Sunday, 8 June 2014

You won’t even get bitter

Boak & Bailey’s recent blogpost on the decline and fall of Boddington’s Bitter reminded me of its erstwhile advertising slogan “If you don’t get Boddies’, you’ll just get bitter”. Well, you won’t get Boddies’ any more, at least in cask form, but in a growing number of pubs you won’t get bitter either.

OK, if you go into a tied pub of one of the independent family brewers, or Greene King or Marston’s, you will probably still find a beer on the bar in the 3.6% - 4.0% strength range describing itself as “Bitter”. But go in the vast majority of pub company outlets, or any “free house” that isn’t a specialist beer pub, and you’re likely to be confronted by three or four of the widely-distributed premium ale brands such as Doom Bar, Cumberland Ale, Bombardier, Wainwright and London Pride, which are in a slightly higher strength – and price – band. “Ordinary bitter” is conspicuous by its absence.

Indeed, very often the staple ale in these pubs is a smoothflow offering such as Worthington, John Smith’s or the dreaded nitro Boddington’s. Cask beer is reserved for the discerning “premium” customer with his deep pockets. You may even get a funny look if you walk in off the street and ask for it.

Yet, as I said here, to pack so much flavour and variety into beers of such modest strength is arguably one of the greatest achievements of British brewing. And, at a time when high pub prices are a constant source of complaint and we are being urged to curb our alcohol consumption, making a wider variety of ordinary bitters available would help both our wallets and our livers - not to mention our driving licences.


  1. If you go back a few years many beers once described as bitter are now "premium ale". I blame beardies.

  2. Stanley Blenkinsop9 June 2014 at 16:15

    Aye, there's a lot to be said for BBBs.
    Good quality session ales that'll keep you going for half a dozen pints without sending you home to kick the missus around the privet hedge.
    Served cool with a decent head and displaying great complexity and character - they're anything but boring.

  3. Martin, Cambridge9 June 2014 at 20:34

    Brakspear was the beer that seemed to me to get most taste out of low ABV (3.4%), and was making some inroads into the free trade before it petered out in the 2000's.

    Are you sure the plug has been pulled on Boddies cask ? (Not that I've seen it for years)

  4. I think Boddies' cask died the death before the closure of Hydes Brewery. By the end they were only brewing a tiny quantity which mostly went to the Fylde coast rather than Manchester.

    When it was brewed in Henley I wouldn't hesistate to name Brakspear's Bitter amongst my favourite beers - amazing amount of flavour and complexity for such a moderate strength. They also used to have some wonderful unspoilt pubs in the Chilterns.

  5. if we all took a stand against this beer diversification into obscure none brands and simply insisted there were 2 types of beer. "bitter" and "lout" the market would take notice.

    Simply ask for "bitter", if asked "which one?" say "best" Elaborate no further. Shrug your shoulders and simply say "whatever is the best bitter, how the fuck am I expected to know about all this piss water?"

    Or ask for "lout", if asked "which one?" say "cheapest" If it's all the same price, shrug your shoulders and say "strongest among the cheapest then"

    Refuse to elaborate or get drawn into this consumer choice, branding rip off. Demand the world of yesterday and it will arrive.

  6. I see plenty of Adnams bitter around. 3.7%, copper coloured, but dry hopped with Fuggles and anything but boring. Its the evolution of bbb. Its also hoppy enough that it stands up well to being chilled. A bottle straight out of the pub fridge is still packed with flavour.

  7. Bring back Mel for the adverts for this bitter.

  8. Remember the '90s advert for Worthington with Harry Enfield mentioning that the adult children (he played the mother) had to drink it for a 'shiny coat'? Still brings a smile.



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