Our beer expert, Andrew Nowell, casts his taste buds over some patriotic offerings...
It was St George’s Day a few days ago so what better time could there be to rustle up a bit of patriotism and celebrate the English tradition of real ale?
Over the past few decades, as knowledge of beer styles around the globe has grown dramatically and communication and transportation costs have plummeted, ale has become a much more cosmopolitan affair.
This is largely a very positive thing. Who wouldn’t enjoy being able to sip a refreshing, thirst-quenching pilsner on a hot summer’s day? And the influx of New World hops in particular has fuelled the craft beer boom and brought both adventurous new creations to the shelves and a whole new audience to the drinking scene.
However, it can sometimes be good to remind ourselves of our home-grown traditions in England as well. Real ale, kept in casks and served without being chilled through a handpull, is a great British invention and something we can rightly be proud of discovering and taking to the rest of the world.
In previous eras when travel was much more expensive, time-consuming and difficult regional varieties of brewing, as with much else, would surely have been considerably more pronounced.
Even with boundaries of this kind coming down, there are plenty of examples of beers which are 100 per cent made in England.
Cumbria provides a good place to start toasting England’s heritage, with a pint of Jennings’ lovely Bitter. Brewed to a recipe from the early Victorian era, this gives an insight into drinking almost 200 years ago and what a difference it makes.
Sipping this you realise many bitters are really not traditional English affairs at all. There’s almost no hop, there’s some malty backbone but then there is this complex web of interweaving and satisfying bitter flavours.
Another tradition which started in Britain more recently is the golden ale, whose summery, citrussy, easy-going flavours have been a hit everywhere in the hotter months.
It all started in the south west with Hop Back Brewery, whose original example of the style Summer Lightning is still available and popular.
Of course some breweries have taken to creating one-off beers for St George’s Day, Wadsworth being among them.
The 2018 offering is once again St George and the Dragon, a popular 4.5 per cent creation which uses carefully selected British hops and malts to balance appealing fruity flavours with biscuit tastes.
For those fancying something a bit stronger, the original English tradition of the IPA can be celebrated with one of the stronger examples currently on the scene. Something like Thornbridge’s successful Jaipur gets drinkers closer to the stuff the Empire originally sent across the sea to keep employees in India going. Many IPAs which can be found on bars with a strength of three or four per cent are actually session or ordinary bitters, but no less traditionally English for that.
While we’re on the subject of going back in time, dropping into the Midlands allows a chance to raise a glass to another 19th century tradition, the strong mild.
That is being kept alive by the glorious Ruby Mild from Sarah Hughes, a smooth-as-velvet concoction that warms the stomach like a port.
Anyone wanting to sip a porter for St George’s Day will have to be careful as the style is often not well separated from the more typically Irish style of stout these days.
However, there has been a modest revival of interest in the time-honoured original London porter with dark beers from the likes of Dark Star and even mainstream producer Fullers.
There are countless other options too, ranging from Newcastle’s brown ale tradition to stingo, so cheers to anyone raising a glass for St George!