We've had quite a few conversations recently about how nice it would be if a few more celebrities threw their hats into the beer ring, so to speak, and we got a bit more championing of beer from people who people take notice of.
So I was intrigued the other day when Mrs Brown came home from a meeting out in the sticks with three beers from Jimmy's Farm.
Jimmy Doherty is a mate of Jamie Oliver's who rose to fame with a series in 2002 about setting up his specialist pig farm in Suffolk. The series led to an expansion of the farm and this led to a series about the perils of the expansion, which led to more attention and more expansion, and so on in a beautifully postmodern spiral of a farm-cum-media phenomenon-cum-theme park feeding itself and growing to become a big business today.
Whatever your thoughts on this as a business model, it's great that someone with this kind of profile is weighing in as a small brewer. So what about the beers?
There are three in the range, all bottle conditioned:
- The Same Again - a 5.2% golden ale described as a 'light refreshing hoppy brew'
- Flying Pig - a 6% premium bitter that's 'packed with masses of cascade hops'
- Large black pig - 6%, stout that has 'more malt than you can shake a stick at'.
So imagine my disappointment when they resolutely failed to deliver. The golden ale had the fresh, springy aroma you'd expect, and was then weirdly thin in the mouth - I've had bags more flavour in a 3.8% golden ale and was mystified as to how a 5.2% beer could taste of so little.
I've no idea where the cascade hops were in the premium bitter. That's my favourite hop, the reason for my whole IPA obsession, and it was present neither on the nose nor the palate. This was probably the best of the three but again, at 6% you were left wondering where the flavour was hiding.
The stout, like the golden ale, promised something on the nose that it could not deliver in the mouth - aromas of chocolate and coffee with nothing behind them.
Maybe the packaging and ABV levels raised my expectations of Brew Dog-style flavours. And maybe the lack of them is deliberate - the provenance and packaging of these beers makes them a perfect vehicle to attract new people to beer, and maybe the thinking is that fuller flavours would scare novices off.
But I don't believe that's true. Wine drinkers who don't like beer think of it as gassy lager or flat real ale. They're put off by extreme bitterness perhaps, but every time I try a novice on an aromatic golden ale or IPA, or a rich, chocolatey stout, they love it - wine drinkers are used to more concentrated flavours after all. And anyway, higher ABVs on the label are more likely than flavour to deter people who think beer can only be 3-4%.
The beers are of course not brewed on the farm itself, but at the Red Rat Brewery, founded in 2007 in nearby Bury St Edmunds.
Curiously, while they're for sale via the brewery's website, and in Jimmy's actual farm shop (where Mrs Brown found them) they're only for sale on Jimmy's farm website as part of a father's day gift pack that includes a book and some sausages.
What a waste of a fantastic opportunity.