Lethal White: Three Things You Didn’t Know About Cormoran’s Doom Bar Ale

I traveled to Swansea, Wales, in 2015 to begin my PhD work at Swansea University. One of my first tasks, while still in jet lag was to meet with new friends at a local pub and to sample Cormoran Strike’s favorite ‘taste of home,’ Doom Bar ale, the “number one cask beer” of the United Kingdom. It’s pretty good! Here are three facts about Doom Bar ale to keep in mind each time you read about the Peg Legged PI drinking one as he tries to figure out the murderer in this book’s mystery.

(1) Cormoran Didn’t Grow Up Drinking Doom Bar

As readers of HogwartsProfessor know better than other readers of Cormoran Strike (because of these researches), our favorite detective was born 23 November 1974. Sharps Brewery in Cornwall, however, didn’t begin brewing Doom Bar Bitter until 1994 when it was a small micro-brewery — and Cormoran was by then off at Oxford at age 20 and then into the Army not long after his mother’s death. When exactly he acquired a taste for the beer we don’t know except that it had to be along with the rest of the UK as an adult rather than from childhood and adolescent memories.

(2) It’s Not All Brewed in Cornwall

Unless you’re drinking Doom Bar in a pub from a “cask” (tap), the beer you’re enjoying is not from Cormoran’s beloved Cornwall, but Burton-Upon-Trent, Staffordshire (West Midlands, England). Doom Bar’s success as a microbewery was the reason Sharp’s was purchased for £20 million in 2011 by the monster of beer corporations, Molson Coors. The brewery in Rock, Cornwall, was not equal to making sufficient beer to meet demand, so, while “cask ale” is still brewed in the original Cornish factory, the bottled brew is made “under licence” 267 miles away at a contract establishment. It’s been out-sourced, in other words. Some drinkers consider this a “con and a fraud” because the beer is marketed as a Cornwall product, but a Sharp’s spokesman says that “the majority of Doom Bar is brewed at Rock.” It’s just that when Strike is “opening the six pack of Doom Bar he brought with him” (ch 7, p 61), it’s not a taste of Cornwall he’ll be having.

(3) You Can’t Have Any – in the US or at The Tottenham Pub

Why did I have to wait until going to Wales to have a sip of Doom Bar at the pub? As the UK’s favorite beer, you’d think it’d be as easy to purchase in the US as a Samuel Smith Taddy Porter or a Guiness. You’d be wrong! Doom Bar can now be had in “Italy, Sweden, and Japan” as well as the UK, but not in the United States. I purchased a bottled six pack (unaware that it was a Stafforshire product…) while in Wales for gifts to give to Strike fans here and to have on hand when Strike 4 was published. Little did I know that treat would be almost three years aging in my pantry!

If you want to drink a topical beer while reading Lethal White, however, there is an American microbrewey beer that might fit the bill. The parallel to Goblet of Fire’s ‘Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare’ (SPEW) embedded in the latest Strike novel is ‘Community Olympic Resistance’ (CORE). I really don’t think you’re supposed to cheer for the CORE gang — they’re a laughable bunch of self-important, privileged ‘resistance’ types very much in fashion in the US and UK since Brexit and the election of President Trump — but there is some very good beer made by a company in northwest Arkansas by CORE brewing company. I had a can of their E-Stop Pale Ale last week and it was as good if not better than the bottle-aged Doom Bar I enjoyed on 18 September.

As upsetting as the inability to buy Doom Bar in America is that it can’t be purchased and savored at the Tottenham Pub, now ‘The Flying Horse’, in London on Oxford Street, two blocks from Strike’s premises on Denmark and his favorite place to have a drink. They didn’t carry Doom Bar on tap when I visited — the bartender and waitress had never heard of Cormoran Strike — and I see that hasn’t changed since the BBC One television series debuted, though they do carry another Sharp’s ale and forty other beers. Go figure! It’s a beautiful place, just as Galbraith describes it, but it was purchased by Nicholson’s Pubs and the cognoscenti describe it as something of a tourist trap.

Let me know what you’re drinking — and thinking! — as you re-read Lethal White this week. Are you disappointed that Doom Bar was not the beer of choice for Uncle Ted in St Mawes while Cormoran was growing up? That it’s no longer a beer brewed exclusively in Cornwall? That we in the US cannot get a bottle or a Cornish Cask? Post me a message in the comment boxes below!

Comments

  1. Debbie Moltisanti says:

    I just completed my first read of Lethal White. Interested to hear some of your thoughts, John.

  2. Sadly, sober in AA, so I can’t have any, but I see in the book, meat is enjoyed and so is alcohol, about 3/4 of the way through.

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