Maybe a Burton, but not a good one

McEwan's Champion -- a Burton or Scottish Ale

Both Mar­tyn ‘Zythophile’ Cor­nell and Ron ‘No Inter­net Pseu­do­nym’ Pat­tin­son are enthu­si­as­tic drinkers and his­to­ri­ans of Bur­ton, a type of beer once pop­u­lar, sur­viv­ing exam­ples of which are hard to find. Where it does sur­vive, it’s usu­al­ly under a name like Win­ter Warmer.

Large­ly through their repeat­ed cheer­lead­ing, we’ve come to be mild­ly obsessed with Bur­ton too. When, in a recent post, Zythophile described McEwan’s Cham­pi­on as “a tru­ly excel­lent Edin­burgh Ale/Burton Ale”, we got a touch excit­ed: a Bur­ton avail­able in super­mar­kets up and down the land? For not many pen­nies? Yes please!

The rea­son we’d nev­er tried it before was an assump­tion that it would be ‘tram­pagne’ (© VIZ com­ic) — a strong, acrid, sug­ary beer whose 7.3% abv strength is its prime sell­ing point. We can now report that it is not exact­ly that. It is an inter­est­ing beer and one we derived some enjoy­ment from drink­ing.

It is com­plex in the sense that there were flavours and aro­mas we strug­gled to iden­ti­fy. We liked smelling and tast­ing some­thing like but­ter short­bread and the incred­i­ble, long-last­ing bit­ter­ness. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, not all of the asso­ci­a­tions were so pleas­ant. Was that a whiff of bot­tom-of-the-wheely-bin? Rot­ting orange peel? Drains? By the last dregs, with a card­board dry­ness assert­ing itself, the phrase that sprang to mind was “souped up John Smith’s”.

But we will cer­tain­ly try it again because we sus­pect our bot­tle was stale (and not in the sense that it had been care­ful­ly aged by a nine­teenth cen­tu­ry pub land­lord or brew­er).

16 thoughts on “Maybe a Burton, but not a good one”

  1. McEwan’s Cham­pi­on is the ver­sion of the brewed-for-Bel­gium Gordon’s Scotch Ale S&N decid­ed to enter into one of (IIRC) Sainsbury’s com­pe­ti­tions for new bot­tled beers, and I’m absolute­ly delight­ed they did: I love these big, bit­ter-sweet Bur­ton Ales/Scotch Ales (an almost indis­tin­guish­able pair of broth­er styles). For a brief while there was anoth­er brew, New­cas­tle Star, in the same style, also avail­able in Sainsbury’s, but not any more, alas. This is a beer I would absolute­ly adore to try on draught.

  2. Maybe a Bur­ton, but not a good one.

    Got to dis­agree with you.
    McEwan’s Cham­pi­on is yum­my.
    Do try it again – with a para­chute mind [ie Open]
    And then tell me again you don’t like it.

      1. Or even over the length of Upstairs, Down­stairs. (I don’t rec­om­mend any­one else to fol­low my exam­ple and watch Upstairs, Down­stairs. Kids, just say No.

  3. I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed a sin­gle beer with McE­wan on the label, and this was no excep­tion, but it is sev­er­al years since I’ve tried it so I might give it anoth­er go.

    The off flavours sound fair­ly typ­i­cal. There’s a rea­son Scotland’s a lager-drink­ing coun­try, and it starts with M and rhymes with l’quewans.

    1. If Mar­tyn likes it, it’s got to be worth anoth­er try. There are quite a few beers we’ve tried or giv­en a sec­ond chance because some­one who knows their onions has blogged pos­i­tive­ly about it.

  4. I was sur­prised when I read it in Martyn’s arti­cle too… For me the sweet­ness was harsh and it didn’t have enough to bal­ance it out, ren­der­ing it rather clum­sy. Still, I’d be hap­pi­er if I had enjoyed it since it seems quite wide­ly avail­able!

  5. It does sound like your bot­tle was light­struck and skunked.
    “botom of the wheel­ie bin. Drains…..”
    Too long under super­mar­ket lights per­haps?

    1. We’re quite sen­si­tive to skunk­i­ness in lagers and lighter ales; maybe it was that and we just didn’t quite recog­nise it in a strong, sweet­ish beer?

  6. I do have to say, I get some amus­ment men­tion­ing Bur­tons to Amer­i­can beer geeks, and non-beer geeks alike, and recieve­ing a look of “What-the-eff-is-a-Bur­ton?” Describ­ing a beer that 99.9999999% of Amer­i­cans haven’t heard of, let alone tast­ed, is a fan­tas­tic con­ver­sa­tion starter!

  7. I think Rod has nailed the cul­prit. I don’t real­ly rate brew­ers bot­tling in clear glass, less so super­mar­kets whose top shelf is too near strip light­ing – espe­cial­ly if they keep BCA’s up there…

    Per­haps the rather uncool (no pun) lum­ber­ing chrac­ter­is­tics of a 7% plus Scot­tish dark beer mean this is a slow sell­er, so it spends rather longer than say, a tasty Sum­mer Light­ning, being turned rank on the shelf?

  8. If Mar­tyn likes it, it’s got to be worth anoth­er try.

    Hmm, well, thank you for that vote of con­fi­dence, Bai­ley, but I cer­tain­ly wouldn’t put myself up as the Robert Park­er of the beer world.

    Bur­ton Ale/Scotch Ale is not going to be to everybody’s taste, self-evi­dent­ly, or it wouldn’t have almost died out as a style. Its under­ly­ing sweet­ness strong­ly marks it out from the com­par­a­tive­ly dry beers that have been pop­u­lar in the UK for the past 50 or more years. It can, very occa­sion­al­ly, taste a bit metal­lic (even in bot­tle). But for me, it has a rotun­di­ty, a full­ness, a depth that is, some­times, exact­ly what I need for a long, con­tem­pla­tive, qui­et evening’s pint. And it’s great with roast beef, grilled steak or a gravy-rich pie …

  9. I tried it for a sec­ond time last night, hav­ing had a bot­tle of Lees’ Moon­rak­er on Fri­day, and I liked it rather a lot. On com­plex­i­ty and depths of malt flavour I think the Moon­rak­er edges it; I’d place it mid­way between Old Tom and Old Peculi­er, which per­haps puts it just out­side the Bur­ton brack­et. What the Cham­pi­on had was an extra­or­di­nary com­bi­na­tion of sweet, heavy and bit­ter; sweet­ness pre­dom­i­nates – even the bit­ter­ness tastes more of caramel than hops – but nev­er becomes cloy­ing. There’s an odd, almost savoury edge to it, as well, which you notice most on the first mouth­ful. Fine beer. (And it’s in a brown bot­tle, so I’d be sur­prised if yours was skunked.)

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