Sunday, 31 October 2010

Chairman of the board

Directors (in the past known as Directors’ Bitter) allegedly took its name from a special beer set aside for the directors of the Courage brewery at Alton in Hampshire, which was then released to the public. In the late 1970s it became Courage’s contender in the “premium bitter” market, competing with the likes of Ind Coope Burton Ale, Ruddles County and Eldridge Pope Royal Oak.

For a few years in the early 1980s I lived in Surrey, where most of the pubs were tied to either Courage or Allied Breweries, so I became quite familiar with Directors. To be honest, in that section of the market I tended to prefer the drier, hoppier Burton Ale, but recognised Directors as a good beer that, while predominantly malty and fruity, did not allow itself to be overwhelmed by sweetness.

It was then brewed at the Courage brewery in Bristol, but after that closed in 2000 went to the John Smiths plant at Tadcaster, a rather unlikely location for an essentially “Southern” beer. As the international breweries sought to divest themselves of their cask beer interest, the Courage brands, including Directors’ lower-strength stablemate Courage Best, were sold to Wells & Youngs in 2007 and are now brewed at Bedford.

Directors has a strength of 4.8% ABV and comes in a brown bottle with the characteristic Wells & Youngs wide shoulders. The label is dark red, which leads you to expect a reddish beer, which indeed it is, mid-brown with a copper-red tinge. Again the picture makes it look paler than it actually is.

It has a shallow but lasting head, rather thicker and creamier than the other W&Y beers, and noticeable although not overpowering carbonation. The initial aroma is fruity, and its basic character is malty and fruity, but with a hoppy note too and a surprisingly dry aftertaste. It’s certainly not a sweet, syrupy beer and, while it drinks its strength, you can imagine having more than one.

While it won’t appeal to lovers of pale, heavily hopped beers, it’s a good example of the traditional English robust, malty strong bitter. Although I haven’t tried the current cask version, Wells & Youngs have succeeded in recreating in bottle something that retains much of the character of the beer I remember from the 80s. It’s also a distinctive beer that you might well be able to identify in a blind tasting.


  1. My recollections of Directors are very similar to your own, Curmudgeon. I can't remember the last time I tried it on draught (must be getting on for 10 years ago!), but the next time I see it on special offer in Lidl's, I'll be tempted to buy a bottle.

  2. I've never had any formal tuition in beer tasting, but being sent these beers by Wells & Youngs has made me a bit more analytical about the process, and trying to dissect the various elements of the beer. Directors is actually one that I like more now than I did before.

  3. I too used to drink Directors on cask in the late 80s. I've noticed it in my local supermarket, an having read yourpost, am now curious to try it gain.

  4. A very nice pint of this in Liverpool back in...March maybe?! Much nicer than the Pedigree on offer that day.

  5. I remember directors from Reading uni in the 80's.
    I preferred the wodsworths 3x though.
    Yea give it another go .
    The passage of time.

  6. Courage Directors was always one of the best (pardon the pun) mass produced bitters. Not as good as Fullers ESB but still very drinkable.

    I don't know if any of you guys are/were city slickers but there is a chain of bars/restaurants in London called Davy's. They serve Davy's Old Wallop in a pewter tankard. It is Courage Directors Director and the two really go together.

  7. I always preferred Burton too, but if I found myself in a Courage pub I would go for the Directors anyday over Courage Best.

  8. Amazing website! Keep up the good posts.

  9. My local the Guest House in Southport puts it on every so often, and I find it a perfectly acceptable beer.

  10. One of my favourites, actually. Excellent, rounded body and great balance, I think.

  11. I had a great pint of Directors in the Griffin in caversham yesterday ,glad to find Courage beer is still available in its old hometown of Reading,Tim

  12. In about 1967,as a 6th former at my Tooting grammar school we went on a trip to the Anchor brewery in Bermondsey. A coach load of lads launched into the tasting room with Courage Directors & Imperial Russian Stout ad lib. Thats what I call an education.
    I also drank deeply of Directors at the Sun & Doves in Coldharbour Lane Camberwell, mostly on Friday nights after a hard week at Kings College Hospital.


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