A journey into the dark heart of The Gentleman Drinker as he finds solace in Wold Top bitter after a miserable day at Beverley racecourse.
Beverley Racecourse and associated bars
Wold Top Bitter
Wold Top Brewery
Beverley (the town, not the girl) has much in common with Market Rasen. Both are difficult to locate on a map and 95% of the people who have visited either would never have done so had they not been seduced by the lure of the racecourse. I was feeling quite wistful and emotional upon entering Beverley (the town, not the girl); memories conjured up of one of my former loves of the same name (the girl, not the town) who left me for Frobisher. The bastard even had the temerity to steal my watch with the aid of a perfidious peregrine falcon and then, when challenged, to have no inclination as to what a watch was. How I’d sorely like to clean his clock. But I digress.
I’d come to Beverley racecourse because, dear reader, I enjoy the spectacle that is horse racing. These days, to some misguided folk, that will seem akin to admitting I encourage head-butting badgers or hurling Mills bombs at otters, but to these animal activists I say this: you are poorly educated clods who have opinions without ever seeking validity. Horse racing is a sheer thrill; the thundering crescendo of hooves approaching the winning line intermingled with the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat. It is also a place where I can walk around outside in the marvellous British summer with a pint in my hand without being hassled by the Peelers. Places such as this are too few and far between.
There’s nothing like a racecourse to really emphasise what class segregation is. The more money you pay to enter, the better the facilities. Sometimes I stroll elbow to elbow with the common man, but on this occasion I took up residence in my private box; this, along with the most expensive members’ day option, also carries with it the added social stigma of having to wear a collared shirt and shoes. For a man who doesn’t leave his house without his brogues and waistcoat (although sometimes nothing else) this wasn’t an issue, but I sensed many wannabe hotshots feeling distinctly uncomfortable outside of their usual ghetto gear.
The bars, then; I’m afraid they were all fairly nondescript and uniform in style, the kind you would expect to see in any venue that does not solely cater for the selling of alcohol. More disappointing however was the lack of variety available, and when I say disappointing, I mean terrifying. Having walked round the entire course facilities and devoured a bland hamburger, it’s fair to say my desire for a pint of best was bordering on the frantic. The first bar I entered provided no solace; only Foster’s, John Smiths or wine available other than a couple of token mixers. No problem I thought; this was clearly a bar that catered for the whims of the masses, I would have to seek out the ale bar.
The next bar presented exactly the same problem, and by this point I was nervous. By the time I had visited two more bars that suffered from the same blatant omissions, I was blabbering and cursing like a Tourette’s Syndrome-riddled preacher proclaiming the end of the world. In desperation I flounced over to the bar and ordered three Pimm’s, hoping that everyone would think I was a homosexual rather than a man having a nervous breakdown. Though some of my colleagues wax lyrical about Pimm’s, I merely find it tediously drinkable. However, as it was either this or going sober (I don’t, and won’t succumb to having to drink Foster’s or John Smith’s) I sipped away disconsolately at my glass, throwing my mourning brain into the task of trying to find some winners.
Three races and three consecutive losers later and I decided it was time to depart. There were still five races to go but my mood was darker than the box of coal I received as a child for Christmas. I needed proper refreshment, and clearly Beverley (the racecourse, not the girl) wasn’t providing it. While heading for the exit a sign made me stop and do a double-take. A sign that promised quality ale, available on the racecourse! It was then that my eyes followed the arrow upward to the Touch Above bar which is located just above the members’ area. As far as I was concerned it was a mile above anything else on offer. The only problem was what to do with these two damn glasses of Pimm’s I was left with (I detest wasting alcohol, whatever the quality). It was then that I felt a tap on the back and turned around to see two urchins who, at a guess, were roughly twelve and ten looking up at me quizzically.
“Are you all right, mister?” the older of the two said. “Only you’ve been looking at that sign for quite a while, and you’ve got a big dopey grin on your face.”
Aha, a solution! “Here kids, drink these,” I replied, and thrust the full Pimm’s glasses into their hands before hastily heading up the stairs to the bar.
The inside was minimally decorated and incredibly small, at a guess I’d say no more than 10 people could comfortably fit in, although when I entered only one gentleman was seated, oblivious to the racing and the smoking ban indoors, he was reading the Independent whilst openly puffing on his pipe. I recognised it as a Radice Bent Apple pipe and was immediately full of admiration for the man.
Approaching the bar, my day got even better. Besides the obligatory Smith’s tap, there was one for Wold Top Bitter, a beer I had been curious to try as I had heard much about it from my R&R cohort Steve Crotty.
For those of you not in the know, Wold Top is Bridlington’s only brewery, and has been making steady progress both with awards and acclaim since it was opened. They have many different releases but their bitter is the signature of the brand. They also have an entirely gluten-free beer, the first of its kind available. Any fledgling brewery needs its niche, so it’s a smart move on the part of the owners.
The bitter produces a pillowy head of foam when first poured, but soon disappears, much like the aroma. At first a real strong biscuit base is pronounced, underlined by hints of sweet toffee and malt, but these quickly dissipate once the beer has had time to settle. I’m told they used Northdown hops to make it, which are similar to Challenger in taste.
And taste is really what makes this beer stand out. The finish from those Northdown hops is long and luxurious but never overpowering. Before that, the biscuit base really comes to the fore, mixing with the malt to give these a complex and creamy mouth-feel. It’s fabulous stuff, as good as I’ve had in many a year, and the main string to its bow is that it’s not too full-flavoured. A bitter should never be overly challenging or sharp or hoppy, it should above all be calm and be a stand out session beer. This the Wold Top does splendidly, it even belies its strength of 4.5% ABV*; if you’d have told me it was 3.8% I would have been utterly hoodwinked. As it was I spent the rest of the afternoon (and a good chunk of time after the racing finished) rejoicing in this superb bitter. What won the races? I couldn’t say. But Wold Top’s Bitter definitely won a place in my heart.
*We’re currently clarifying this with The Gentleman Drinker: Wold Top Brewery state Wold Top Bitter is 3.7% ABV on their website. However, it wouldn’t be the first time The Gentleman Drinker has obtained special editions not normally available to us mere mortals.