The Most Important British Craft Beers?

British beer bottle cap.

In response to an article listing ‘The 25 Most Important American Craft Beers’ Michael Lally at Bush Craft Beer has challenged his readers to think about what might be on a Brit-centric version of that list:

I think we can define ‘craft’ relatively loosely and ‘important’ in a similar way to our US colleagues: It’s one that either changed consumer tastes or how breweries approach making beer. There are a few obvious ones: Punk IPA by Brewdog, Jaipur by Thornbridge, ESB by Fullers.

There’s a survey you can respond to including space to make your own suggestions but here’s some food for thought from us.

1. Traquair House Ale (1965)

Arguably the very first ‘microbrewery’ was Traquair House which commenced production in 1965. It demonstrated that it was possible for small breweries to be opened despite prevailing industry trends, and also that small independent breweries could often do more interesting things than their bitter- and lager-focused Big Six peers — this beer was (and is) at a hefty ABV and very rich.

2. Litchborough Bitter (1974)

Another brewery with a strong claim to being the first microbrewery was Bill Urquhart’s Litchborough based in the village of that name near Northampton. The beer itself doesn’t seem to have been especially exciting but the business model, and Mr Urquhart’s mentoring/consultancy, directly inspired the microbrewery boom that followed.

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So Low You Can’t Get Under It

The Big Project has been great for making us visit pubs we might not otherwise have got to, such as The Prince Alfred in West London.

With a couple of hours to kill between hotel check-out and westbound train last Friday we searched for pubs nearby rather than rely on our old favourite, The Mad Bishop & Bear. Google turned up The Prince Alfred which immediately rang a bell for Boak: ‘It’s in Geoff Brandwood’s book – it’s got rare surviving snob screens. We have to go.’

We wandered through Little Venice, up one street after another of white stucco and genteel dustiness, until we found the pub sparkling with Victorian cut-glass glamour.

Fired tiles at the Prince Alfred, a Victorian pub.

Challenge one: finding a way in. The obvious door led to the dining room and lounge – rather bland, hovered over by a smiling waitress. There was a Hobbit-sized door under the partition leading to the cosier spaces around the central island bar but they surely couldn’t expect us to duck under, could they? Health and safety and all that. No no no.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 February 2017: Mackeson, Market Towns, Mainspring

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pub writing in the last week, from Mackeson to market towns.

Mackeson beer mat detail.

Some of the home brew recipes posted by Ron Pattinson and Kristen England are bigger names than others and this dissection of 1965 Mackeson Stout is essential reading for anyone with an interest in British brewing history or, indeed, a more practical need to understand a neglected style.


Crafty's Bottle Shop and Micropub.Alec Latham at Mostly About Beer finds an interesting angle, as always, on the proliferation of beer shops in home counties market towns, and especially in and around his native Hertfordshire and neighbouring Buckinghamshire:

There is something special about a market town. Market towns are magical places where bunting suddenly appears. There is always the well-tended war memorial and it’s always afforded pride of place. Then of course there’s market itself – the white canvas village encamped along the main drag. I love the smell of meat being fried and the call of the stall holders who adopt an accent that verges on caricature…

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 11 February 2017: Pretzels, Craft and Care Bears

Here’s everything on the subject of beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the last week, along with a couple of more tangential items that nonetheless shine a light.

Reuben Gray has been considering the health of RateBeer from an Irish perspective and concludes that it might be looking a touch peaky:

Galway Bay’s Of Foam and Fury has 121 reviews at the moment on Ratebeer. It’s the highest rated Irish beer on the platform. That wouldn’t be too bad except the same beer on Untappd has a whopping 2,726 Ratings at the time of writing this. An interesting thing to point out is that this beer is number two on Untappd for Ireland with GBB’s 200 Fathoms beating it to first place whereas on Ratebeer, 200 Fathoms gets spot number two.


Pretzels painted on a wall in Luebeck, Germany.

Not exactly about beeer: Jay Brooks at Brookston Beer Bulletin has written a long reflection on the subject of pretzels, a snack closely associated with beer in Germany and the US, with lots of historical information. The best bits are his personal reminiscences, though:

One of my favorite memories as a child was being in downtown Reading with my stepfather. He took me down a side street, almost an alley, and I could smell baking pretzels. I think it may have been Unique Pretzels, which was Dad’s favorite brand, but I’m not sure. At any rate, it was a stone building, and my Dad went inside, while I peered in from the sidewalk, and could see the stone oven inside, with workers there using a large flat paddle to pull out freshly baked pretzels from it. Soon after, my father reappeared outside, handing me a hot, crunchy pretzel straight from that oven. Although I’m sure I’ve romanticized it over the years, that must have been the best-tasting pretzel I’ve ever had.


Illustration: 'Hand Crafted' painted on wood.

Also not about beer: for Architectural Review Catharine Rossi writes about the resurgence of interest in ‘craft’ in recent years. It’s full of light-bulb lines and ideas:

With its ethical associations of authenticity and trusted provenance, and its offer of a hands-on engagement in a hands-off economy, craft offers a tangible moral compass in uncertain times. Making craft or buying goods from craftspeople enables a meaningful relationship with the material world… As the sociologist Sennett argued in The Craftsman (2008): ‘craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake’

(You can view three articles on the AR site free per month so click carefully and maybe save it to Pocket or a similar reader app if you use one.)


Del Monte, Cloudwater, Um Bongo.

Alec Latham continues to find interesting angles from which to approach beer. This week, he tasted a tropical-fruity double IPA from Cloudwater alongside (a) the syrup from a tin of Del Monte fruit salad and (b) a carton of Um-Bongo fruit drink. It’s sort of a joke, but also not:

In a glass [the Del Monte syrup] actually looks attractive. There’s a gleam to the liquid – almost a sparkle – a bit like pearls. Some tiny suspended fruit particles also put me in mind of things trapped in amber… On the nose it’s horrible. It’s like a Care Bear’s fart or one of those odd “fruit” scented rubbers we used to have at primary school (by rubber I mean eraser – the school wasn’t THAT bad). I go back to inhale from the DIPA and by comparison, the beer now has a mustard aroma.


Close-up of the CAMRA logo from the 1984 Good Beer Guide.

From Ed at Ed’s Beer Blog we get a bit of what amounts to gossip about the CAMRA Revitalisation project:

[The] national executive seem to have had kittens when they saw the project’s recommendations. OK, that wasn’t exactly how it was put but CAMRA Kremlinologists can draw conclusions from the fact that the current national executive decided to delay any decisions until 2018, and three of the Revitalisation committee have decided to stand for election to the national executive.


The Old Packhorse, Chiswick.
The Old Packhorse which has a Thai restaurant in the back room.

Here’s one from a couple of weeks back that we missed out of last week’s round-up: why on earth do so many British pubs serve Thai food? For Lucky Peach Catherine Lamb tells the story:

Gerry began managing The Churchill Arms thirty-two years ago. During his first two years as manager, the pub served British classics at lunch and meat-and-potatoes dishes at night. One day a Thai chef named Ben (yes, Ben has a longer Thai name, which Gerry can’t remember and still can’t pronounce) walked in with a proposal: he wanted to take over the Churchill’s kitchen and cook Thai food… Gerry began receiving calls from other pub owners asking him for his secret—and Gerry, who loves a good story, told them everything.

(Via @Will_Hawkes.)


And, finally, Charlie Worthington, AKA ‘The Crafty Beeress’, is reporting on her West Country roadtrip starting with this account of drinking in Bath — one to bookmark if you’re planning to go that way anytime soon.

Magical Mystery Pour #22: Brixton Megawatt Double IPA

This is another beer chosen for us by Rebecca Pate (@rpate) of Brewing East. It’s an 8% ABV double IPA from Brixton, South London, which we got for £3.09 per 330ml via the Honest Brew online store.

Rebecca says:

Another high ABV beer, yes, but I was slow to discover Brixton Brewery and this was something I rectified in 2016. All of their core beers are intensely drinkable, but this is an annual release of their DIPA and it’s packed with some great flavours from both Northern and Southern hops, including three unfamiliar to me: Rakau, Mosaic, Azacca and Falconers Flight. I got to try the 2016 version in December at a bar only a minute’s walk from the brewery. In fact, I also happened to be there on the day that they showed up with the keg and was told to watch out for the neon orange keg badge when it was on… I love Brixton Brewery and this nice release is well-balanced and very palatable number. It’s the biggest ABV beer they do and it goes down in a flash.

Every now and then, not very often, our palates get out of sync — you say hints of tomato, I say notes of potato, let’s call the whole thing off, and so on. With this beer we both tasted more or less the same things but in terms of overall likeability it fell into no-man’s-land.

Brixton Megawatt DIPA in the glass.

Popping the cap released a burst of fruit aroma, as if someone had stamped on a tangerine, with a gentle ‘Tsk!’ Some beers won’t be controlled on pouring but this one was highly malleable, providing more or less foam depending on the angle and height of the pour — you know, like a proper beer. We ended up with an unmoving head of just-off-white over a clear body of orange-highlighted brown — a 2009 model DIPA rather than the hazy yellow generally preferred in 2017, then.

Noses in, there was hot apricot jam and, appropriately, but disconcertingly, a suggestion of toasted brown bread.

The flavour is intense, we both agreed on that — there really is a lot going on. It’s rather jumbled and muddy, an odd combination of peach and chocolate. It’s fairly well dried-out and light-bodied, but also fiercely bitter. And then a different kind of bitterness — the savoury burnt dinner sort — lands on top of that. Plus, finally, there’s some hot booziness.

Boak: ‘That’s really very decent. Almost rough but not quite. Characterful. I like it.’

Bailey: ‘Hmm. I’m not keen. It tastes like dodgy home-brew to me. I’m confused by all these dark beer flavours in a double IPA.’

We concluded, based on this beer and a couple of others we’ve tried from the same brewery, that Brixton isn’t one of those outfits aspiring for slick and clean so much as funky and textured. Not everyone will like what they do, which is great — we want more breweries that not everyone likes — but probably explains why they attract less buzz than some of their peers in London. If you like your beer impolite and punkish, give it a try. If you insist on a high polish, walk on by.