Sunday 30 January 2011

Strong bottles

My recent post about bottled Butcombe Bitter raised the long-running issue that many beers are significantly stronger in bottled form than they are as draught real ale. Butcombe is 4.0% ABV on cask and 4.5% in bottle. Jennings Cumberland Ale has a 0.7% difference – 4.0% versus 4.7%, and Young’s Bitter goes one point further with 3.7% against 4.5%. Other “offenders” (if such they are) include Marston’s Pedigree, Fuller’s London Pride and Deuchar’s IPA.

I fully understand why brewers do this – draught beers in the pub are meant for “sessioning”, while premium bottled ales are generally consumed in ones or twos in front of the telly and and the fire. They’re different environments, and drinkers are looking for different things from their beer. There are plenty of PBAs around the 5% mark, but ales of that strength don’t sell well in pubs, whereas few bottled ales come in below 4%. Undoubtedly a 4.7% beer will differ significantly from a 4% one, but is there a slight element of deception involved? And which is truly the “authentic” brew?

Brains SA, one of my favourite bottled beers on the more “malty” side of things, is the same strength in bottle and cask – 4.2%. In the olden days, a beer of that strength was nicknamed “Skull Attack” in Cardiff, but in the PBA stakes it now seems something of a lightweight.


  1. I read some years back that a bottled version of a cask beer had to be considerably stronger or would taste thinner than the original. I don't recall the scientific reason but I think the statement was made by the brewer at Coniston. I'll see if I can find out more.

  2. Robinson's have produced "Unicorn Premium" which at 4.3% ABV is only one degree stronger than the 4.2% cask Unicorn Bitter. It is claimed to have a higher hop rate as hop character can be subdued in bottled beers.

    IMV a very good beer, but sadly no longer available in Stockport Tesco - perhaps selling it at an exorbitant price and never having it on offer didn't help.

  3. Taylor's Landlord - I know they are different beers but the bottled version, to the layman, is much stronger.

  4. Copper dragon have higher abvs in there bottles as-well. Personally I love a pint of pippin, but for me there just that little bit better from the bottle. Heretic as that may sound!

  5. Actually I thought Landlord was the same strength in bottles as on cask - 4.3%. I have always found it for whatever reason particularly disappointing in bottle.

  6. Landlord is bizarrely weaken in the bottle at 4% compared to the cask 4.3.

    The reason that many bottled beers have the strength bumped up is that the higher carbonation in bottled makes beers taste thinner compared to cask.

  7. As to which is the authentic brew, the answer would be neither as there is no such thing as an authentic brew. Recipes are reformulated over time and brewing techniques are updated. Any beer "brewed since 1871", is not the beer is was back then. It is either a nice beer or it isn't.

    The interesting bit about this is that 2 different products from the same company bear the same brand. That is either poor branding or it reflects the power of the product brand over the brewery brand. Not sure which.


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