THE CASK WHISPERER
Blog by Nigel Walsh
Narfa Narf – Not Just for Fogies
It is not often that you get a chance to have a perfect narfa narf, especially on this side of the pond.
To start with, you need a brewery that brews both a dark mild and an ordinary bitter, or a best or special bitter, or as a last resort an ESB… yeah OK, even a pale ale.
You need that brewery to have both beers on at the same time, and you need that brewery, or a participating bar, to have at least two handpumps available to dispense said brews.
Finally, you need a server that is happy to pour a half-pint of each into a proper 20oz pint glass.
Well, all of those things came together magically for me last week at Jones Wood Foundry.
The beers were from Old Glenham; Weavers Pale Ale and XXXX Dark mild.
The bar staff were happy to indulge their most cantankerous (possibly) customer.
And as a result, I got to sup (you have to sup a narfa narf, it goes with the whole image) three pints and a top-up during a long chilling session.
They were awesome, but in a very subtle way, which is exactly how it is supposed to work; the sweetness of the dark mild is supposed to tone down the overall bitterness of the pint, at the same time reducing the ABV a little… as I said, it is a subtle effect.
It works best when the bitter component is quite hoppy and earthy by itself, which made the Weavers a perfect fit for this wee experiment.
As for the ABV, it was actually the Weavers that “watered down” the XXXX mild in this case, but the net effect was the same and the resulting pour was a beautiful deep bronze with ruby undertones, and a small scummy head, the best kind in my humble opinion.
In all of my years in the States, I have only managed to consume a perfect narfa narf on two other occasions but have also squeaked by with imperfect narfas twice.
The most recent being just a few weeks ago also at JWF, when they had the Strong Rope Mild Journey and Threes Tiny Montgomery on the pumps at the same time, and I was able to construct a Gowanus Narfa Narf; interestingly, the mild amped up the ABV again instead of dialing it down.
The other “imperfect” narfa was a couple of years ago at Fifth Hammer where the components were matched (Footwork dark mild and Security Deposit pale ale) but the dispense was lop-sided with the mild served from the regular draft taps while the pale ale was from the lone beer engine. Not in the least bit shabby.
CAMRA would frown on that arrangement, but it worked out just fine for me… CAMRA would frown over the whole concept of a “mixed” beer anyway.
The Grand Delancey provided the previous opportunity for a perfect narfa when they had the OEC Dapple (dark mild) and Hidalgo (best bitter) on their engines about a year ago.
Prior to that we have to go back several years to when the sadly missed Mad Fox Brewing Company was still around in Falls Church, Virginia.
They had six handpumps working most of the time, along with their regular draft taps, and on several occasions, they had both their Masons Mild and their Defender APA on at the same time… always worth the metro ride and short hike out from DC.
I hear you asking yourselves, how come this young (cough) man is extolling the virtues of a beer that is fit only for the West Midlands cloth cap brigade and old fogies elsewhere?
It all comes back to our perennial brewing bugbears, Shepherd Neame.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a long-term fanboy for their Master Brew Bitter and their ordinary and best bitter before that, but when you are settled in for a session, their bitters can be a little, well, bitter.
And in my youth, I settled in for many Sheps sessions with my friends from home and work and found the best way to extend those sessions without palate burnout, was to follow the wisdom of the pub elders and introduce dark mild to the mix.
It worked every time.
I have already noted the lovely color and light effects that you get when you combine a dark mild with a pale bitter, but I find it amazing that you can blend earthy and bitter together with the sweetness of caramel and end up with something that tastes like toasted hazelnuts.
Now, did I take some stick for it?
I sure did, but I also had many converts amongst my age-impaired companions.
So, remember, when you put on your cloth caps to go out for a beer session my hipster readers…
… I did it before it was popular.
Scorecard w/e 11/21/23
In the past week, The Cask Whisperer has enjoyed the following casks:
- Old Glenham Weavers Pale Ale @ Jones Wood Foundry
- Old Glenham XXXX Dark Mild @ Jones Wood Foundry
- Old Glenham Narfa Narf @ Jones Wood Foundry
Upcoming Cask Festivals
4/10/2024 – 4/13/2024 (5 sessions): 25th Annual New England Real Ale Exhibition (NERAX)