Q&A: Which Classics Might I Have Missed?

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.

Four strong Harvey's bottled beers.

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.

Samuel Smith Taddy Porter.

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.

Marble Manchester Bitter.

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.

Fuller's ESB.
SOURCE: Fuller’s web­site.

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.

Oakham JHB pump clip.
SOURCE: Oakham web­site.

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.

21 thoughts on “Q&A: Which Classics Might I Have Missed?”

    1. In the right pub, Adnams Broad­side. The bot­tled ver­sion is not a patch mind you.”
      That’s because it is not the same beer. I asked the brew­er, then why call the bot­tle Broad­side?
      He said: The Mar­ket­ing boys like the name. And with that raised his eyes to the ceil­ing!
      Like­wise Adnams Bit­ter in bot­tles isn’t Adnams Bit­ter. I think it is Extra which is rare to find in casks.

  1. Har­vey’s Bit­ter.
    Old Hooky by Hook Nor­ton.
    Bass.
    Adnam’s Broad­side.
    Sam Smith’s Alpine Lager (just because you need it as a yard­stick).

  2. Any­one who’s real­ly curi­ous about old-school Eng­lish beer should go to Sus­sex imme­di­ate­ly and drink a lot of Har­vey’s Best. (They don’t bot­tle it as such; the Blue Label is sup­pos­ed­ly based on Best, but I can’t vouch for it.) Fail­ing that, I’d hon­est­ly rec­om­mend work­ing your way through some of the bet­ter super­mar­ket beers: But­combe Bit­ter, Adnam’s Best, Wood­forde’s Wher­ry, Fuller’s Lon­don Pride, Con­is­ton Blue­bird, Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Bolt­mak­er and Land­lord. Drink them in ascend­ing strength order – and don’t drink any oth­er beers for as long as it takes to work your way through them; give your palate a chance to adjust – and by the end of it you should have an idea what the fuss is about.

    These days strength goes with IPAs and impe­r­i­al stouts, but back in the 1970s & 80s ‘strong’ tend­ed to mean ‘heav­ier and sweet­er’. ESB is a good rec­om­men­da­tion, and I’d also rec­om­mend one of the dark­er beers from Con­wy – Welsh Pride or Ram­part. Not a mil­lion miles from ESB, but with a larg­er truck­load of malt. Adnam’s Broad­side is worth a try, too.

    At the top end of the old-school strength scale you’d find pale, sweet bar­ley wines and dark, sweet old ales. Robin­son’s Old Tom and Lees’ Man­ches­ter Star are fine exam­ples of the lat­ter, both avail­able in super­mar­kets. (Man­ches­ter Star is a new beer, so I should real­ly have rec­om­mend­ed the much longer-estab­lished Moon­rak­er – but the brew­ery have dropped the strength on Moon­rak­er, and I think Man­ches­ter Star is a bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion of how it used to be.) Where you’d find a real­ly good old-school bar­ley wine in bot­tle I’m not sure; let me know when you find out!

    1. Wood­forde’s Wher­ry is pret­ty mediocre at the moment, even in a pub that serves it well. Not had it out of a bot­tle in ages though.

  3. If you’re restrict­ing it to bot­tles, a prob­lem is that brew­ery-con­di­tioned bot­tled beers, while they can be very good, are nev­er a patch on a well-kept pint of the cask equiv­a­lent. Tay­lors Land­lord is a prime exam­ple.

    But, off the top of my head,

    Robin­sons Old Tom
    Wor­thing­ton White Shield
    Samuel Smith’s Organ­ic Pale Ale (or Nut Brown Ale)
    Adnams South­wold Bit­ter
    Cale­don­ian Edin­burgh Cas­tle

    I would have includ­ed Hop Back Sum­mer Light­ning, but recent sight­ings have not been bot­tle-con­di­tioned, which is a bit dis­ap­point­ing.

  4. Had a pint of cask Bass the oth­er day it is still great.
    Ever­ards Tiger is not up to scratch now but their Orig­i­nal is still worth drink­ing, although not quite as good the pre­vi­ous incar­na­tion, Old Orig­i­nal.

    1. Keiran, a lit­tle bird told me youre in the process of open­ing a micro brew­ery your­self? Is this the kind of brew you’ll be pro­duc­ing?
      You are right about Tiger, but their 6 nations pro­mo beer was accept­able, like tiger lite.

    2. Agreed that cask Bass is still great – see here.

      How­ev­er, the bot­tled and canned ver­sions are not brewed in Bur­ton but, I believe, by AB InBev at Sam­les­bury, and can’t be said to have more than a faint echo of the cask.

  5. Wor­thing­ton’s White Shield
    Old Chim­neys Good King Hen­ry and Old Chim­neys Good King Hen­ry Spe­cial Reserve

  6. A bot­tled beer that’s easy to find and real­ly divides drinkers is Theak­ston’s Old Pecu­liar. It’s in my local Tescos and hun­dreds of off-licences and cor­ner shops have it. It reminds me a bit of dan­de­lion and bur­dock and might have cloves in it. Gold­en & hop­py it cer­tain­ly ain’t. It’s def­i­nite­ly a “have to be in the right mood for it” beer.

  7. Thanks for the rec­om­men­da­tions every­one, I’ll have my work cut out for me, try­ing to track these down and hav­ing a try of them, but I real­ly appre­ci­ate the help.

    I’ll con­fess to turn­ing my nose up at Adnams, large­ly based on some poor super­mar­ket bot­tle pur­chas­es that weren’t real­ly up to scratch so even if I’d seen it in a pub I would have ordered some­thing else. Next time I see some Broad­side I’ll try it.

    I’d prob­a­bly ignore Bass based on the almost cer­tain­ly unfair assump­tion it was old fash­ioned and stuffy. That per­cep­tion is like­ly based on the unshak­able nos­tal­gia that the name and logo instant­ly inspires in me, of drink­ing warm cans of shandy as a child in the mid to late 1980’s.

    Nice to see one or two I have man­aged to try like Cale­don­ian Edin­burgh Cas­tle, but in truth ones that I haven’t seen for ages – prob­a­bly more to do with the types of places I’ve end­ed up drink­ing in over the past few years which stock either craft end beers or ultra local brew­eries try­ing to do sol­id but unin­spir­ing cask beers that are just vari­a­tions on a theme.

    I’ve had some very hit and miss expe­ri­ences with the Sam Smiths pubs of Leeds in terms of qual­i­ty but will look at the bot­tles as I sus­pect the qual­i­ty is down to how the stuff is kept than any­thing else.

    I have a dis­tant mem­o­ry of Robin­son’s Old Tom…from a few years ago, I think it was prob­a­bly a bit much for me at the time but I know my tastes have changed since then so I’ll have anoth­er crack at it.

    A good friend of mine men­tioned to me that Theak­ston’s Old Pecu­liar get’s a lot of pos­i­tive men­tions by Amer­i­can based home brew­er online which I found inter­est­ing so that’s one that was already on my list.

    Any­way, thanks again.

    1. Nev­er been entire­ly con­vinced by Old Peculi­er in bot­tles. The sim­i­lar Rig­g­wel­ter from local rivals Black Sheep is IMV much bet­ter.

  8. I would go for:

    White Shield and Ben­gal Lancer

    I would also love to try Sam Smith’s Stin­go. Its a tra­di­tion­al York­shire style only brewed by Sam Smith nowa­days.

    1. I drank a bot­tle of York­shire Stin­go the oth­er day – it’s deli­cious. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

  9. Gale’s (Fillers) HSB is sim­ply won­der­ful. I would rec­om­mend it to any­one.

    Young’s Spe­cial Lon­don Ale is anoth­er.

    I had a pint of Gale’s Spring Sprint­er recent­ly as well. Love­ly stuff.

  10. I think most craft beer afi­ciona­dos who know what they’re talk­ing about recog­nise the qual­i­ty of prod­uct pro­duced by the likes of Adnams and Fullers. Sam Smith’s bot­tled beers are also a match for any new wave brew­ery.

  11. Agree with just about every­one’s com­ments and rec­om­men­da­tions. Har­vey’s Sus­sex Best was the first real ale I drank 40 years ago, in the col­lege bar at Brighton Poly­tech­nic at Falmer, just a few miles from the brew­ery in Lewes. When­ev­er I have a pint these days it takes me right back. A glo­ri­ous pint for a pub ses­sion. Fuller’s Ben­gal Lancer on draught if pos­si­ble but won­der­ful in its bot­tle con­di­tioned form too, and nobody’s men­tioned the same great brew­ery’s 1845 yet, my favourite reg­u­lar­ly avail­able bot­tled beer, though Fuller’s do some amaz­ing lim­it­ed edi­tion bot­tles too, Vin­tage Ale and the Past Mas­ters series.

  12. Bass def­i­nite­ly – if you can find it, and Har­vey’s is prob­a­bly THE best exam­ple of a best bit­ter but for me Bate­mans XXB in top form beast the rest.

  13. Hep­worth’s Prospect Ale and Ridge­way Organ­ic Bit­ter (ROB) are both fan­tas­tic bot­tle-con­di­tioned beers worth search­ing out. I agree with a pre­vi­ous post, in that I would have also have includ­ed Hop Back Sum­mer Light­ning. Unfor­tu­nate­ly it appears that the brew­ery has bowed to pres­sure from super­mar­kets (did­n’t spec­i­fy which ones) and now pro­duces brew­ery con­di­tioned bot­tles. A dis­ap­point­ing deci­sion, it is not the same.

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