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Des de Moor
Best beer and travel writing award 2015, 2011 -- British Guild of Beer Writers Awards
Accredited Beer Sommelier
Writer of "Probably the best book about beer in London" - Londonist
"A necessity if you're a beer geek travelling to London town" - Beer Advocate
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"One of the top beer writers in the UK" - Mark Dredge.
"A beer guru" - Popbitch.
Des de Moor

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Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby

ABV: 6%
Origin: Sedgley, West Midlands, England
Website: www.sarahhughesbrewery.co.uk 

Originally published in BEER May 2007

Preface (March 2010):

Dark Ruby

The Beacon Hotel brewpub on the outskirts of Sedgley, deep in the Black Country near Wolverhampton and Dudley, may be an unlikely home to a world classic, but its Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby mild is arguably the benchmark of this traditional style. Originally revived as a cask beer in the pub, in the late 1990s it was briefly available more widely in bottle conditioned form, but the contract bottler went out of business and the brewery failed to arrange a replacement.  Ever since I’d started writing my CAMRA column I’d always made a point of featuring milds in May to link with CAMRA’s Mild Month campaign aimed at bolstering what at one point seemed a fast disappearing style: Dark Ruby was always top of my list, and every year I’d doggedly pester the brewery for news of the bottled version.

My efforts were in vain until in 2007 I was told bottling was likely to restart soon if there was a demand – the brewer had even carried out some tests and sent me two bottles for review. Tasting one, I was so excited I decided to break my normal rule of only writing about currently available bottled beers, and used Dark Ruby to lead that May’s column.

Almost three years on I’m sad to say there’s still no sign of bottled Dark Ruby, though the cask version continues to be available at the pub and leaks out occasionally to a few free houses and festivals. Meanwhile I stashed my second sample bottle away to see what became of it with age, and finally cracked it open this winter. What follows is the text of my original piece, and appended are some tasting notes on the aged bottle. Two other bottled milds featured in May 2007 appear in succeeding posts.

Original review:

Around the world there are a few beers that every dedicated beer lover ought to try at least once, not just for their intrinsic quality but also their deep links to the heritage of brewing. Consider the likes of Worthington White Shield, Anchor Steam, Guinness Foreign Extra, Budvar and most of the Trappist ales – beers so precious, UNESCO should slap a World Heritage designation on them.

One deserving entrant on this list originates from a small brewpub in the little-known town of Sedgley, a bus ride from Wolverhampton in the Black Country of the English West Midlands. The Beacon Hotel is a gem of a pub, listed in CAMRA’s National Inventory for preserving its multi-roomed layout, but perhaps most celebrated as the home of Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild.

The hotel and its brewery date from 1850, and Sarah Hughes herself presided for 50 years from 1921. The brewery fell out of use in the late 1950s but was revived in 1987 by Sarah’s grandson, John Hughes, who still owns the pub today.

John dug his grandmother’s recipe out of a bank vault and resolved to stick to it as closely as possible, recreating an authentic strong early 20th century Black Country mild of the sort that once slaked the thirst of local workers in the days when this area earned its uninviting name from the smoke of a thousand factory chimneys.

Dark Ruby is originally a cask beer, but its robust strength and character make it ideal for the bottle. A bottle conditioned version helped spread the beer’s reputation for a while, but then the contract bottler went out of business, and the brewery never found the time to sort out a replacement.

Recently bottling has been back on the agenda at the Beacon, and head brewer Andrew Brough has produced a number of test brews. When my colleague Jeff Evans reviewed a sample in Beers of the World magazine, hinting that regular bottling would resume shortly, the brewery was overwhelmed by enquiries.

The truth is that there are no finalised arrangements for commercial bottling yet, but the more interest generated in the beer, the more confident they’ll feel about making the investment. That’s partly why for this year’s Mild Month I’m ignoring my usual rule of sticking to easily available beers by featuring a rare test bottling.

The beer is brewed from Maris Otter pale and crystal malts, caramel, invert sugar and a very traditional blend of Fuggles and Goldings hops. The result is indeed a rich dark ruby brown, with a creamy yellow head.

A very fruity aroma of blackcurrants, overripe plums and fruit cake has a distinctive sharpish note. The palate is nicely sweet and fruity at first, but firm burry hop and roast notes add plenty of backbone.

A long finish has more fruit, moreishly drying but not particularly bitter hops and a late tarry touch. Overall it’s a luxurious and grownup beer without the forward smoky roast flavours with which many modern micros now dose their dark milds.

The beer’s pleasures deserve to be shared with the millions of potential devotees who will never get a chance to catch that bus from Wolverhampton. The Campaign for Real Dark Ruby in a Bottle starts here.

Tasting notes on aged bottle, bottled early 2007, tasted December 2009.

A very dark and slightly hazy ruby beer that pours with a thick, fine and creamy yellow-orange head yielding a mature marmalade aroma with notes of brown sugar, herbs and ripe fruit. The complex malt palate has thinned and developed oxidised Madeira notes with minty marmalade, cherryish port wine and brown sugar, and very mild hops: the hop and roast characteristics noted in the younger beer have certainly mellowed out. A fruity cherry finish has caramel, port, light woody tones and a slight alcoholic kick. Perhaps aged a little too long and starting to turn a bit papery, not as spectacular as the younger beer but still interesting and complex.

See next post for more bottled milds.

Read more about this beer at ratebeer.com: http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/sarah-hughes-dark-ruby-mild/5113/

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