Craft beers, or 'real ales' as they are known in the UK, were the norm until the big brewery revolution of the 1970s, and the huge popularity of mass-produced lager in the 1980s. By 1990, real ale had almost died out in Britain, remaining the province of dedicated real ale festivals and a handful of public houses where a couple of 'guest ales' were provided for the older customers. Since then, real ale has made a recovery, and even high street stores have a reasonable choice of traditional, handmade beer. Here's my review of five such ales.
Adnams is a brewery based in the fashionable Suffolk coastal town of Southwold, known for its beach houses and nature reserves. Founded in 1872, Adnams make a range of beers (along with gin and whisky), of which 'Lighthouse', named for one of the prominent local features, is a lighter brew than most of the range. A "light, golden beer," of the sort also called a pale ale, 'Lighthouse' promises a "crisp refreshing taste," with a "long, hoppy finish." I'd agree with the former, perhaps not so much the latter. There's a slight citrus note to the finish, which I found disappeared sooner than hoped, but this just leaves you wanting more. An ideal beer for an English summer afternoon, or for lunchtime 'loosener,' especially if you've a job where there's a stock cupboard you can hide in for a snooze. Failing that, a very good starter beer for a long evening of revelry.
'Pedigree' (Marston's, 4.5%)
Despite having their headquarters in the West Midlands town of Wolverhampton, Marston's is brewed in the Nottinghamshire town of Burton-upon-Trent, famous for its brewing history and its supply of natural spring water, used for the local ales. Marston's claim of the world's largest supplier of cask beer, and its corporate status as an operator of public houses, as well as a brewer, reflects, I feel, in the taste of this, the most famous of their beers. A pale ale, 'Pedigree' has a promising first taste, and a nice body, but I find this evaporates too soon into a watery, lemon-like aftertaste. This leaves an underwhelming impression with many, though it does have its supporters. Rather like Guinness, a popular choice for those in a large pub which does most of its trade selling meals and find themselves stuck for a good choice of beer. Worth a try.
A refreshing golden pale beer, this struck me as having a longer, cleaner note than 'Lighthouse,' with a fresher sensation of citrus and an almost a grapefruit flavor. If 'Lighthouse' is a quick soak in the bath, then 'Golden Jackal,' which won a local award four years running for best golden ale, is a blast under the shower. Of course, this isn't for everyone, and those who demand something weightier, and with a longer aftertaste, will have to look elsewhere. Dry and best gulped perhaps rather than savored. 'Golden Jackal,' comes from Besthorpe, near the town of Attleborough, in Norfolk, around fifty miles west of Southwold.
'Old Peculier' (Theakston's, 5.6% vol.)
One of the most famous real ales in Britain, from one of the oldest family owned breweries in the country. Known simply as 'the legend,' 'Old Peculier,' is a dark, treacly, heavily fruity beer, almost chewy, and a good mouthful. Drink this too fast, and you might take after the name, even though 'peculier' in this sense is actually an outmoded ecclesiastical term. Hailing from North Yorkshire, this is a beer that kept Heathcliff warm while wandering the moors of Wuthering Heights. Ideal with the traditional ploughman's lunch, or after festive meal with some strong English cheese if you don't mind spending the rest of the afternoon asleep. A bomb of a beer, and a must-try if you visit England.
'London Pride' (Fuller's, 4.7%)
One of the oldest brewing sites in England, producing beer for over 500 years, although the company Fuller's as we know it now didn't arrive until 1845. Fuller's makes a substantial array of ales, both seasonal, and permanent, as is the case for 'London Pride,' their most famous and widely available label. Malty, with a slight toffee taste, this is a reliable and wholesome mouthful, though arguably not quite as complex as its reputation suggests. Gives a pleasing 'roasted' aftertaste, and you could easily down more than just the one pint at a sitting. Just the thing with a bag of traditional British fish and chips. although, as is often the case with craft beers, better consumed as draft and not bottled.