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.