Thursday, 4 March 2010

Chequers ale lives again

It was announced recently that Bob Mitchell, landlord of The Chequers pub in Little Gransden, Huntingdonshire has made a batch of 'Chequers Ale' using spelt wheat, honey and wild service berries (Sorbus torminalis)  also known as 'chequers'.

He claims that this is the first such ale made for some 200 years and the recipe is essentially his own.  It is to be bottled and will be made available to the public this spring.

Wild service, or chequer trees, are undoubtedly associated with pubs (often called The Chequers) and alcoholic beverages in England, but this seems largely the case in Kent, Sussex and Surrey.  Elsewhere there are usually other reasons for pubs to be known by this name, though it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the pub in Little Gransden had something to do with the wild service in the past.

While fruit from various Sorbus species can enhance the flavour and quality of beers and related drinks and have sometimes been used in this way, there are many other alcoholic possibilities, from eaux-de-vie to bitters.  Juice from true services has been used for centuries in Germany to modify the taste of their local cider and one must therefore consider whether something similar was being done with wild service fruit in South East England.  Much more cider was once made in Kent and Sussex than is currently the case, and the makers would, by definition, have used presses to get the apple juice.  Wild service berries could also be pressed and the juice fermented and this might have been drunk alone or, as in Germany with the true service, added to cider.

Anyway, more power to Bob Mitchell's elbow: I hope I can somehow get to enjoy a bottle of his chequers ale.  I made something similar myself once, though I am no brewer - it was horrible.

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