“I was drinking a bottle of Proper Job yesterday and thinking about how I only started buying it after reading your blog. Later, I drank some Beavertown Gamma Ray and Magic Rock Cannonball and wondered if, by drinking fancy craft beers usually modelled on American style, I was missing something. Can you recommend any perennial British beers, the kind of thing you perhaps take for granted but that might have been overlooked by people who’ve only come to love beer since craft really took off?”* – Brendan, Leeds
That’s an interesting question and, let’s face it, exactly the kind of thing we semi-professional beer bores dream of being asked.
To prevent ourselves going on for 5,000 words we’re going to set a limit of five beers, and stick to those available in bottles, although we’ll mention where there’s a cask version and if it’s better. We’re also going to avoid the temptation to list historically significant beers that we don’t actually like all that much – those listed below are beers we buy regularly and actually enjoy drinking.
1. Harvey’s Imperial Extra Stout is a big, intimidatingly flavoursome, heavy metal tour of a beer that makes a lot of trendier interpretations look tame. It was first brewed in the 1990s to a historically inspired recipe. We didn’t used to like it – it was too intense for us, and some people reckon it smells too funky– but now, it’s kind of a benchmark: if your experimental £22 a bottle limited edition imperial stout doesn’t taste madder and/or better than this, why are you wasting our time? It’s available from Harvey’s own web store.
2. Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter (5%) almost won in our big porter taste-off in 2014 – ‘luscious… tongue-coating, silky, fortified wine… cocoa and plummy, dark berries’ – and was definitely our favourite British take on the style. Beer Ritz have it at £3.18 per 550ml bottle.
3. Marble Manchester Bitter (4.2%) was first brewed in around 2001 as an attempt to replicate the Boddington’s Bitter of 20 years before which was legendarily pale, dry and bitter. It’s been up and down in recent years but a bottle we had last week was absolutely perfect, and very cask-like. It’s not totally old school – there’s some citrusy floweriness that probably isn’t 1970s-authentic – but it’s definitely different to most other beers on the market. It is also available in cask form and probably better that way. You can get it at Beer Ritz, Beer Gonzo, Beers of Europe and probably in quite a few other places too, for around £3 per 500ml bottle.
4. Fuller’s ESB (5.9% bottle, 5.5% cask) was a cult beer during the real ale revolution of the 1970s and now, half a century on, is still great. Well, sometimes. Get a good fresh bottle, or a really great pint in a pub, and it’ll give you the full Golden Shred marmalade treatment around your chops. Unfortunately, in shelf worn state, it tastes more-or-less like any old bitter, only boozier. We’ve found reliably whizz-bang pints at the Jugged Hare on Vauxhall Bridge Road in London; and bottles direct from Fuller’s, as in this mixed case, also ought to be in good nick.
5. If you like Proper Job then there are quite a few other British breweries that were doing that kind of hoppy before Thornbridge and BrewDog. Meantime IPA at 7.5% pre-dates Jaipur, for example, although we don’t know that we can wholeheartedly recommend it these days. Rooster’s Yankee, now in trendy cans, was around even before that, as long ago as the early 1990s and still tastes pretty good, especially as a cask ale. Our recommendation, though, is Oakham JHB (3.8%) which you might have overlooked because it sounds like a brown bitter, and also fades next to the sheer glamour of the same brewery’s Citra or Green Devil. But it’s really good, and definitely pale’n’hoppy. It’s better cask-conditioned but there’s nothing wrong with the bottles at all. Quite a few supermarkets stock it, we gather. (But not down here in Cornwall.)
So, that’s us, but if you’ve got any suggestions for Brendan, leave ’em in the comments below.
* Edited for length.