Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Sugarwater

The article I linked to last week about hoppy mid-Atlantic pale ales brought to mind an indigenous beer style similar in colour but rather more subtle in flavour – pale, sweetish West Midlands bitters and light milds. In the current edition of the CAMRA newspaper What’s Brewing, Roger Protz reports how the historic Three Tuns home brew pub at Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire has been brought back to life. The core of their beer range is XXX bitter, which he describes as “a pale, all-malt beer, hopped with Fuggles from Worcestershire, soft and malty, with a fruity nose and hop bitterness coming through in the mouth and finish.” Lovely.

The brews produced by the other two historic home-brew pubs in the broader West Midlands area – the All Nations at Madeley in Shropshire and the Swan (Ma Pardoe’s) at Netherton near Dudley, although weaker, were broadly similar – pale, easy-drinking, soft-flavoured and subtle. And finest of the lot is Batham’s Best Bitter, also from the Black Country not too far from Netherton. As well as their own small tied estate, this is sold in the Great Western in Wolverhampton, a Holden’s tied house, and I always enjoy a pint when I go in there. Famously dismissed as “sugarwater” by CAMRA stalwart Ivor Clissold many years ago, to my mind this is one of Britain’s great beers. Holden’s own bitter, although a little darker and more robust, is fairly similar too.

And it could be argued that the unlamented M&B Brew XI, being a palish, sweetish bitter, also fell into broadly the same style, although a much inferior product that never in my experience rose above tolerable. It always seemed to have a kind of heaviness and thickness to it quite unlike the delicacy of beers such as Batham’s. In the late 70s, Brew XI was ubiquitous across large swathes of the Midlands – was there ever a cask beer that was so widely available but so little regarded? According to the 2010 Good Beer Guide it is now brewed under contract by Everards, but I haven’t seen it in years and even if I did it would be one of the last beers on the bar I would choose.

3 comments:

  1. Can I recommend Tiki from Milton Brewery (Cambs) as a relatively new brew fulfilling the description quite well? New Zealand hops, in that instance. Very nice.

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  2. I'm sure it is very nice, but the problem with recommending beers from small micro-breweries in other parts of the country is that it's highly unlikely I'll ever get to sample them, and even if I did it would probably be purely by chance.

    I know some may dismiss this as an old-fashioned view, but life was simpler when each brewery had its own tied estate, however small and geographically concentrated, where you knew you would be able to find their beers. Fortunately Bathams and Holdens still do - pity about Simpkiss, though.

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  3. I`m fortunate to live only 14 miles from bishops castle and the three tuns XXX rates as one of my top ten beers of all time. It`s probably regional taste but I believe it knocks spots off highly hopped ales.

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