppy, too. It also came out to around 100 IBUs, according to my brewing software.

The pub has a more contemporary vibe than Grizzly Peak, though it does have a fine copper bar top. We don’t linger too long as we’ve another X Ale to try. At the last stop on this crawl, Blue Tractor.

It’s even more modern-looking than Arbor Brewing, with lots of stainless steel and exposed ducts. Isn’t that all a bit 1990s? Lots of photos of old tractors, mind. Which is quite retro.

This X Ale is from 1914. And served on handpump, the way god intended Mild to be served. Though the weakest of the set, at just about 5% ABV, it’s also the darkest, with a colour closer to what’s expected today of a Mild. It’s pretty tasty, as have been all the versions.

It’s now well after 6 PM and our crawl is coming to an end. Not that it’s going to be the end of drinking for the day. God forbid a nightmare like that. The home brew club Matt’s a member of – Ann Arbor Brewers Guild – is having a meeting tonight which we’ll be attending.

The location is Bob Scholl’s house, which is on the outskirts of Saline, a small town about 15 km due south of Ann Arbor. The house turns out to be out in woods, down a dirt road. It reminds me of the cabin I stayed in outside Ashville earlier this year.

The meeting is being held in the basement. One ample enough to house the 30 or so attendees without looking vaguely overstuffed.

“Let me take your coat.” Someone asks as I enter. Fine by me. Saves me carrying it around or leaving it on a chair and forgetting it.

There’s a buffet and, obviously, a whole load of home brewed beer. I get stuck into both immediately.

The basement also houses Bob’s collection of vintage jukeboxes, some going back as far as the 1940s. Very colourful, they are. It includes one that plays the records in a vertical position.

“They used to have a similar one in The Whip, a pub I drank in in Leeds.” I remark to Bob. “It was where all the old Teds hung out. Weird place. Someone once randomly threatened to kick the shit out of me while I was having a piss in the bogs.”

The evening whips past in chatter and beer. The club members are a friendly bunch and I’ve no shortage of conversation partners. Quite a few I already know.

Halfway through winding back to Brighton, I notice that I don’t have my coat. Bum. Too late to turn back now.

My old friend whisky is there to warm me back in my room. Before taking my hand and leading me off to slumber.

Grizzly Peak Brewing Co.
120 W Washington St,
Ann Arbor,
MI 48104.
Tel: +1 734-741-7325

Arbor Brewing Company Brewpub
114 E Washington St,
Ann Arbor,
MI 48104.
Tel: +1 734-213-1393

Blue Tractor BBQ & Brewery
207 E Washington St,
Ann Arbor,
MI 48104.
Tel: +1 734-222-4095

Ann Arbor Brewers Guild


Barm said...

Infuriating that British brewers are mostly farting around with badly made bastardised Gose and leaving it to the Americans to recreate these fascinating ales. The grass is always greener I guess.

Ron Pattinson said...


I can't remember last time I saw a straightup Gose in the US. The ones I come across are full of all sorts of shit.