We were in Amesbury, Wiltshire a few weeks ago in our capacity as historical monument groupies. More of that to come in a later post, but I inevitably gravitated to the pub afterwards – or rather, the bar within the Antrobus Arms Hotel. Having got thoroughly fed up of trying to find chair space, leg space, breathing space or anything remotely resembling human space in pubs in the latter years of living in London, I’m almost beginning to get a bit blase about the comfort that public bars in the West of England offer – even of a Saturday afternoon around football o’ clock. The vista of the outside garden was lulling enough to make me very briefly indulge the silly fantasy I owned it (at 2012 UK real estate prices? yeah right).
However, I did briefly own a pint of Upham Ale at the pub for all of twenty minutes – proof that you can’t have your beer and down it, I guess. What interested me was the branding of the beer; hailed as ‘malty’ and with the simple image of a farmhouse (apparently) in front of the simple illusion of sun rays, this is surely real ale marketing at its most reductive.
This approach indeed seems so basic and of a bygone age, it’s instinctively redolent of the 1970s and perhaps the most over-sentimentalised yet unglamorous beer of that period, Watney’s. But the difference is that even just thinking about Watney’s makes me sick and I’ve never even drunk it. No. So take two. Think farmhouse instead. 1970s association. Emmerdale Farm still with the farm bit in the title. Basic hardy country life. No Internet. A bit of simple living. Beer that, taste-wise, seems fit to drink from earthenware jugs in between stints of serious toil.
Darn it, those guys at Upham ensnared me with – intentional or otherwise – an onslaught of subliminal association. And all by keeping it so simple. Now I start thinking of Emmerdale-stye farmhouses, I badly want a pint of Upham Ale. And because we’re living in our own age of austerity, I really badly want a pint of Upham Ale that is classic and malty and panders to no foppy la-di-da pseuds in the process.Now if you want an analysis of why Upham Ale (in its bottled format at least; mine came on tap so I couldn’t exercise a valid comparison) might not be malty, I suggest you peruse the reams of elegant detail at The Bottled Beer Year. But for me, the point was that the word nailed an axiomatic truth – that ales have malt in them just as Vaticans have pontiffs. It didn’t matter so much on this occasion (devotees of the Trades Description Act permitting) that the ale might not be particulary malty – or that Upham Brewery, founded in 2009, is no more of the 1970s than Emmerdale without the farm bit in it. The words and image ended up defining the drinking experience – just as thinking about toucans makes me badly want a Guinness. For a low-profile beer, that’s a pretty good way of establishing itself in the area where the brewery’s based – and possibly beyond. It’s a jolly good straightforward beer genuinely enlivened by all the semantic and connotative stuff.
So where’s the Scandi link? Well, I thank The Bottled Beer Year again for this fortuitous piece of association – this article on Einstök Pale Ale, brewed in one of my three all-time favourite Nordic locations, Akureyri, features very prominently on that site along with the Upham review. Until I taste this Icelandic offering, I’ll leave you in the hands of the original author as an authority. But I would suggest that this is my first piece of impromptu ‘Scanding’ here to date – locating or unearthing material of Scandi interest on the Internet purely by chance. I like this neologism; it reminds me of the art of beachcombing and it also sounds like Internet trending. As the way forward for all Scandifriends, we should all learn to Scand in earnest. And when our own Scandi musings are picked up? Then we’ll have been Scanded in the passive.