There is a German word, sehnsucht, which imperfectly translates as a feeling of missing something you haven’t experienced or perhaps an indescribable yearning for somewhere you haven’t been.
I was born in the 80s, and as such can fairly safely say that I don’t remember the late 1970s. What I do feel, perhaps emboldened by my first forays into bitter drinking in North Yorkshire during the early 2000s, is an unescapable pang of sehnsucht for beers from the past. Perhaps even beers that I’ve drunk in the past, an experience which could never be satisfactorily recreated, the entwined uniqueness of time, place and ale rendering it intrinsically unrepeatable.
In my formative drinking years in Guisborough, a dormitory town on the cusp of both Teesside and the North York Moors, drinking bitter was embedded in the culture of the area, perhaps even more so than lager. Therefore, when I was hanging around at The Anchor, I was supping Sam Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter from wooden casks. Then I was away up the road with musicians playing at the jam night in the back room of The Black Swan on the high street drinking metered keg pints of John Smith’s Magnet in oversized glasses, listening to a man called Ian croon Van Morrison covers while smoking a cigar and wearing sandals. Or maybe I was across the road in The Tap & Spile, where I’d usually watch covers bands playing Chris Rea songs and there were seven hand pulls of early noughties cask classics such as Jeffrey Hudson Bitter and Everard’s Tiger. Or maybe I was down the road a bit in The Courtyard, drinking smooth, watching local emo and pop-punk bands upstairs before getting thrown out en masse for being underage on the night there were so many kids bouncing that the downstairs ceiling started to collapse. Then it’d be time to get round the corner to The Globe for a lock in – an old-fashioned back street corner boozer which served Cameron’s Strongarm on cask and where I worked during the holidays.
I can remember what I was drinking. I can remember where it was, and even who was there… but can I remember what it tasted like? No. Not at all. Not even a bit. Maybe the Magnet tasted of banana bread and gave me one of those instant hangovers? I really don’t know.
However, luckily, I am now a brewer, and in this world hurtling off into the past to try and find what you don’t know for certain, piecing together shared memories, written evidence, oral history, anecdote and halcyon recollection is the independent scene’s stock-in-trade, so when it was my latest turn to come up with the next recipe for one of our one-off cask lines I mined my own sehnsucht and designed Classic Northern Diversions. We’ve already got a bitter in our core range, Crag, which we describe as a Classic Northern Bitter, but I wanted to go drier, more bitter and a bit paler, a diversion if you will. Also, handily this is also the title of one of my favourite songs by the legendary late Scottish songwriter Jackie Leven, the lyrics of which examine his experience of drinking in the North.
This beer is also influenced by time spent drinking and brewing around Manchester – beginning with Howard Town Brewery’s Wren’s Nest, through Marble Manchester Bitter, drinking bottles of De Molen at 57 Thomas Street when I could afford it, the nascent casks at Blackjack Brewery’s tap, and then onto my first brewing job making all those great modern beers at Runaway Brewery near Strangeways. I did a lot of listening. The elephant in the pub, the beer festival or the brewery tap was always something that was vanquished by time, something from the 1970s everyone who drank in the city centre of a certain vintage remembered fondly, mistily, and more often than not completely differently from each other. I’m not necessarily talking about that elusive Boddington’s Bitter everyone has an opinion on per se, but more the drinker’s collective anguish over something lost, something now unobtainable, something that if you were able to go back in time could never possibly live up to the ludicrous expectations the legend builds up. I also read. I read Ron Pattison, I read Boak & Bailey, I read the Opening Times, I lurked on social media, I read the comments sections on blogs, usually populated by folk with more than a passing enthusiasm for the minutiae of nostalgia, and came to a conclusion. I just wanted to design a nice bitter, of a style I thought deserved imperfect remembrance.
So we have. Recipe wise, it’s a mongrel of different influences, none anchored in a particular time, but all bound by the same sehnsucht. It’s got invert sugar we made ourselves, a huge charge of Goldings at the start of the boil, and some berry-like intrigue from Northdown hops added late. It’s dry, hoppy and pale with a bitter finish that brings the glass back to the lips quickly.
We hope you enjoy it, and maybe it’ll remind you of something you can’t quite put your finger on.
JB Major March 2023