A new look at some English styles
In the increasingly specialized craft beer marketplace, fresh and edgy tends to trump tradition. The headlines are dominated by new brewers, unusual methods, and unique ingredients (I saw a beer made using hemp seeds last week!). So it shouldn't be a surprise that we don't hear much from England's beer scene these days.
This is a shame. Like many from Maine, I gained an appreciation for these beers from local brewers, such as Shipyard, Geary's, and Gritty McDuff's, that make English-style ales. But there's much worth emulating. English pubs are famed for selling beer at proper serving temperature — just below room temperature, closest to that of a cellar. England is also the birthplace of my two favorite beer styles, IPA and Porter, and the Campaign for Real Ale. CAMRA seeks to protect traditional cask-conditioned ales and, with more than 100,000 members, has been called the most successful consumer group in Europe. So yeah, the Brits take their beer pretty seriously.
The best place to start when talking about English beers is with a style you can drink by the frothy mug full: English Pale Ales. Indeed, some of these (BASS PALE ALE, BODDINGTONS PUB ALE) have been very successful in the US. I prefer SAMUEL SMITH'S OLD BREWERY PALE ALE for its deft incorporation of the two most esteemed English hops: Fuggle and Golding. However, I still have to give the nod to their supremely balanced ORGANICALLY PRODUCED ALE, one of the finest organic beers on planet Earth.
But the list of noteworthy English Pales rolls on. MARSTON'S WYCHWOOD FIDDLER'S ELBOW features citric hops and crisp wheat (with perhaps an off-note mixed in at the end), while GREENE KING'S OLD SPECKLED HEN is an unusual Pale Ale for its dark pour and enough toasted malts to give it a hefty medium body. And while I was tempted to dismiss BLACK SHEEP'S MONTY PYTHON'S HOLY GRAIL ALE as another gimmicky beer, it actually has a nice herbal bitterness that is balanced by its bready malt profile.
England knows how to do bitterness too. I've always loved the sessionability of English Bitters and find them to be one of the most under-brewed styles. CONISTON'S BLUEBIRD BITTER is the best known example, with a biscuity malt backbone and fruity citrus overtones. MEANTIME'S INDIA PALE ALE ups the ante with lots of fresh hops on the nose, a silky smooth mouthfeel, and a hint of the 7.5% ABV. That said, there is no mistaking it for an American IPA: bitterness is relegated to the background and the hops mainly just play on your tongue.
English Porters started as a blend of several styles, taking their name from London's street and river porters with whom the style was so popular. SAMUEL SMITH'S THE FAMOUS TADDY PORTER is a good example for its big flavor of roasted malts and dry chocolate. FULLER'S LONDON PORTER also has an unmistakable chocolate aroma and delightfully creamy texture. But my favorite might be MEANTIME'S LONDON PORTER, with a multifaceted flavor ranging from bitter to smoky.
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