Killing Two Birds With One Stone: Coniston Bluebird & Bluebird XB
Coniston Bluebird is one of the most beloved beers of the Lake District: almost as ubiquitous as Jenning’s Cumberland Ale, but for my money, much more interesting. I’ve had quite a few pints in my time of both it and its American-hopped counterpart, Bluebird XB, in my time; however I’d never tried a side-by-side comparison and thought it was worth the exercise, so I bought a couple of bottles in Beer Ritz for the purpose of doing so.
Coniston Brewing Company Bluebird Bitter (4.2%)
Distinguished, the label says, with “unusual quantities” of Challenger hops, this bottle-conditioned version had very little aroma and what there was came across slightly bready. There was a small amount of bread as well in the slightly tart bitterness, with a slightly oily mouthfeel. I also noticed a chalkiness in the taste.
Coniston Brewing Company Premium XB Bluebird Bitter (4.4%)
The XB version adds the “new wave American hop variety Mount Hood with robust citrus aromas“. Certainly this resulted in a much more interesting nose, with more citrus and perhaps even a slight fresh, herbal mintiness in there as well. The citrus carries through to a light, gentle lemony flavour, but one that seems to meet head-on with the chalkiness I noted in the standard Bluebird. As a result, the first impression I got was of the bitterness that you experience when drinking orange juice just after brushing your teeth.
Mulling it over more, I think this alkaline chalkiness has always been present in Bluebird. It might just go to show that I’ve tended to drink it without analysing the taste and the beers both contained some surprises when I really applied my attention to them. Although I think I prefer the cask version of each, I did quite like both bottles and, given the choice, might tend towards the lighter notes and stronger aroma of the XB version.