The story of Bishop Nick is quite a sad one, really. Ridley’s used to be a major Essex brewer, tied to dozens of pubs across the county. Growing up, The Royal Oak, or “Daddy’s favourite shop”,was a Ridley’s pub, and a key fixture in our local high street. Or so it was, at least, until the Greene King behemoth swallowed Ridley’s in 2005 and shut the brewery down. They still pump out Ridley’s badged beer from their mega-factory in Bury St Edmunds, but unsurprisingly the quality has suffered as a result of the move.
It’s only recently that the sixth generation Nelion Ridley has resurrected the family brewing tradition, naming his new craft brewery for Bishop of London Nick Ridley (whom Queen Mary burnt at the stake for rudely insisting on not being Catholic in 1555). He’s since picked up a brace of awards from CAMRA for his efforts, including Gold for Best Bitter and Golden Ale at the 2018 Champion Beer of Britain awards. For now, at least, there is still hope for low-volume, high quality brewers trying to compete with the Greene giant.
Bishop’s “premium ale”, whatever that means, is Divine.
Divine is chestnut-brown in colour, with a thin white head that doesn’t look much like the thick billows of cream promised on the label. The aroma isn’t that strong: some berries, a little spicy warmth, but nothing too exciting.
As I take my first few sips, however, I realise that’s sort of the point. Divine doesn’t kick down the door and assault your senses, all guns blazing. It slips down gently, with flavours of almonds and strawberries, a warming hint of alcohol, a thick and satisfying mouthfeel. Much like Tenacious D, this beer will fuck you gently. 4/5
This amber ale won gold in the Best Bitter category at the Champion Beer of Britain this year, so I opened the bottle with high hopes. The 1555 is a very dark amber, with little head to speak of. The aroma is dark as well – some darker malts, with hints of ginger.
That ginger comes through in the flavour too, along with cherries. It’s seriously thick, packed with unfermentables which means it coats the tongue and lingers on the palate.
1555 is satisfying in the sense that you really feel like you’ve drunk a beer afterwards, but sadly it isn’t that tasty. 2/5
What’s a summer stout, I hear you ask? It looks and tastes much like a regular stout, but feels lighter and more refreshing. That means it’s perfect for stout drinkers looking for something a little less overbearing in the summer heat, and great for me because I can drink more than two without feeling like I’ve eaten a four course meal.
Despite being a lighter summer edition, Joust is the traditional patent black in colour with a thick, caramel head. There’s coffee and smoke on the nose. More of the same in the flavour, along with vanilla and lactose sweetness. It’s surprisingly light, and doesn’t leave me feeling exhausted afterwards. I’m a big fan. 4/5
Black Cloak, 4.8%
Having finished dinner, it only seemed right to round up with a beer that describes itself as being “practically pudding”.
Black Cloak looks reassuringly like a stout. Not much aroma to speak of – a little coffee, perhaps some brown sugar.
That pudding description seems apt as it first hits my tongue. It’s sweet; coffee followed by dandelion and burdock. It’s fine, but too thin and lacking in flavour to be really exciting – somehow, it’s even lighter than the summer stout. It’s dull, but it’ll do. 3/5