Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post on British Beers from Jeff Evans – quite possibly the biggest expert on British Beer in the world. He’s recently released a new book called Beer Lover’s Britain – which you can get here and runs a fantastic website on all things beer called Inside Beer.
I’ve been writing professionally about beer for more than 20 years. If, during that time, I’d had a pound for every time someone has asked me, â€˜So what’s your favourite beer then?’, I could have bought my own brewery years ago and retired on the proceeds. As for the answer, I usually decline to be specific, mumbling something about variety being the spice of life or repeating the old line, â€˜Whichever beer you’re about to buy me’. It’s not that I’m being unhelpfully evasive. It’s just that I taste so many beers every week that I genuinely don’t have a favourite.
But sometimes, as someone who has been around the brewing block a few times, it’s only right that I focus the mind and point the less experienced in the direction of some beers they really should try. So here we go with a list of ten beers that anyone hitting the pubs of Britain really should sample. There are, of course, many more outstanding beers in the UK, produced in smaller runs by tiny breweries. They should be looked out for, certainly, but they are going to be difficult to track down. On the other hand, the ten beers below should be relatively easy to find and will give you a flavour of what beer in Britain is all about.
Taylor Landlord (4.3%)
This is the beer that Madonna claimed on BBC TV to be her favourite and boy has the brewery done well out of that! Timothy Taylor is a relatively small regional brewery, based in Keighley, West Yorkshire. It’s been active since 1858 but in the 1950s it launched Landlord, a new best bitter. That was a good move. The awards have arrived by the bucketful, including four Champion Beer of Britain titles, bestowed by consumer champions CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale). Landlord, I find, is always a satisfying beer, loaded with floral notes from the generous, but clever, use of hops.
Wadworth 6X (4.3%)
I live fairly close to the sleepy Wiltshire market town of Devizes, where the imposing red-brick faÃ§ade of Wadworth’s brewery is a major landmark. The name of the brewery is synonymous with that of 6X, its leading brand and, I have to say, it was one of the beers that turned me on to traditional ale back in the 1970s. I still enjoy a pint or two today, and not just for old times’ sake. Wadworth beers have a malty, dried fruit character, and 6X is no exception.
Theakston Old Peculier (5.6%)
Like Wadworth, Theakston’s brewery was one of the champions of traditional (â€˜real’) ale back in the 1970s, a time when it looked as if pasteurized, pressurized beer was going to take the place of beers like those in this list, which are all naturally matured in the cask. After a time as part of the Scottish & Newcastle group, Theakston is now back in family hands and its brewery in the North Yorkshire market town of Masham is well worth a visit. Old Peculier is its most famous beer, a dark, old ale that is fairly sweet and filled with complex fruit flavours. The strange spelling of its name relates to the ancient ecclesiastical court, or Peculier, of Masham.
Marston’s Pedigree Bitter (4.5%)
Burton-on-Trent in the Midlands is the home of pale ale. It was here that the bright, hoppy beers of the industrial revolution were perfected, thanks, in no small part, to the mineral-rich local water. The last major ale brewery left in Burton is Marston’s and the company’s Pedigree Bitter remains the classic Burton pale ale. I always know when my pint of Pedigree is fresh. It has a strong sulphurous aroma – not appealing to everyone, I know, but to me characteristic of that unique water supply. Pedigree is also fermented in wooden casks with a yeast that helps create apple-like fruit flavours. Find a pint in good condition and you’ll enjoy one of the great beers of the world.
Fuller’s London Pride (4.1%)
Not so long ago, London Pride was basically that, the pride of London. You couldn’t find it elsewhere in Britain very often. All that has changed, however, as the beer has spread rapidly around the country, allowing more and more people to appreciate its brilliant balance of malt and hops. Fuller’s is the big brewery you see on your right as you take a cab from Heathrow Airport into central London. All its beers are well worth checking out.
Caledonian Deuchars IPA (3.8%)
This is a fairly young beer. It was only introduced in the 1980s but, since winning CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain title in 2002, sales have rocketed all over the country. The brewery, in Edinburgh, now belongs to the lager giant Heineken but its ales are definitely worth tracking down. They won’t always be as easy to find as this pale, citrus-accented, thirst-quenching bitter, but the effort will be well rewarded.
St Austell Tribute (4.2%)
Right down in the south-western tip of England stands the St Austell brewery, the oldest in Cornwall. Fortunes have been revived here in the last decade with the appointment of an adventurous head brewer who has revamped the entire range of beers and added several new ales, to much acclaim. One of the newcomers is Tribute, a beer that was first brewed in 1999 to mark the momentous day when a total solar eclipse blacked out southern England. At the time, they called the beer Daylight Robbery and sold it only locally. Now, under its new name, it’s available much more widely, allowing more people to enjoy its lime and grapefruit citrus notes.
Adnams Bitter (3.7%)
British bitter is the envy of the world. Other countries have brilliant beers, but nowhere really has anything like bitter – a fairly low strength, but characterful ale with a hoppy and, as its name indicates, bitter taste. These are beers that you can quaff by the pint without being bowled over by alcohol; beers that oil the cogs of conversation in the best British pubs. There is no better bitter than the one from Adnams, an outstanding brewery in the time-forgotten Suffolk seaside town of Southwold. Some people even say you can taste the sea air in the beer and I think they’re right.
Greene King Abbot Ale (5%)
Greene King is a brewery based in the Suffolk town of Bury St Edmunds, but its beers are now available nationwide, with its IPA session ale (3.6%) the most prominent. If you don’t have to worry too much about strength, however, I would thoroughly recommend trading up to Abbot Ale, which is far more than IPA’s big brother. At its best, this is a terrific, substantial beer, brimful of fresh juicy fruit flavours, some from the choice of hops and some from the fermentation process.
Woodforde’s Wherry (3.8%)
Another former CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain, Wherry is a deliciously fruity, easy-drinking bitter that hails from rural Norfolk (a wherry is an old type of cargo boat used on the Norfolk Broads waterways). The brewery was only founded in 1981 but is growing steadily and Wherry is now sold throughout East Anglia and further afield. You may not find it as easily as other beers in this list but, if you do stumble upon it, make sure you take full advantage. I do.
Jeff Evans has been writing about beer professionally for more than 20 years. He has edited eight editions of the Campaign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide and has written seven editions of the Good Bottled Beer Guide. He is also author of The Book of Beer Knowledge and A Beer a Day (winner of the Coors Brewers National Journalism Award in 2008). He has been judged Beer Writer of the Year by his colleagues in the British Guild of Beer Writers and his work is regularly published in magazines in both the UK and the USA.
Beer Lover’s Britain can be purchased on line at www.insidebeer.com at GBP 5.99 or in US dollars (approximately $9.95). The book can be viewed and printed through standard PDF readers such as Adobe Reader and Preview and does not require special e-book reader equipment.
What’s your favorite British Beer?