In REGION You Must Try BEER

The cover of the Beer Map of Great Britain, 1970s.

A couple of years ago we suggested a few indicators of a healthy beer culture. Number eight on our list was the presence of a ‘must try’ regional speciality. Having been reminded of that post, we’ve been thinking about which UK regions have something that fits the bill.

Now, we’re not talk­ing about which beers are best or most excit­ing but those which in some way reflect local his­to­ry and tra­di­tion, in the same way a Maß of Helles tells you you’re in Munich.

Here’s a par­tial list, very much off the top of our heads:

  • Bur­ton-on-Trent, Stafford­shire: pale ale – Bass, Wor­thing­ton White Shield or Marston’s Pedi­gree.
  • Corn­wall: strong (c.5%), brown, sweet­ish ale, e.g. Spin­go Mid­dle, St Austell HSD.
  • Edin­burgh: 80/-. (It’s not unique to Edin­burgh but it’s what we’d seek out if we were there for one day on a fortnight’s tour of the UK and were nev­er com­ing back.)
  • Glas­gow: Tennent’s Lager – brewed here since 1885, in a coun­try which went over to lager decades before Eng­land seri­ous­ly got the taste.
  • Kent: bit­ter with Ken­tish hops, e.g. Shep­herd Neame.
  • Lon­don: porter. It died out, yes, but this is where it was born, and there are some fair­ly authen­tic local exam­ples now avail­able, e.g. Fuller’s.
  • Man­ches­ter: Man­ches­ter pale ale – his­tor­i­cal­ly Boddington’s, which was notably light in colour and high in bit­ter­ness; now Lees’ MPA or Mar­ble Man­ches­ter Bit­ter.
  • Sal­is­bury, Wilt­shire: gold­en ale, specif­i­cal­ly Hop Back Sum­mer Light­ning at the Wyn­d­ham.
  • West Mid­lands: Batham’s or Holden’s Bit­ter. We asked Tania, a not­ed fan, to sum­marise what makes these beers dif­fer­ent: ‘It’s the sub­tle malty sweet­ness that kicks in at the end of each sip, once the restrained hop bit­ter­ness has refreshed your mouth, that makes Black Coun­try bit­ters so easy to drink.’
  • York­shire: bit­ter. A very broad region and a very vague local spe­cial­i­ty that Leigh Lin­ley tried to pin down here.

It feels as if some­where ought to own mild, but where? From frag­ment­ed obser­va­tions, we’ve got a vague idea there’s a ‘mild line’ that runs through the indus­tri­al north from, say, Dud­ley to Man­ches­ter, where you can reck­on on most pubs hav­ing one on draught, even if it’s only kegged, but we’ve yet to test this thor­ough­ly on the ground.

Could Sheffield stake a claim to ‘pale’n’hoppy’ – dis­tinct from gold­en ale – with Kel­ham Island Pale Rid­er in mind? Or should that go to Har­ro­gate as the birth­place of Rooster’s Yan­kee? At any rate, we’ve got a vague idea its home is some­where in The North.

And in Som­er­set, the must-drink local style is prob­a­bly… cider.

There’s cer­tain­ly more to British beer that ‘warm, flat, brown bit­ter’ (let’s face it, that’s what most of the world thinks) and, with c.1,400 brew­eries about, reviv­ing lost local spe­cial­i­ties might be one way to carve a niche, and lure beer geeks to your part of the coun­try.

Devon White Ale, if it still exist­ed, would make for a great local spe­cial­i­ty, though per­haps brewed with­out the raw eggs. (And Kent has a claim here, too.) Dorch­ester ale, which prob­a­bly con­tained gin­ger, is also extinct but it would be nice if it came back, along with Taunton and Der­by ales, what­ev­er they were.

27 thoughts on “In REGION You Must Try BEER

  1. This is good, agree with all your sug­ges­tions for the regions. Might I sub­mit you are miss­ing the entire of NE Eng­land, how­ev­er. I always think in a mod­ern con­text the dis­tinc­tive­ly north east­ern style of beer is a mid-brown and malty (not unlike a lot of Scot­tish beer) and Workie Tick­et fits the bill. A nod to the prop­er brown ales of the past (New­cas­tle Brown and Dou­ble Max­im) but cer­tain­ly with­in the bit­ter cat­e­go­ry nev­er­the­less.

    1. Please, replace Shep with ANY oth­er Ken­tish brew­ery! No one should seek that indus­tri­al muck out when look­ing for tra­di­tion­al Ken­tish hop­py.

      Gadd’s No 7 or No 5 would be a good exam­ple IMO.

      Oth­er­wise, inter­est­ing, includ­ing Stonch’s bit about the NE.

      Was Boddington’s the only tra­di­tion­al (very) pale Manch­eser bit­ter, oth­ers being dark­er?

      1. Nick – com­ments on the Boddington’s post we link to above go into that in some depth. If not the only one, it was cer­tain­ly the most promi­nent.

      2. Shep’s Mas­ter Brew, and I would guess Bish­ops Fin­ger, are very much tra­di­tion­al Ken­tish. Not sure about the rest though.

    2. Was just think­ing about NE beers, agree with Workie Tick­et. I vague­ly remem­ber Scotch Ale being a New­cas­tle only thing, and I think I remem­ber see­ing one from Tynebank(?) a few years back.

    3. The NE beers, brown and malty, are damn close to being the same thing as the Edin­burgh 80/- style. This is unlike­ly to be a coin­ci­dence. It is more about the avail­abil­i­ty and price of malts and hops in the C19.

    4. I think the north east could stake a claim to the dark bit­ter with slight roast and fruit. Think­ing of Vaux now Max­im Sam­son, Cameron’s Stron­garm, Tet­ley Impe­r­i­al and John Smith’s Mag­net.

    5. In a lot of the North-East, beers like Lorimer’s Best Scotch – ordi­nary bit­ter strength, but dark­ish and light­ly hopped – used to pret­ty much sta­ple beers.

  2. Lon­don Murky…

    As I’ve said before many times, mild is huge­ly pop­u­lar in Cam­bridge. No idea why, but it is served in prob­a­bly 50% of the pubs.

    1. I think that’ll just be because Cam­bridge is such a CAMRA city, as in a city where they hold a lot of sway in pubs. So its not real­ly a reflec­tion of the city’s affin­i­ty to mild as CAMRA’s!

      1. Its not a huge CAMRA city per se, no more or less than any­where else I have been, its just a very, very mid­dle class city, and real ale is a very, very mid­dle class drink.

        1. I beg to dif­fer. Mas­sive beer fest and dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of CAMRA wet dream pubs. I bet mem­ber­ship fig­ures and branch activ­i­ty would bear me out on this.

          I know Cam­bridge quite well, in fact odd­ly I’ve been there more than Oxford in the last ten years

          1. Oh well if you’ve vis­it­ed a few times, you must know bet­ter than me. I only live here, what would I know.

  3. Bit sad that Liv­er­pool can only muster a mixed drink spe­cial­i­ty. A “brown bit­ter” is a pint glass filled 3/5 with an easy drink­ing bit­ter like Cains or Thwait­es served with a bot­tle of Mann’s brown ale on the side. Very pleas­ant.

    1. I thought so too, but when I actu­al­ly went there I saw much more Bit­ter being drunk. Except at Sarah Hugh­es, of course. I do think you’re right about the area rough­ly from there to Man­ches­ter being places where you are like­ly to be able to find some mild fair­ly eas­i­ly.

  4. Bang on with the West Mid­lands sug­ges­tions; Batham’s and Holden’s are both clas­sics exam­ples.

    Mild has a very deep-root­ed con­nec­tion with work­ers in the region, par­tic­u­lar­ly the ver­sions from Banks’s (Wolver­hamp­ton) or Ansells (Aston).

  5. If the cri­te­ria is that your vis­it­ing for one or two days and you want a tra­di­tion­al local pint then in CARDIFF it has to be Brains SA. The orig­i­nal. Not the SA Gold (and nev­er ever the Rev James).

    1. That’s cer­tain­ly the icon­ic local brand but I’m not sure it’s all that region­al­ly dis­tinc­tive.

      1. Not sure it’s still brewed, but you could say some­thing like All­bright was the quin­tes­sen­tial Welsh beer – weak, light­ly hopped, designed to be drunk in large quan­ti­ties to quench work­ing men’s thirsts, and often con­sumed with a lemon­ade top. Once adver­tised as “The Most Pop­u­lar Pint in Wales”.

        Still loads of Wor­thing­ton BB sold in South-West Wales.

    2. That’s cer­tain­ly the icon­ic local brand but I’m not sure it’s all that region­al­ly dis­tinc­tive.” – that’s prob­a­bly the case too for Sum­mer Light­ning. A more rep­re­sen­ta­tive exam­ple of the cen­tral south­ern Eng­land style (in my expe­ri­ence) would be Wad­worths 6X, Ring­wood Old Thumper, or Gibbs Mew Bish­ops Tip­ple. Sum­mer Light­ning stands proud pre­cise­ly because it’s at odds with the exam­ples quot­ed above.

      While the pres­ence of a “must try” beer in a local­i­ty is def­i­nite­ly a sign of a healthy beer cul­ture, I would humbly sug­gest that it doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly imply, or have to be, a region­al spe­cial­i­ty. As you say, porter died out in Lon­don, and while there are inter­est­ing local­ly brewed exam­ples now, that break in the time­line caus­es a bit of a prob­lem when it comes to the idea of a region­al spe­cial­i­ty.

      1. It’s prob­a­bly worth point­ing out that there are regions and regions – Corn­wall, for exam­ple, has a pop­u­la­tion of about 540,000: a third the size of Munich or a sev­en­ti­eth of Cal­i­for­nia.

        Par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en that the UK is gen­er­al­ly very well con­nect­ed and has a fair­ly mobile pop­u­la­tion, it prob­a­bly makes sense to talk about cask ale as a region­al spe­cial­i­ty of the UK as a whole rather than pon­der­ing whether some rather spe­cif­ic vari­ety of cask bit­ter can be con­sid­ered char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly East Anglian or what­ev­er.

      2. We have less must-drink region­al styles and more must-drink region­al brew­ers. If you go to Suf­folk drink Adnams etc.

  6. Grow­ing up in the West High­lands, I seem to remem­ber McEwan’s being the most com­mon beer in the pub­lic bars as opposed to Tennent’s.

  7. You are lucky to be able to even attempt this. In North Amer­i­ca craft has vir­tu­al­ly destroyed for­mer actu­al region­al­iza­tion and, as when it does con­front it in the form of north­east­ern region­al micros, attacks it as just poor­ly made beer full of yikky bal­anc­ing malts, idi­ot­i­cal­ly using brand names old­er than 36 months.

  8. In my first ever blog post about beer – which dates from 2006 and was actu­al­ly most­ly about the sm*k*ng b*n – I wrote:

    In south Lon­don, where I learned to drink, the bit­ter is gen­er­al­ly tawny and malty. In south Wales and East Anglia, the next two areas where I tried the beer, the bit­ter is usu­al­ly both malty and tawny. The types of bit­ter native to Scot­land, Corn­wall and York­shire, in my expe­ri­ence, have sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics. There are vari­a­tions – Cam­bridge beer is flat and tan­nic; a lot of Scot­tish beer tastes as if a bag of tof­fees has been dis­solved in it (which in a sense it has); and South Walian beer is the best in the world bar none. But they’re vari­a­tions with­in a shared style: in most parts of the coun­try, if you order the local bit­ter you can safe­ly expect some­thing T and M.

    I don’t know why I left Sus­sex off the list, but it fits (tawny and malty, but tan­nic and dry). Harvey’s bit­ter is a def­i­nite for any list of region­al spe­cial­i­ties.

    I do think Sus­sex brown bit­ter, Suf­folk brown bit­ter, East Anglian brown bit­ter, south Walian brown bit­ter, north Walian brown bit­ter, East York­shire brown bit­ter and Scot­tish brown bit­ter are dis­tin­guish­able one from anoth­er. Per­haps not quite as instant­ly dis­tin­guish­able as Batham’s from Sum­mer Wine, though.

    As for Sheffield and Man­ches­ter, I think of it as one thing from the beer per­spec­tive – a trans-Pen­nine pale’n’oppy belt, his­tor­i­cal­ly at least.

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