Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Going For An English

I seem to have a thing for underappreciated, and in some cases misunderstood, beer styles. There are, in my unhumble opinion, few pints that I enjoy more than an imperial nonic glass filled with mild, pilsner, or porter. I especially enjoy them when said beers are straight up versions of the style rather than some craftified wank with additional ingredients in some vain effort to be 'innovative'. Perhaps the most underappreciated and simultaneously misunderstood, at least here in the US, of my favourite beer styles is the family of bitters; ordinary, best, and extra special.

Obviously I am fortunate in many respects that my favourite local brewery, Three Notch'd, brews Bitter 42 every year. Bitter 42 is a best bitter that I designed and is inspired by my favourite pints of best from the UK, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted. Speaking of Bitter 42, if I remember rightly is should be hitting the taps again in a month or two.

Anyway, this post is about wandering around our newish Wegmans and deciding to do a comparative tasting of all the English pale ales I could lay my hands on, and that were still in date. Thus it was that I wandered out of the shop, pushing a trolley that as well as the usual groceries included the following:
Before getting into the beers, I quite often get asked by folks what the difference between an English Pale Ale and a Bitter is, to which I usually respond 'nomenclature'. If I have understood the history correctly, the breweries called the beer a pale ale while the drinkers referred to it as bitter. Simples (and if I am wrong I am sure Ron, Martyn, et al will correct me).

On to the beers then, starting with the lowest ABV....


Black Sheep Ale
  • Sight - rich orange/amber, solid half inch of ivory foam that lingers, bit of chill haze
  • Smell - oranges, honeyed toast, slight lavender
  • Taste - honey on digestive biscuits, tangerines, some spicy hop character
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
  • Notes - Slight metallic note in the finish, but generally wonderful balance, something that makes you long for a day's cricket at Headingley


St Peter's Organic Pale Ale
  • Sight - golden, thin white head, almost like a pilsner
  • Smell - little bit of funky weed straight out the gate, Jacob's Cream Crackers
  • Taste - crackers, clean hop bite, slightly vegetal
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
  • Notes - really dry finish, with bitterness that builds with drinking, resulting in a tannic tea character that's really pleasant.


Fuller's London Pride
  • Sight - dark amber/copper, half inch of cream white foam
  • Smell - that Fuller's smell, you know what I mean, orange marmelade
  • Taste - toffee and toast, slight grassiness, all wrapped up in that Fuller's flavour
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Notes - beautifully balanced, though not as enjoyable as the cask version, still bloody marvellous


Samuel Smith's Organic Pale Ale
  • Sight - deep copper, quarter inch of ivory head
  • Smell - bread, herbal hops, light citrus
  • Taste - scones fresh from the oven, dulce de leche, toffee
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Notes - smoth, almost creamy, fuller mouthfeel than the other beers
4 variations on the theme of an English pale ale, all of them very nice, though I have a clear and distinct favourite. Black Sheep Ale has long been something that I pick up in bottle shops whenever I see it, and it seems our local Wegman's has it pretty much all the time, so I'm picking it up more often now. I do wish more breweries stepped out of the mainstream and made bitter over here, not including all the overly sweet ESBs that do the rounds come autumn and Christmas time, and while bottled beer never lives up to the glories of cask, I'm glad I can get my bitter on whenever the mood strikes.