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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