Essex Real Ale Pint of the Year 2016 Contender #1: Abbeydale Brewery’s ‘Black Mass’

Jez-Hellard-at-The-Victoria-InnI was at The Victoria Inn last Sunday, lured by some live music – The Jezz Hellard Trio. Not a band I’d heard of, but a mention on Facebook by the pub, and a quick google confirmed that, yes, guitar, harmonica and double bass would be on offer, with a folksy element. So we decided to pop in, by way of a warm up to watching Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin at the Colchester Arts Centre the following night – a duo we saw and loved at Folk East last year, and who are up for the Radio 2 Folk Award in the Best Duo category.

And, talking of awards, The Victoria Inn had just won, once again, the Colchester and NE Essex CAMRA pub of the year award. Sheena and Andy, recently married (congrats!) have turned this pub around, and have seen off (sort of) stiff competition for that title from Mitch Adams at The Thatchers Arms (he headed off up to ‘that London’ after doing great work (esp with the media and social media)).

And The Victoria Inn has, under Sheena and Andy, displaced the venerable Odd One Out as the pride of the Colchester Real Ale scene. The recent Colchester Winter Ale festival had the regular entertaining article from long-standing landlord of The Oddie, John Parrick, in which he bemoaned the ‘reduced circumstances’ of his pub in terms of income. In that article he cited a lot of external factors in the decline in bums on seats in his pub, but rather neglected any analysis of what his pub has/hasn’t done over the years to react to those external factors (answer : nothing – as the pub is *exactly* as it was when it opened back in 1986(ish)).

And the Victoria Inn last Sunday evening was a prime example of what you need to do to run a successful pub. It was heaving – there had been punters upstairs in their ‘rugby club’ watching the Six Nations; there were plenty of punters at the bar drinking – real ale, real cider, craft bottles; and there was one end of the pub given over to music, with a couple of dozen people at tables.

There was an initial bit of disappointment as one of the pumps was currently off, leaving the dark ale drinker without any options (shortly rectified as this post testifies) so I opted for an Abbeydale Brewery ‘Dr. Morton’s Crispy Automatic (sic) Duck’. A very pale, light, fragrantly hoppy ale (hopped entirely with US Amarillo hops), and very nice indeed.

animatedpoty2016The Jez Hellard trio started, with Jez giving it some welly on his mouth organ, a slight more high energy singer than the folk bands we regular watch. And then the good news, the spare pump clip was now linked to a barrel of ‘Black Mass’ at 6.66%abv and they say ‘very dark ruby ale with a rich, creamy head. Aromas of dark chocolate, coffee and burnt toast. Full bodied and warming with strong flavours of bitter chocolate, fruitcake, raisins and hints of cherries. A lingering bitter finish.’ And how am I to disagree. And Full Bodies as in chewy, just as it should be. You’re not going to quaff several pints, and this wasn’t a long visit to the pub (we only had time to see the first set before the break). But a rich, complex beer, that I can heartily recommend.

And! Landlord Andy, taking a break from sound-desk duties, came around with a big tray laden with plates of Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes in gravy, giving each table a plate. Absolutely gorgeous!!

And BTW Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin at the Colchester Arts Centre the following day were brilliant.