If you are of a certain age you might remember the joke 'Where does the Pink Panther come from?' I guess that means Durham must be the Pink Panther's favourite brewery too (if you don't understand this joke ask someone who used to watch the TV show to hum the tune to you and they will be singing Dur-Rum to you over and over again). When it comes to bottled beers they are in a league of their own as far as I'm concerned. My mother-in-law bought me a mixed case of their bottles for Christmas this year and it included some old classics I have reviewed elsewhere (click here to read about my absolute faves) along with a number of their beers I was yet to try. After slowly working my way through the old favourites I now bring you the final five which I have not reviewed before. Enjoy.
Magus (3.8% ABV)
All my Durham favourites are well in excess of 6.0% ABV so how do they do when it comes to something that doesn't attack your brain cells with quite such force? This very pale ale is a delightfully crisp floral bitter with strong lemon notes before it gives way to a slightly earthy bitter finish. The hops in this beer come from all over with some American, Czech, German, Slovenian and English varieties present. There are also some lager malts in here and it all adds up to an interesting refreshing tasty bitter that slips down very easily. A good start and a score of 8/10 is awarded to this one.
Cloister (4.5% ABV)
This premium bitter is looking a bit blurred below for which I apologise. The aroma has faint hints of grapefruit and orange. Yet again we have a mix of Czech, American and English hops which has created a premium bitter that is far from ordinary. I detected quite a sweetness in there of tangerine and peach yet the finish was dry with a spicy bitterness. It has a lovely zingy mouthfeel to it and the complexity results in a beer full of character and taste. This one gets a 9/10 from me.
Evensong (5.0% ABV)
The recipe for this traditional Ruby Ale goes back to 1937 and it is described as a cross between a bitter and an old ale. In the glass it looked a bit murky and uninviting I must confess. Brewed with five malts and traditional English hops Fuggles, Goldings and Challenger it has a somewhat malty aroma bringing out visions of dark winter nights. I actually detected very little bitterness in this one. There were strong cherry notes to the front and quite a bit of treacle toffee in the middle which stayed into the finish. When it comes to drinking this kind of beer I probably prefer it to be a bit richer and stronger. However, it is a very nice beer that is once again full of character and complexity. This one gets a 7/10.
St Cuthbert (6.5% ABV)
I now come to the final two heavyweights. This golden beer is described as a special India Pale Ale and it really should be my kind of beer. The aroma is quite light and floral and the first taste is quite rich and spicy with plenty of rich fleshy fruits such as peach mixing with a citrussy orange twang. There is a dry subtle bitterness in there that takes over towards the end leaving a nice dry bitter aftertaste. It is a lovely beer with plenty of complexity but I am not sure what hops are in this one as the website doesn't say and whilst I could make one or two guesses I won't embarrass myself. The beer scores a strong 9/10 from me.
Benedictus (8.4% ABV)
This is the one I've been looking forward to all weekend and it is the only beer from Durham Brewery in the excellent Roger Protz book '300 More Beers To Try Before You Die'. I must begin though with a tragic story as the beer gushed out a little and flooded the worktop so my 500ml was reduced to about 400ml. It's that lively Durham yeast again! This beer is described as a barley wine. Barley wines seem to be a thing of the past but this bears all the hallmarks of what I expect from this beer style. It has a rich chestnut colour and it smells strong to begin with. You know this is going to have to be consumed slowly. The flavour is amazingly complex with orange, ginger, cinnamon along with plenty of caramel and richer fruitier notes such as peach. There was even a bit of creamy butterscotch in the finish too along with a little spicy bitterness. For such a strong beer it doesn't really taste strongly of alcohol which I like about it. Yes it tastes strong but the flavours are allowed to shine through. This is a classic barley wine and I really love this beer and it gets top marks from me.
This selection of five more Durham Brewery beers leaves them far out in front when it comes to my favourite brewer of bottled beers. Each one is a beer of great character and complexity with rich and varied flavours coming through in each one. Search high and low for them and try them for yourself.