The John Smith’s Experiment: Part 1

John Smith's packaging close up.

John Smith’s bitter is one of those beers which has become a byword for badness amongst beer geeks — the punchline to jokes, a shortcut to suggest the utter hopelessness of a crappy pub.

It is available cask-conditioned but is more usually seen as a keg beer or in cans in the supermarket. It’s usually heavily discounted — the cheapest ale available in the average Wetherspoons, for example, and always included in ‘two slabs for £X’ offers.

Roger Protz’s Real Ale Almanac suggests that the ingredients are pale malt, black malt for colour and high-alpha English hops for bittering, which intelligence was backed up by a slightly vague email from Heineken’s customer enquiry line.

That recipe doesn’t sound bad, does it? Not inspiring, but not bad. Not unlike many of the twentieth century bitter recipes Ron Pattinson posts on his blog on Let’s Brew Wednesdays. Kind of appetising, in fact, if you appreciate unassuming English bitters.

So we bought fifteen eighteen cans of the Extra Smooth variant, and spent a week drinking them, and nothing else.

What did we expect to find? Either:

1. that we would have our prejudices confirmed, recalibrate our tastebuds, and enjoy the beer we usually drink all the more; or

2. that we’d get used to it and, by persevering, get to know it, and so find its hidden depths with tastebuds more experienced than when we dismissed it several years ago.

This was an interesting experience for us in lots of ways.

More to follow in Part 2.

9 thoughts on “The John Smith’s Experiment: Part 1”

  1. You cheeky bastards! Making me scroll the feed with anticipation only to leave me on a beery cliffhanger…. Well done… I won’t be able to sleep until I read Part 2…

  2. And I thought I was being daring attempting to drink all the super strength canned lagers!

    My question is this, why pick the Extra Smooth version? Does that still have a “widget” in it? It’s been many years since I bought a rattling can. I’m looking forward to Part 2. Good luck. Oh, and do be sure to try them at a variety of temperatures.

  3. I have a friend who restricts his drinking to Fosters and Carling backed-up by the occasional Kopparberg Summer Fruits. However, every time we go drinking together (prob 3 or 4 times a year) he always drinks whatever “real ale” (there’s no “craft” in this town) I happen to be drinking but he’s told me it’s the only time he strays from his trusted three. I’ve long though that one time when we go out I should only drink what he does but so far I’ve never managed to bring myself to do it.

    I’ll wait and see how your experiment turns out before committing myself further…

  4. John Smith’s Extra Smooth Ale is made with a variety of hops including: Target, Admiral, Magnum, Taurus and Tomahawk. It consists of a small amount of roasted malt and small amount of UK wheat, 100% grown and malted in the UK.

  5. It’s honestly not that bad a drink. My only problem with it is that I couldn’t stomach a whole session on it. It sits too heavy in the stomach.

  6. “So we bought fifteen cans of X and spent a week drinking them, and nothing else.”

    Sounds close to my drinking habits here in Germany, as it’s the done thing to buy by the crate. Actually, it’s generally ok, although the time I asked my wife to buy anything other that Distelhaeuser, and that somehow got translated into “buy Distelhaeuser”, did not manage to brainwash me into liking the stuff. I’m wondering what will happen with the 15 John Smith’s so… 🙂

  7. I tried cask at 16 and liked it but for the next 5 years my parties had to have smoothflow – none of my friends cared what was offered and I could rarely afford to go the pub and drink favourites such as Youngers Number 3 and Wards.

    So I have a lot of memories of the smoothflow terroire and signature nose. Light cream, tin, sinks, polish, and a feint hint of, I dunno, malt perhaps. And that finish! Even if I bought one now I couldn’t describe it to you.

    I look forward to reading part 2 (in about a minute)

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