Rediscovering the classic beers that helped define a style

Tuesday, March 18, 2014
I found Rob’s review of Fuller’s ESB over on Hopzine really interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, Rob is a man who really knows his beers, but ESB seemed to have him flummoxed – how could that be the case? I mean, it’s a beer you can buy in most supermarkets and a hundred different Fullers pubs around London, and a beer which many people around the UK know extremely well.

I think one reason is that in the pursuit of the next best thing us beer lovers (and I wholeheartedly include myself in that) are sometimes guilty of forgetting ‘the classics’ - beers that have a mighty reputation but which we bypass in the search for something new. This is particularly true of World-famous British beers from the likes of Fullers, which the Americans go crazy over yet many British beer lovers pass by as old-hat.

But it’s not just classic British beers we’re guilty of ignoring, it’s anything we’ve become too familiar with. A perfect example of which is Duvel, the Belgian Golden Ale by which all others are judged and a beer with much more complexity than many beer geeks give it credit for. Try it cool, but not fridge-cold, and you’ll be rewarded by heaps of fruity, almost pear-drop-like fruit esters, a creamy malt smoothness and a spicy, yeasty aroma you never new were there.

It really is a clever little beer, beautifully clean and drinkable for its abv with a subtlety and class so many beers are lacking.

Another example of a style defining beer is Schneider Weisse Tap 7, which whilst it isn’t the earliest weisse bier, it is undoubtably the beer and brewery that kept the style alive when other brewers were abandoning it (middle of the 19th Century) in favour of more ‘modern’ bottom fermenting lagers.

Even putting the history aside, Schneider Weisse is, for me, the German style wheat beer against which all others are compared - and a stone cold classic that I return to again and again.

But these are much more than beers which have simply stood the test of time. What most people don’t realise is that beers such as this, particularly ESB, define the beer style category* they now sit within. Which in a world of beer as diverse as we live in now, is really something quite special.

I think as a beer lover it’s important to check back in on these classic beers, as often you might have forgotten how good they really are - or at the very least be surprised by what you find.


*Somewhat ironically Fuller’s ESB doesn’t meet the style guidelines of English Extra Special Bitter according to the Great American Beer Festival, but that’s a whole other blog post in itself.

Image credit:


What’s more important to you as a beer drinker: Complexity or drinkability?

Friday, March 07, 2014

Complexity can be a truly wonderful thing in beer, but what if that depth of flavour comes at the expense of drinkability? Is it more important to get layers of flavour to explore, in what turns out to be a bit of a slog, or to find instant gratification in a more shallowly enjoyable package?

I suspect the answer is invariably ‘both have their place’ and it is certainly apparent in a couple of beers I tried recently by the excellent Hawkshead brewery.

First up is the fruity, floral and fantastically drinkable Hawkshead ‘IPA’. With big, sweet and hoppy aromas of tangerine and grapefruit peel to the fore, it’s bang on the money for the modern American style it is squarely aimed at.

The flavour is led by sweet orange, tangerine and more of that puckering grapefruit. There is just a smidge of that slightly dusty straw character you get in hoppy beers on occasion (I'm almost certain it's cascade that's the culprit), but it doesn't get in the way too much as the finish swoops in with Campari like bitterness, under-ripe mango and a final dry, floral bitterness.

That said, this is a hoppy but not overly bitter beer where the sweet underbelly lets the top notes of the hops sing but saves your tongue from any burn. Very cleverly done, it sits in the ‘juicy’ rather than ‘punishing’ American IPA category and is all the more drinkable for it.

On the flipside, Brodies Prime Export is a very, very different beast. A steroid fuelled bruiser of a beer that shares few traits with its little brother and namesake – but has an undeniable complexity of flavour that I’m sure many will find intriguing.

The aroma is all dark brown sugar and sour cherry, and the flavour is initially filled with caramelised brown sugar but then an intense, almost malt-syrup like richness kicks in. Alongside that malt-attack there is an intense, almost acrid coffee edge that reminds me of the Turkish coffee you can stand a spoon up in.

Others will no-doubt find layers to this beer's intensity that they can enjoy picking away at over a long, contemplative sipping session – but truth be told I found it a bit of a slog.

Complexity at the expense of enjoyment. Is it always worth it?