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30 English Ales You Must Have Before You Die

A summary of some famous English bottled beers
Styles & Seasonals February 5, 2004      
Written by SilkTork

Southampton, ENGLAND -

Beers come and beers go. Breweries open and breweries close. Today’s must have brew for which you’ve driven 1,000 miles; been blindfolded, tarred & feathered and led down to the monk’s back toilet; knelt and recited the Clinton Denial Speech three times backwards; and allowed unspeakable things to be done to your body with tangy marmalade, a rubber hose and a donkey, will be tomorrow’s drain pour. That microbrewery rave turns out to be a one-off miracle due to the weekend cleaner dropping his stash into the mash by accident. And that rare Tibetan Llama Pooh Beer really was just that - liquid camel diarrhoea.

So what beers are easily available in the bottle and have acquired a name that even a spotty beer novice still drinking with stabilisers would recognise?

Well, here are thirty English beers that through a combination of luck, drunken raving and sheer endurance have earned the reputation of classic. Love them or loathe them - nod knowingly at the subtlety of that hedgehog and whale-oil tang or rant for hours in your pyjamas at the sheer nerve of any brewery to call that gnat’s piss a beer - these are thirty brews you can’t ignore and must face up to trying - at least once, just for sanity’s sake - before you die.

1) Newcastle Brown Ale: Dating back to 1927, this is now the best selling bottled beer in Europe, and is one of Britain’s most well-known brews, famous for being the first Northern-style Brown Ale. Jim Porter, the brewer, had tried for five years to produce a beer to rival the clarity and purity of Bass. Even though he failed, he did come up with something new which has been much-copied since. This Northern Brown Ale is not to be confused with the standard British Brown Ale, which is a Mild beer in a bottle.

Expectations of any classic beer are high, but this one disappoints more than most. Drinking it chilled robs it of any character. There is a “nutty delicacy” (Michael Jackson) about it that many drinkers find and enjoy, while others regard it as “the most overrated beer in the world.” (Bov)

2) Bass Ale: Brewed since 1777 in Burton-on-Trent. When dark stouts and porters were the most popular beers, William Bass set out to copy the London brewer Hodgson and make a pale coloured beer. He was fortunate that the waters of the Trent were perfectly suited to his hoppy ale, and soon other brewers flocked to Burton to make the new and successful Pale Ale. When served in the cask, drinkers found this Pale Ale more refreshing than the malt-accented ales they were used to, but also more bitter, so the term Bitter was soon used to describe this popular new beer. When Bass received instructions to supply the troops in India with his Pale Ale, he increased the strength and added extra hops to help it survive the journey. The term India Pale Ale is still used in England to describe a premium bitter. The history and importance of Bass cannot be denied. But sadly, its quality in the bottle these days is not very good. There are two bottled versions available in Britain. The version called Our Finest Ale is the tastiest and closest version to the original, though even that is not an excellent beer. The version sent to America is stronger, but blander than the British versions. The Belgian version is without a doubt the best of the bottled beers carrying the Bass name.

The blandness of the American version is reflected in Oakes comment: “English ale for people who don’t actually like the taste of real English ale.” While Gusler goes a bit further and in noting that “it has lost its robustness” he cries out that it’s “a crime to let the pond scum sucking, money-grubbing cretins take over and ruin such a fine brewery” and that the current brewers should “burn in Hades with their money as the fuel that feeds Satan’s furnace.”

3) Worthington White Shield: Dating back to 1829 and changing brewers several times since then, White Shield is now owned by Coors, though brewed at the mostly autonomous Museum Brewing Company. This is the genuine Burton Pale Ale. When Bass took over the Worthington brewery in 1927 they began to filter and pasteurise their own Bass Pale Ale, but kept this going as an example of the real thing. Still bottle-conditioned and still produced (though not in great numbers) in Burton-on-Trent, this is, in the words of legion242: “One of the most amazing things that I have put in my mouth. Positively the best English ale to pass my lips.” It has a legendary status in the UK, being for many years one of the few bottle-conditioned ales available, and barmen would pour it carefully with pride and a practised skill to prevent any sediment from reaching the drinker’s glass. Most who try this rave about it, but billb found a “borderline sickening aroma,” and hey_kevin, while acknowledging it is a “good beer,” just didn’t get on with “the bakers yeast flavor.”

4) Gale’s Prize Old Ale: With its “dried apricots in vinegar” flavour (motelpogo) this beer divides opinion. argo0 sums up the difficult nature of Prize when he says, “basically, the beer looks like shit and has a crappy mouthfeel, but has a great aroma and decent flavor. Tough beer to rate.” England does have a reputation for huge, complex beers that need to be laid down for a few years. Sadly, Thomas Hardy’s Ale and Courage Imperial Russian Stout are no longer made (editor’s note: Thomas Hardy’s is being resurrected this year by O’Hanlon’s). Prize Old Ale, from the small, regional brewery of George Gale in Hampshire, is the only genuine example still in regular production. Not a beer to be drunk young, unless you want to waste your money, Prize Old Ale is best after 20 years aging.

5) Theakston’s Old Peculier: England’s best-known and most popular Old Ale. Despite the brewery’s insistence on the beer’s long history this is a relative newcomer to the beer world. Ready to drink and not overly complex, this is a tasty brew which is “acidic, dry and nicely hopped, leaving a long lasting dry aftertaste.” (Gusler)

6) Morland Old Speckled Hen: The yeast for this ale dates back to 1896, though the beer itself dates from 1979 when it was launched on the anniversary of the founding of the MG car factory. The beer’s strength (1050 OG) reveals that it was the 50th anniversary; while the name refers to the old, mud spattered factory runabout which the locals dubbed “old speckled ‘un”. The beer has proved to be so popular that bottled sales are overtaking those of Newcastle Brown in the UK. Big marketing has helped its popularity, but the big marketing only came after it had established a reputation as a quality beer.

Issoroku_Yamamoto found an “exemplary hop character set off against a strong caramel-ish malt core.” But many people, like muzzlehatch, discovered that the clear glass meant it was “light-struck, skunky of course.”

7) Harvey’s Imperial Extra Double Stout: Also known as A. le Coq Imperial Stout, this beer has a long history. As with IPA, Imperial Stout developed its strong flavours in order to survive long journeys. During the 18th century reign of Porter, the stronger ("stout") version was exported to the Baltic region. It was given extra hops and a higher abv in order to survive the journey. A Belgian, A. Le Coq, was the man in charge of these exports. Thrale’s Anchor Brewery’s Entire (the contemporary name for Porter) was the one chosen by A. Le Coq to send to the Empress of Russia. The brewery was eventually bought by Barclay Perkins, and then in 1955 by Courage. The Courage Imperial Stout is rarely made these days - it hasn’t been brewed since the 1990’s, and may never be made again. Bottles that do exist can fetch high prices.

However, Le Coq was also responsible for another Imperial Stout that does still exist. Because of the high import duties on the beer, Le Coq had arranged to have a version brewed within Russia. Brewing began in 1912 in what is now Estonia. After a few ups and downs, brewing of this famous stout ceased in 1969. However, during the 1990’s, when it became clear that production of the Courage Imperial Stout had ceased, the Lewes brewery Harvey & Son, with the supervision of the Estonian brewery, Tartu, revived A. Le Coq’s Imperial Extra Double Stout. It is only brewed once a year, and then allowed to age for a couple of years before being released.

It comes in a corked bottle, and some people have reported problems of poor corking, but as ecrvich says, “when this shit is on, baby, it is *ON*.” The beer is very challenging and complex. Bov found it “not an easy beer”; argo0: “a complex beer that takes some doing”; PhillyBeer: “dense, and difficult to isolate flavours”. But joet discovered that this beast “isn’t a self-starter;” it requires some work to get through krisbierjaeger’s “primordial swamp ooze comprised of composting dinosaurs and rubber trees crushed and baked for a geological age or two under the weight of the continental mantle” to MartinT’s “glassful of lust”.

8) Robinson’s Old Tom : An Old Ale is a tricky style to pin down. At its simplest it is an aged beer, sometimes mixed with a younger beer, and often has an oaky, wine quality. It can be close in style to a barley wine, but is more complex than that. Old Tom is a famous Old Ale, its initial production going back to an unknown date around the start of the 1900’s. The cat on the label is Old Tom himself, the Robinson’s original brewery cat. This is not a big selling beer, but it is hugely respected, winning Supreme Champion at the CAMRA Winter Beers 2000 festival. These days the brewery calls Old Tom a Barley Wine as Old Ale seems to have slipped out of fashion.

Not everyone likes it, Nuffield found it a “flat and more unpleasant blend of ale, barley wine and bitter”, but TrappistAlesRule “loved the sweet/acidic interplay.”

Less assertive than most beers of this strength, Old Tom will yield up its treasures to those who look for something more interesting than simple strength.

SilkTork Rating: 4/5 - A must try World Classic.

9) Wadworth 6X: The Wadworth brewery was founded in 1875 and still delivers its beers around Devizes in a horse-drawn cart. The 6X, however, a traditional bitter that’s been brewed in the same manner for over 80 years, was taken up in the 1980’s and marketed first by Whitbread - who wanted to buy the brand outright, but Wadworth sensibly refused to sell, and then by Interbrew who eventually sold the rights to 6X back to the brewery. Though the beer is big in the UK - popular both on cask and in the bottle and found in every shop - it is not exported to America. Roger Protz acknowledges that it’s “a brilliant example of traditional ale at its best.” The aroma is quite a feature, Nigos has got it down as: “wood, toilet water and rotten egg.” While austinpowers found that it: “smells like asparagus pee.”

10) Mackeson Stout: The XXX that is exported to America has a higher abv than the original British milk stout which is 3% abv. Because of its low strength, sweet taste and supposed nutritional value, Mackeson has long been a beer associated with little old ladies. However, it was originally marketed at pregnant and nursing mothers. In the early 1900’s many stouts, including Guinness, were marketed as being “Good For You”. Mackeson’s famous line was “It looks good, it tastes good, and by golly it does you good!” The British government decided to clamp down on brewers marketing their products as being healthy and put a ban on the name ‘Milk Stout’ - but the milk association is still there in the picture of a milk churn on the label! Mackeson was a Kent brewery that was taken over by various other companies until the brand name ended up in the hands of Interbrew. Now available mostly in the can, bottles can still be had in some pubs.

Not many people have experienced the delicacy of the original 3% beer; of the few that have, Joeh noticed the “light coffee and chocolate flavours,” while Ol_Juntan_64 got the “faint deep roasted malt and vegetable soup stock aroma.”

11) Courage Russian Imperial Stout: Probably the most revered English ale, with well-aged examples fetching over $100 at auction. For those who don’t mind spending money on a fine ale, bottles are sometimes available on E-bay. And for those able to get across to the Kulminator in Antwerp, you can get “a 6-pack of the 1983 ... for $7!” (squidget). There is debate among those who know about this sort of thing and have tried a few vintages as to which year is the best - but much depends on the quality of storage. It’s availability at this year’s GBBF is a promising sign that it could return to regular production. Oakes has the 1983 vintage down as “one of the top 5 bottles of beer I’ve ever had.” but austinpowers found the same year to be “A pretty big disappointment.” aofoxxy also had a bad experience, summing it up as “FLAT SOUR GRAPES.” Big hype, high prices and small samples are a dodgy combination. Approach with care.

12) Charles Wells Bombardier: The Charles Wells Brewery was founded in 1875 when Charles Wells took over an existing brewery which had been in operation since 1816. The beer is named after “Bombardier” Billy Wells, the first British heavyweight boxer to win the Lonsdale Belt, back in 1911. Billy Wells is the man seen banging a huge gong at the start of old Rank films. Many notable British beer writers including Jackson and Protz, have written favourably about this beer. DougShoemaker describes it as “malty and mellow,” but fiulijn was disappointed by the “simple taste,”and found it “a bit metallic.”

13) Lees Harvest Ale: J.W. Lees are a Manchester brewery of some distinction; founded in 1828 they are still family owned. The annual Harvest Ale was started in 1985 and has been issued every year since. This is a beer overladen with flavours, ecrvich found “notes of alcohol, apple, cinnamon, prune, raisin, date, brown sugar, toffee, and tawny port.“ Cobra inhaled deeply to discover that: “every kind of fruit you can imagine was present in the nose of this beer. Kiwi, strawberry, pineapple, and I smelled the mint notes as well.” DaSilky1 enthused that it is: “a black licorice lovers freakin wet dream ... simply amazing.“ But not everyone likes it, marinaro500 reported that it “ tastes so close to corn syrup that I poured the rest down the drain.” Oakes, however, neatly sums it up with: “Great balance - a quintessential English barley wine.”

14) Manns Original Brown Ale: The Southern England brown ales are mild ales bottled with bit of extra sugar - and Manns is the first and original brown ale. Sweet and malty and “like a schwarzbier” as austinpowers points out, this “coca cola with a kick” (RichardGretton) was developed in 1902 at the Albion Brewery in Whitechapel by Mann, Crossman and Paulin. At first this new style of beer with its modest alcohol and gentle, rounded roasty sweetness was out of step with public demand. But this “sweet & malty” (Joeh) beer, rich in calcium chloride from the chalky downs and ideally suited to London water, took off like a rocket in the 1920’s when it was marketed as “the sweetest beer in London”. As Geoff Callum writes: “It was the right product at the right time. Its low gravity attracted low taxation in an era of low prosperity, while the full flavour made it a reassuring beer in difficult times.” Now mostly drunk by little old ladies, it is in danger of being phased out as drinkers turn to lighter, crisper beers, or dark ales pumped up with alcohol steroids. As rauchbier says, “At 2.8% abv, you would get more of a buzz from drinking coffee.” But for those who have climbed down from the trees, and whose knuckles don’t scrape the floor as they walk, this may prove to be a yummy little gem. Drink it as a piece of brewing history, or drink it for the flavoursome and fascinating beer it is.

15) Marston’s Pedigree: Brewed using the famous Burton Union system of linked oak casks in the room that Protz called a "cathedral of brewing - vast, echoing chambers where the only sound is the hiss of fermenting beer.” The yeast likes the open wood casks and doesn’t work in modern containers. When Bass switched to modern equipment in the 1980’s they also had to switch yeast, which may be why Bass fails to live up to its historic acclaim. Although all Burton ales were once made using the Union system, only Marston’s still continue to do so. Pedigree is still made in the manner that made Burton’s Pale Ales famous across the world. As far as Oakes is concerned this is “One of the finest pints in England.” But as eczematic observes there are “no sharp edges to this beer, it’s all rounded and a bit muted.” Nuffield in his calm, dignified manner steps in the middle and sums it up nicely: “A beer about which there is some divergence of opinion. Mellow enough that I had a hard time distinguishing flavors, although I had a sense of woodiness.”

16) Thomas Hardy’s Ale: Brewed by Eldridge Pope as a one off celebration of the writer Thomas Hardy in 1968 this proved so popular it was decided to continue brewing on a regular basis. The recipe was an attempt to recreate the Dorchester Ale that Hardy loved and described as: “of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset; free from streakiness of taste; but, finally rather heady." Bottles dated 1968 cost the same as Ethiopia’s national debt and can be used to pay for trips into space on Russian rockets, but other vintages are within the financial reach of the beer obsessed. ecrvich found aromas similar to those in Lees Harvest Ale: “notes of alcohol, cask wood, tawny port, sherry, apple, prune, peach, plum, brown sugar, nutmeg, etc” But not everyone enjoys it - it gets slammed a few times, and a typical example comes from Kevbo: “I had a bottle of the 1997 vintage and one word describes it...swill. Maybe piss too. Look at prostman’s description of it.H he thought it was good because he was already messed up when he drank it.Take it from me, you want a good barley wine go for a Bigfoot Ale. It’s ten times better.” Ringo has extensive knowledge of this beer and has come to the conclusion that “Hardy’s is best around 4-5 years old. The newer ones are a little raw, and the older ones are too thick and syrupy, and generally oxidized.”

17) Whitbread Gold Label: Gold Label is England’s best-known barley wine. Long before super-strength lagers took over, Gold Label was the favoured kick in the head. Although barley wine only really emerged as a style in its own right toward the end of the 19th century, brewers had always made a strong beer for mixing with younger ales in the Old Ale tradition. Although these strong ales were not offered for sale to the public, there was a brewery custom of offering employees a nip of the strong stuff at Christmas time. Gold Label, with its attractive pale gold appearance, was the first pale barley wine to be offered to the public in small bottles. The original market would have been the well-to-do such as retired colonels and barking-mad lords of the manor. Somehow, over the years, the customers have shifted down-market, so that this has become the drink of tramps and old ladies with no teeth nor knickers. neilrichards found there was “a bit of spice about it,” and rauchbier discovered a “raisin and fruitcake body”. But like most others, leaparsons found it, “syrupy and sweet with not much finish.”

18) Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild: Milds these days are low alcohol beers, but that wasn’t always the case. The term Mild refers to subdued hopping rather than alcohol strength, and - as this beer brewed to an original 1921 recipe shows - the original Milds could be quite strong. Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild clocks in at a very respectable 6%. The beer is brewed behind the Beacon Hotel in the Midlands - and the Midlands is the home of Mild. The Beacon Hotel brewpub started up in the 1860’s, though Sarah Hughes didn’t take over until 1921. Brewing stopped after her death, until her grandson, John Hughes, revived it in 1987, quickly establishing Ruby Mild as a classic beer. joet enthuses, “This is closer to a faro and not like anything I’ve tasted. It’s challenging, complex and rewarding.” But some, like CaptainCougar, complain that “the body is very thin and watery.”

19) Shepherd Neame Bishop’s Finger: Shepherd Neame proudly declare themselves to be Britain’s oldest brewery (dating from 1698), though the Shepherd family only took over in 1741. However, Young’s assert that they are Britain’s oldest by stating that “traditional draught bitter has been produced on the site of Young’s brewery since 1581.” Adnam’s have a counter-claim that they should be Britain’s oldest brewery as brewing has taken place on the same site since 1345. The jury is still out. However, Bishop’s Finger was launched in the 1980’s as a bottled beer but proved so popular that Sheps also put it out in a cask version. The bishop’s finger is the name of a style of Kentish signpost rather than the “nun’s delight” by which some locals refer to it. JPDIPSO got some “hints of raisins, licorice and vanilla.” Duff, in his straight to the point style, declares it “pretty darn good”.

20) Sam Smith’s Nut Brown Ale: Sam Smith’s being a favourite of the young Michael Jackson, he featured the brewery strongly in his 1970’s classic The World Guide to Beer - a book that the USA-based wine importer Merchant du Vin found so inspiring they decided to start importing beers featured in MJ’s book. The result is that many of the fledgling American craft brewers based their beer styles on these early, Sam Smith’s dominated, imports. At the last count I noticed something like 90 different beers produced in America under the name Nut Brown Ale. If you drink an American Nut Brown today it is thanks to this often “skunked” (Dogbrick) and “overpriced” (urbnhautebourg) original. Many feel that in comparison with the American interpretation Sam Smith’s original is not quite right - as aceofhearts puts it: “the nutty taste just didn’t mix with the maltiness right.” Comparisons are also made with Newcastle Brown - duff found it “much better” because there was “no disgusting butter taste.” And as far as Volgon is concerned, “You couldn’t ask for a smoother beer,” but “you could ask for more taste though.”

21) Sam Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale: Select any of the Sam Smiths products and they come across as well behaved interpretations of the style named on the bottle - there will be rougher, more interesting examples around, but at least Sam Smiths are tasty and reliable. And, as with the other Sam Smiths products, this Pale Ale sparked a revolution in American craft brewing. The Old Brewery in Tadcaster still uses the Yorkshire stone square system, which allows the yeast to get plenty of access to the air. Thriving in this atmosphere the yeast develops a fruity acidic quality, the hallmark of a classic English bitter, and adds a noticeable third flavour component to the malts and hops. Indra found an “amazing balance and interplay of flavors,” while Aurelius asks you to “pull up a chair and enjoy.”

22) Double Maxim: First brewed in 1901 by Vaux brewery to celebrate the coming home from the Boer War of the soldiers of the Maxim Machine Gun Unit of the Northumberland Hussars
led by Major Ernest Vaux, son of the brewery owner. Pre-dating the launch of the “first” Northern style brown ale by 21 years, this muddy pale ale was not named a brown ale until after Newcastle Brown became popular. The Vaux brewery closed down in 1999, but the beer was saved when two of the brewery’s managers set up the Double Maxim Brewery Company a year later especially to keep Double Maxim alive. Brewing is done at Robinson’s Manchester brewery under supervision of the Vaux Brewery’s ex-head brewer. joet noted “some sour and apple tones and some dusty hop character.” beerguy101 felt that the finish was “champagne like,” BeerLimey enthused about the “raisin plum aroma with mild smokiness,” and found the “flavors sweet, a little chocolaty with subtle fruit cake notes.” But DaSilky1 gets to the important point when he declares that it’s “cheaper than Newcastle.”

23) Hook Norton’s Old Hooky: Hook Norton is a good traditional brewery still using steam engines to help make the beer, and horses to deliver it to pubs in the surrounding Oxfordshire countryside. Old Hooky has established itself as a classic premium bitter alongside Abbot Ale and Bishop’s Finger as one to linger over rather than just throw down the back of the neck. omhper found it a “very fresh and exceptionally fruity cask ale.” And eczematic noted, “big herbal hop flavours mingle with rich fruity flavours (mango, pawpaw?) “

24) Fuller’s ESB: Fuller’s is claimed by Michael Jackson as one of Britain’s two world class breweries - the other being Young’s. He obviously hasn’t been drinking enough of Woodforde’s beers! The ESB stands for Extra Special Bitter, denoting a premium bitter. A premium ale in Britain can go under a variety of names depending on tradition and location - IPA, Pale Ale, Strong Ale, Special, Country, County, Best, Extra Special, etc - each mean the same thing, a bitter with a fuller body and higher alcohol than the Ordinary session bitter, but they are not styles in their own right. The influence of Fuller’s ESB as an import into America, however, has caused over 100 breweries to produce a beer with the name ESB, suggesting that there is something distinctive about Fuller’s interpretation of a premium bitter. alcfron says that this is “the ESB that I use as a standard for comparison;” Kaya161 “the quintessential British bitter,” and ravidesai “the classic ESB,” so there must be something in it. Aubrey goes into detail with: “complex malts get all the attention in this beer. Caramel-toffee goodness! And maybe even a little peanut brittle?” But bierkoning is a little fickle with his affections: “Sorry my love, I still like you, but I have another sweetheart brew now!”

25) Fuller’s London Porter: Porter belongs to London, so it is appropriate that one of London’s famous breweries does an example of it. The Pitfield brewery does a more authentic example, and it is brewed in the right area - only about 500 yards from The Old Blue Last, the first pub to actually sell porter (though these days it only sells keg beers and lager). There is no clear evidence for which came first, stout or porter - however, the term stout, meaning a strong beer, predates porter by some thirty years. The beer that came to be known as porter was first made by Ralph Harwood of the Bell Brewery in Shoreditch, and he named it Entire. It was a ready mixed version of the “three threads” beer that was popular at that time. “Three threads” was a blend of cheap, low alcohol, highly hopped beer (possibly Bitter or Small Ale); expensive, sweet, high alcohol but mildly hopped beer (either Mild or Stout - take your pick!) and an older, stale “stock” beer (possibly thinner and weaker than a traditional Old Ale) that would add an acidic, wine quality. It is the addition of that stale beer with its oaky, acidic, winey and refreshing notes that marks a porter out from a stout. The ingredients of the original porters would vary, including at various times tobacco, hemp and poisonous berries - but it was the stale beer, in which the brewers invested vast sums of money to build the huge vats in which the beer was aged, that was a constant. The actual nature of the mouthfeel of this beer creates interest - jazz88 has it as, “a very smooth porter that does not overwhelm;” PsychProf enthuses that it is, “creamy, creamy, and yet still more creaminess;” but pivo feels that it is “thinner than expected and kind of monodimensional.” Ol_Juntan_64, meanwhile, reflects that, “perhaps any bigger bodied or thicker a texture would possibly make it too cloying.”

26) Young’s Double Chocolate Stout: Stouts often have chocolate flavours, usually gained from the chocolate malt, but this monster also contains chocolate essence and real bars of Cadbury’s chocolate melted into the final boil (the colour of the label is the same as the wrappers on Cadbury’s chocolate). Despite this over-abundance of chocolate, MartinT obviously felt cheated when he noted that “the name sounded much more fun;”. However, he wasn’t the only one who found this stout lacked in chocolate; Lizabeth cries, “Where’s the chocolate? I couldn’t smell or taste any in this brew.” Meanwhile others raved about how much there was; Sigmund says, “Aroma is all chocolate ... loads of chocolate but never sickly.” But it was the promise of so much chocolate which prompted legion242 to claim that it’s “a great way to get chicks to drink a stout.” But one notable chick with a good taste in beer, Yogi_Beera, lamented that it had “a watery finish,” which was, “too bad. You want to have this chocolate feeling for longer in your mouth!”

27) Bateman’s XXXB: Bateman’s is a third generation family brewery dating back to 1874. XXXB was first brewed in the 1980’s and quickly established itself as a British real ale classic. In fact, it was due to increased sales when XXXB won the first of its six CAMRA awards that allowed the brewery to remain independent. The three X’s show that this is a premium bitter - an X has long been used in British brewing to indicate strength; the more X’s, the higher the strength. A few people, such as Hopistotle420, noticed the “nice bittering and herbs in the finish.” Others, like Spiesy, picked out the “sweet honeycomb aroma, raisins & prunes, soaked in rum or brandy.” While for omhper this beer “more or less defines the style strong bitter in my point of view.”

28) Greene King’s Abbot Ale: Greene King first brewed Abbot Ale during the 1950’s and its popularity has never waned. Abbot Ale gets its name from the connection between brewing and the great Abbey of St Edmundsbury. There has been brewing in Bury St Edmunds since at least as far back as 1086 when cerevisiarii - or alebrewers - were chronicled in the Domesday Book as servants of the Abbot. Reports vary according to container, but not surprisingly the top ratings tend to come from those who had it cask conditioned while the lowest ratings are mostly from those who had it from the widget can. In fact DrunkAsASkunk starts his rating of the can with “Ok, I’ve spent a couple of minutes here trying to figure out what the hell this one is all about but i just about give up.” and concludes with “canned products that have widgets just suck!!!” Many comment on bottle versus can or can versus cask, such as ravidesai who discovers that it’s “better on draft than the nitro can.” Meanwhile, ClarkVV gives a detailed account of the beer itself: “Opens up full and malty, with some fruit tones making their way in quickly - cherry, peach, maybe a tiny bit of orange. There is a brief glimpse of hops (very brief) and something more than that, a sugary yet spicy flavor that I can’t name (very fleeting, maybe apple blossom?).”

29) Everards Tiger: Everards are a Leicester brewery founded in 1849 who, like many other breweries, went over to keg production in the 1960’s, and stopped making real ale entirely. However, with the success of the CAMRA campaign, Everards went back to brewing real ale in 1975, and this zingy citric bitter, named after the local rugby team, has now acquired a reputation its flavour does not seem to deserve. Spiesy declared it “thinly flavoured with a thin unimpressive body.” While Oakes concludes that “it seems the most popular English ales are always the blandish, malt-accented ones. To each his own I guess.” But austinpowers found that “after sampling several lackluster UK microbrews, I’m finally eager to partake in an ale worthy of all the CAMRA hype.”

30) Badger’s Tanglefoot: The badger has been the symbol for the Dorset based Hall & Woodhouse brewery since 1875, nearly 100 years after the brewery was founded in 1777. In Dorset the pub signs still have the Hall & Woodhouse name, but in the bottle the beers are always called Badger. The name Tanglefoot supposedly came about when the head brewer stumbled after sampling a few pints of his new creation. Michael Jackson regards it as "a robust and delicious brew," but Oakes counters with a claim that it is “very simplistic.” Most non-British raters agree with Oakes, while most British raters seem to side with Jackson. Quaffmeister, a British rater, states “I love this beer on draught, but was disappointed with the bottled version.” An opinion shared by myself when I said, “I love this on draught where it is less bitter, and more like an old ale.” However, a reputation gained in the cask can often lead to increased sales of the bottled version, despite a drop in quality - and this has happened to this beer.

So there you are - 30 classic English bottled ales. Each style of traditional English ale is represented in this sample from all areas of England’s green and pleasant land. Not all the beers are well known beyond the White Cliffs of Dover, and not all are to my taste - but anyone who has drunk all 30 can claim they have a grasp of England’s mainstream beer tradition. A tradition upon which both the English and the American micro-breweries were launched. A tradition in which modern styles of English beers are now merging with that of the classic styles from Belgian, the Czech Republic, and to a lesser extent Germany and the USA, but can still hold its head up high on the world stage. A tradition of which the English are very proud.

How many have you tried?



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start quote These are thirty English bottled brews you must face up to trying end quote