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Classic Beer of the Month August 2018: Camerons Strongarm

Camerons Strongarm, 4%

I stumbled upon an old favourite on a recent visit to Yorkshire. It’s been quite a while since I last downed a pint of Camerons Strongarm and, I’m pleased to say, time has not diminished the pleasure.

Camerons StrongarmThe beer was created in 1955 as a new cask ale to turn the heads of drinkers who, increasingly, were switching to bottled beer.

Head brewer Arthur Donaldson named it Strongarm in honour of his friend Norman Armstrong, whose own business – ‘Foster and Armstrong Anchor Mills’ – stood directly opposite the brewery offices.

The beer was first sold at the Waverley Hotel in Mainsforth Terrace, West Hartlepool – opposite the local steelworks’ gates – and was advertised as the strongest ale on sale in Teesside at 1/7d per pint, somewhat more expensive than the Coronation Ale that it replaced in the Camerons range.
The move paid off. The beer not only sold well itself but also led to a rise in sales of all cask ales.

With the passage of time, the beer continued to impress. The 1975 Good Beer Guide – not a publication that waxed lyrical in its beer descriptions – commented that ‘the Strongarm bitter has an excellent reputation’.

However, some people are never happy unless they are meddling, and at the end of the 1980s, when the brewery was owned by the Brent Walker Group, the recipe was changed and the strength of the ale dropped to 3.9%.

Ruby Red

Wolverhampton & Dudley took over the business in 1992 and Strongarm was immediately restored to 4%. W&D also gave the beer the nickname ‘Ruby Red’, emphasising the rich colour that is derived from the high percentage of crystal malt that goes into the mash tun alongside pale malt.

Today – with Camerons now once again an independent business – the same malt grist is employed, with the hop balance provided by the classic English varieties Fuggle, Target and Golding.

Pulled through a tight sparkler to give a thick, creamy head, the beer is a masterclass in subtlety. There are plenty of intriguing flavours in there but everything is nicely restrained.

The predominant flavour is malt, manifested in gentle toasted notes and a smooth sweetness. The hops are equally mellow, delivering their rounded bitterness in a relaxed fashion.

They push through a bit more in the dry finish but gently toasted malt and a plum-like fruitiness that is also apparent in the taste still give them a run for their money.

Strongarm is as mainstream as it gets in the north-east of England but is still a very enjoyable, tasty beer. It’s easy drinking but not short of character.

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