Wensleydale Brewery Bitters: A masterclass in British balance

Wensleydale Brewery have got a foot firmly in the ‘traditional’ camp when it comes to the styles of beers they produce. Unashamedly British and with a variety of 'uncool' bitters in their lineup, they aren't mimicking the Yanks or messing about with Black IPA's, they're just making tasty, quality beers with clever hopping and the lightness of touch which made British brewing famous in the first place. You won’t find a Triple Dry Hopped Cherry Matured Imperial Stout in their roster of wares, but you will find some truly well made, perfectly balanced British Bitters, which to my mind is a much more impressive achievement.

Of course, Wensleydale don't just make Bitters, but these three were really good and I think the British Bitter needs a bit of standing up for, which is what I'm trying to do here. I tried the following three beers over a number of evenings last week, and here’s what I thought:

Wensleydale Falconer Session Bitter 3.9%

This pours an orange/copper/red. Light carbonation and a small white head. The aroma is sweet and caramelly with just a hint of straw. The taste initially delivers that caramel sweetness, and then you get a sort of toffee wafer maltyness alongside a hint of fruity golden sultana and a little bitter lemon. The light to medium mouthfeel and fresh flavours make this hugely drinkable, as a Session Bitter should of course be.

The finish is dry yet bittersweet with lingering flavours of citrus and light caramel. It's moreish, easy drinking and refreshing, yet that sweetness gives it a really nourishing quality, I could imagine this being a great beer to down after a hard days work. Which is exactly what it was brewed for.

Foresters Bitter 3.7%

Light golden lager like colour with a nice tight White head. The aroma is a little light grapefruit when you first pour then this subsides to be very faint and there's a grain and lemon aroma that comes in. The taste is light and quenching but there’s also a bitter citrus hop flavour that sits on top of grainy, clean malt, dry lemon pith and a light sweetness.

It finishes quite dry but overall this is a really balanced beer which perfectly demonstrates the lightness of touch which Wensleydale display in their beers. It's easy drinking yet flavoursome and probably my favourite of the two sub 4% bitters I tried.

Coverdale Gamekeeper Best Bitter 4.3%

The darkest of the beers so far – it’s a really nice orange and red tinged golden brown with the same white head, but a more solid consistency which helps it stick around.

There’s a very sweet aroma of caramel and sweet digestive biscuit malt. The flavour is stunning, that caramel sweetness is there to begin with but then gets knocked out of the way by dry, wafer like malt, and a slightly spicy bitter hop character.

It’s got that classic Best Bitter roundedness of flavour with a lovely interplay between sweet, malty, fruity, hoppy and dry - It's a balancing act, which they've pulled off perfectly.

The aftertaste is dry and there's a residual bitter sweetness from the combo of malt and hops. A really long lasting aftertaste on this one.

As with all the beers so far the carbonation is spot on and the mouthfeel is medium bodied and very cask ale like. Hard to do, and a job well done. Would love to try the cask version to compare.

Good best bitters (London Pride being a personal favourite) are a class act of subtlety, and this offering from Wensleydale is right up there. A wonderful beer.

A big thank you to Wensleydale for passing me these beers for a review. You can buy Wensleydale beer online at My Brewery Tap or Beer Ritz.


  1. I love wensleydale beers, my local shop stocks them along with durham beers so that keeps me happy.

    the gamekeeper and black dub are particular highlights.

  2. I've got the Black Dub to review too but I think I'm going to wait and do a post about some stouts I've got in the cupboard.

    I thought I'd stick to, and stick up for, a collection of unfashionable bitters!

  3. Good man, I did a piece for Wetherspoon's news along the same vein : )

  4. My mrs constantly tells me I'm unfashionable. It's nice to receive plaudits for being so for once!

  5. Proper English Bitters are truly something to behold. Even in the beer world fashions are largely temporary, and whilst it's got to be tempting for brewers to jump on the bandwagon (i.e oak ageing, black ipa, red ales, and most recently, saisons) there's a lot to be said for breweries who stick to their guns and just brew a variety of genuinely tasty, guality beers.

    I loved your bitters, and I think it's a style that the 'beer geeks' need to be careful they don't dismiss. After all, it's probably the one style we are now most known for.

  6. Every British brewery needs a low abv bitter in their offering - just look at all the top breweries (except, interestingly, BrewDog) and they've all got a 3.9% something. That most are getting paler and hoppier is a good thing for me as that's exactly the sort of beer i most want to drink.

    My trouble with bitter is that I rarely order it unless it's from a brewery I know of - there are too many bland ones out there. A bitter that's balanced and full of flavour is a very fine thing. I'll look out Wensleydale.

  7. Trashy blonde isn't far off a pale hoppy bitter, and is about as close as BrewDog get to traditional I suppose.

    It's a stunning beer that's awesome on cask (mwhich BrewDog have admitted) but almost impossible to find - I've only had it once on CASK but plenty of times from a bottle. A crying shame.

    That said, Trashy Blonde isn't a balanced best bitter of the sort you mention. It's (at a stretch) a hoppy pale bitter. Or really, a blonde ale.