A Mixed Case of History

British beer bottle cap.

If you were to go to your local spe­cial­ist beer shop or an online beer retail­er you could put togeth­er quite an inter­est­ing mixed case of rea­son­ably easy-to-find beers which would each tell part of the sto­ry of ‘alter­na­tive’ British beer in the last fifty years.

1. Wor­thing­ton White Shield (India Pale Ale) – one of a hand­ful of ‘bot­tle-con­di­tioned’ or ‘sed­i­ment’ beers remain­ing by the sev­en­ties and an inspi­ra­tion behind the IPA boom of the last twen­ty or so years. Alter­na­tives: this was the emer­gency pur­chase for a real ale drinker in a keg-only pub; after White Shield, they’d resort to Guin­ness, so maybe that?

2. Courage Impe­r­i­al Russ­ian Stout – anoth­er bot­tle-con­di­tioned sur­vivor of the sev­en­ties, new­ly res­ur­rect­ed, which held the torch for impe­r­i­al stout through a peri­od when bit­ter was king. Alter­na­tives: Har­vey’s Impe­r­i­al Extra Dou­ble Stout.

3. Chi­may Red – one of the first real­ly excit­ing ‘world beers’ import­ed into the UK. To bet­ter appre­ci­ate it, imag­ine that you have only ever tast­ed about six beers in total in your entire life, five of which were bit­ters between 3% and 3.8% ABV. Alter­na­tives: West­malle Dubbel.

4. Theak­ston’s Old Peculi­er – the cult beer of the nine­teen-sev­en­ties, sold at a pre­mi­um in the hippest real ale pubs, and renowned for its ter­ri­fy­ing strength. (5.6% ABV does­n’t seem so scary today.)

5. Anchor Steam – by the end of the sev­en­ties, the coolest import­ed beer in Britain, wow­ing vis­i­tors at the Great British Beer Fes­ti­val in 1979 with its sim­i­lar­i­ty to Eng­lish beer (brown!) and dis­sim­i­lar­i­ty to Bud­weis­er. Alter­na­tives: Ger­man Alt­bier was also very cool at around this time for the same rea­sons.

6. But­combe Bit­ter – a sur­viv­ing exam­ple of a late sev­en­ties ‘real ale rev­o­lu­tion’ bit­ter. We don’t know the recipe, but, hav­ing spo­ken to Mar­tin Sykes from Sel­by and Patrick Fitz­patrick from God­son’s, a theme begins to emerge: pale malt with a lit­tle black for colour; Fug­gles and Gold­ings hops; yeast from the back door of a larg­er region­al brew­ery.

7. Rams­gate Brew­ery (Gad­d’s) Dog­bolter– one of David ‘Firkin’ Bruce’s most famous beers was Dog­bolter. Every Firkin brew­er made it dif­fer­ent­ly aim­ing for a broad spec­i­fi­ca­tion of ‘heavy and dark’, and Eddie Gadd, who learned to brew with Firkin, con­tin­ues to make it to his per­son­al recipe.

8. Hop­back Sum­mer Light­ning – if not the first ‘gold­en’ ale, then at least the one that inspired both Sean Franklin and Bren­dan Dob­bin to brew ‘pale and hop­py’. Alter­na­tive: Exmoor Gold.

9. Sier­ra Neva­da Pale Ale – the oth­er key inspi­ra­tion behind ‘pale and hop­py’ cask ales. Again, it helps if you can imag­ine that you’ve nev­er tast­ed Cas­cade hops before – per­haps spend a week drink­ing John Smith’s bit­ter to recal­i­brate your palate?

10. Roost­er’s Yan­kee – an ear­ly ‘pale and hop­py’, now brewed by Sean Franklin’s suc­ces­sors at the brew­ery he found­ed in the mid-nineties.

11. Free­dom Lager – arguably the first ‘craft lager’, in the sense that it was as much about pack­ag­ing and pre­sen­ta­tion as it was the beer. Orig­i­nal­ly brewed by Alas­tair Hook in West Lon­don, we can’t vouch for how close­ly its cur­rent incar­na­tion match­es the orig­i­nal, but still… Alter­na­tives: Mean­time Pil­sner or Lon­don Lager.

12. Nether­gate Umbel Ale – there were a few brew­eries exper­i­ment­ing with Bel­gian-inspired ingre­di­ents in the nineties and Umbel, which con­tains corian­der, is a sur­viv­ing exam­ple of that trend. Alter­na­tives: St Austell Cloud­ed Yel­low.

13. Anchor Lib­er­ty IPA – first brewed in 1975 one of the influ­ences upon the resur­gence of IPA in the UK from the mid-nineties. We’ve seen peo­ple ask if it’s become less bit­ter and aro­mat­ic: the answer is, prob­a­bly not, but it cer­tain­ly has a lot more com­pe­ti­tion these days. Alter­na­tives: Goose Island IPA.

14. St Austell Prop­er Job IPA – like a lot of peo­ple, much as we love it, we thought this was a big region­al brew­ery jump­ing on the US-influ­enced IPA band­wag­on. In fact, it was one of the ear­li­est such beers to appear in the UK. Alter­na­tives: Marston’s Old Empire, Thorn­bridge Jaipur.

15. Brew­dog Hard­core IPA – inspired by US brew­ery Stone in every detail down to the label blurb, this is a great exam­ple of the IPA esca­la­tion which took place after 2005.

16. Wild Beer Co. Ninkasi – the end of beer as we know it? Made with ten per cent apple juice and, fer­ment­ed with wild yeast, and pre­sent­ed like cham­pagne, it’s no won­der the brew­ers refer to it, rather point­ed­ly, as a ‘cel­e­bra­to­ry drink’. (Dis­clo­sure.)

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we don’t think there is a sin­gle online retail­er which stocks all of these beers, but Beer Ritz has sev­er­al, as does Beer Mer­chants.

Notes:

  • This isn’t a list of the best beers or best brew­eries; if we’ve not men­tioned a beer or brew­ery, it does­n’t mean we don’t like them.
  • Some of these beers are very dif­fer­ent to when they were first brewed.
  • We’re still research­ing some of this, hence the vague­ness in places.
  • It’s OBVIOUSLY not com­pre­hen­sive.
  • It slight­ly defeats the object to drink beers from the ‘real ale rev­o­lu­tion’ from the bot­tle rather than on cask…

19 thoughts on “A Mixed Case of History”

  1. Nice post, and a par­tial answer to some­thing I’ve been won­der­ing about recent­ly, ie to what extent were the things that we asso­ciate with the Craft Beer Rev­o­lu­tion – big hops, high strengths, unusu­al flavour­ings, for­eign beer styles etc – were actu­al­ly being tried out from time to time by the Stuffy Old Tra­di­tion­al­ists before said rev­o­lu­tion hap­pened?

  2. Of course some of the most authen­tic Bel­gian beers made in the UK (then and since I would sug­gest) were those from Pas­sage­way Brew­ery in the mid-1990s.

  3. Excel­lent list. I’d add a clutch of influ­en­tial Eng­lish pale ales such as Young’s “Ordi­nary”, Fuller’s ESB (espe­cial­ly), Rud­dles Coun­ty, and Adnams bit­ter (what Roger Protz said had an intense sea­weed taste – always won­dered if that par­tic­u­lar pint was off though!). These were great­ly influ­en­tial on the real beer revival both in Amer­i­ca and in the U.K. (cer­tain­ly there were oth­ers). Okay, one more: Mack­e­son Stout. Gran-dad of the Amer­i­can crop of milk stouts.

    Gary

    1. We thought about includ­ing ESB. After Old Peculi­er, it was the oth­er big ‘cult’ beer.

      I guess, with­out think­ing about it, we omit­ted Young’s Ordi­nary because we know it’s noth­ing like the beer it used to be, but then that has­n’t stopped includ­ing sev­er­al oth­ers.

      Mack­eson’s an inter­est­ing sug­ges­tion. We did­n’t real­ly start get­ting milk stouts in ‘craft beer’ until very recent­ly, and then they were inspired by US exam­ples rather than Mack­e­son.

      What we real­ly want­ed to include was a revival­ist porter but nei­ther of the first two, Pen­rhos and Tim Tay­lor, are still on the mar­ket. Maybe Fuller’s Lon­don Porter, from twen­ty years lat­er, is is in the same tra­di­tion?

  4. Ful­ly agree re Fuller’s Porter (and the oth­er points made). I believe there was a porter with some influ­ence from the brew­ery asso­ci­at­ed to the Beer Shop in Pit­field. Prob­a­bly it was Amer­i­can porters which had the main say in the cur­rent crop and good porter and stout in Eng­land, and with­al it seems still a small cat­e­go­ry there.

    Gary

    1. Yes! Now you say it, Anchor Porter (via Michael Jack­son) was prob­a­bly what trig­gered Tim Taylor/Penrhos.

    2. The Pit­field St brew­ery beer you’re refer­ring to was prob­a­bly Dark Star if mem­o­ry serves

  5. Indeed, Dark Star, and no ques­tion of the influ­ence of Anchor Porter via the preach­ings of St. Michael. The Anchor beers were ear­ly exports to the U.K. I believe, much like Sier­ra Neva­da a decade lat­er..

    Gary

  6. I’m not sure what Tay­lor’s Porter was influ­enced by. When did it appear – 1978-ish? It was a very sweet beer and if it was influ­enced by any­thing it was Mack­e­son. I’m guess­ing that nei­ther it not Pen­rhos were influ­enced by Anchor Porter. I don’t know when that first came into the UK but it may have been lat­er than than? In any event I think it had a very low pro­file.

    1. John – I’m not so sure now I think about it.

      Hav­ing said that, what we *think* we’ve picked up, but can’t yet prove, is that Michael Jack­son got every­one worked up about the fact that porter had dis­ap­peared after 1973, in writ­ing and in per­son; and that, in par­tic­u­lar, the fact a US brew­ery (Anchor) was mak­ing one, as men­tioned in his World Guide (‘sweet­er than Guin­ness, but still very well hopped’) added insult to injury.

      Frank Bail­lie also wrote about Anchor Porter in What’s Brew­ing in Octo­ber 1977; with Tay­lor’s announc­ing their porter the fol­low­ing month. No def­i­nite con­nec­tion, but talk of porter def­i­nite­ly very much in the air.

      So, whether or not they had actu­al­ly tast­ed Anchor’s Porter (and I would­n’t be sur­prised if brew­ers and beer geeks had) we reck­on its very exis­tence was an influ­ence.

      1. Yes, the exis­tence of are­vival­ist porter like Anchor may well have played its part. Hav­ing been around at that time I would in fact be sur­prised if many, if any, brew­ers had tried Anchor Porter you know? Things were much more con­er­v­a­tive and insu­lar then. And as foer “beer geeks” – the con­cept was real­ly unknown. There may have been a tiny hand­ful of seri­ous enthu­si­aists who could equate to the mod­ern day “bere geek”. Not least due to the fact that beers did­n’t get around so much then – by and large, if you want­ed a beer you had to go to its local­i­ty to get it. There were not, as far as I am aware, any mod­ern day whole­salers around then and as you will have seen, very few “mul­ti-beer free hous­es”. Unless you were there I think it is quite dif­fi­cult to appre­ci­ate how utter­ly dif­fer­ent the beer scene was then. Mind you by the late 70s and ear­ly 80s things were start­ing to change but it was ini­tial­ly quite a slow fuse

  7. I think exis­tence is a good word like­ly (exis­tence of a revival­ist porter), i.e., even if the Eng­lish brew­ers who restart­ed porter so-called had­n’t tast­ed it, I think they saw the dis­cus­sion in the land­mark 1977 book and it is inter­est­ing to know Franck Bail­lie had writ­ten about Anchor Porter too. Jack­son’s book men­tioned Yuengling porter too and some Con­ti­nen­tal ones IIRC, so porter was in the air so to speak.

    Gary

  8. Yes porter may well have been “in the air” so to speak. It also occurs to me though that Tay­lor’s “porter” may well have sim­ply been a cask ver­sion of their “Black Bess” sweet stout (or at least a vari­ant there­of).

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