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.