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.