I sometimes take Oakham for granted. I think perhaps all UK beer fans do. They have been doing their thing for as long as I have been rating beers. Unencumbered by fashion, unaffiliated with 'craft' beer, this Peterborough-based powerhouse have been steadily churning out peerless Golden Ales, with a level of consistency which is breathtaking: to wit, I cannot remember having a bad Oakham.
When I look back to British real ale in 2003 (around the time I was 'discovering' it) brown bitters were ceding ground to a new breed of well hopped British beers, all golden in hue. Crouch Vale were there (and still are), Hopback Summer Lightning was an early archetype of the style, Dark Star Hophead was about to land and Oakham JHB was tasting marvellous. Coincidentally, in early 2004 Oakham opened a pub in Brum - the peerlessly beautiful and carefully restored Bartons Arms, replete with a range of Oakham's best on handpull. Here was easy access to fresh JHB, White Dwarf and Bishops Farewell. As I said, marvellous. But that wasn't the end of it: over the succeeding 8 years Oakham have continued to deliver beer after new beer, all well hopped, flavoursome and with the balance of an Olympic gymnast. Here are some highlights.
Supped throughout the evening of Christmas Eve 2010, with my brother Chris, in the homely Black Eagle. This. Blew. My. Chops. Off. A hoppy taste yes (I expected nothing less), but oh! what hops. Like a basket of freshly sliced mangoes tipped down my eager gullet. So clean, powerful and delicious. Wow. It's now a regular at the Wellington, but my first taste of Citra was a beer experience that will be branded on my soul, till my toes turn up. Terrible headache in the morning, mind.
A bottle purchased from Global Wines not long after the birth of my daughter; this, unusually is a dark Foreign Stout, but is delivered with the standard precision and level of hopping you would expect. Smooth, flavoursome and with diversely profiled, but equally generous portions of roast and big hop. I actually believe this was a precursor to Black IPA - a style which is now 'all the rage'. It disappeared for a while, but I was happy to sample it at the Bartons a couple of months back.
A mainstay of the Oakham range, this one kills it every time. So rich, so tongue crushingly, unrelenting hoppy, but served in soupcons of such tonsil caressing care, that my heart skips a beat with every swig. This is the archetypal UK Golden Ale, as far as I am concerned.*
Sampled at the Swan and Rushes in Leicester, just after witnessing LCFC beat eventual Championship promotees Southampton. This is a big, purple IPA, with an Ikea shelving system full of unusual tastes and flavours, vying for supremacy on one's tongue. Forest fruit, marzipan, deep radiant, bitter and powerful hops. Big, even by Oakham's standards, and one of the first, and still rare, genuine UK cask IPAs that I have tried/loved.
I could go on and on. I could wax lyrical about tropical Preacher, super solid Taipan, light, yet merciless Tranquility or bitter, smooth and powerful Green Devil. But I'll try to wrap up here. My Ratebeer records show that I have sampled 42 Oakham beers, and the scores I've given show that I've loved them all. Oakham are masters of producing consistently high quality beers, and if pushed, I might even say that they produce the best beers available on cask in the UK. Even when pitted against the likes of Kernel and Mikkeller, Oakham punch at and above their weight.**
*Unless I say otherwise at a later date.
**Unless I say otherwise at a later date.