Over There, Over There
Good article by Canadian beer writer Jordan St. John at St. John’s Wort, on how a wider, more interesting choice of British beers would be salutary at LCBO.
(The subtext here is beers with a traditional U.K. palate, not versions of North American styles. It’s not that the latter aren’t worthwhile to have, but given we make that here, the ‘British shelf’ should reflect the traditional taste).
I’d think today given the strength of brewing in Britain there are numerous brewers making characterful examples of traditional styles: bitter/pale ale/IPA, mild ale, strong ale, porter.
But in the past I should say there was a divide in quality between canned/bottled and cask-conditioned in the pub.
Most British canned and bottled beer, with few exceptions, did not approach the cask version in flavour and quality. Canned/bottled seemed by contrast anodyne, like the keg ales introduced in the 60s and 70s to replace cask beer.
Why was this? At least three reasons: the canned/bottled brews were usually pasteurized, the cask not; the cask beers were often dry-hopped; and the cask was not filtered after racking, the residual yeast deepened the palate.
They were really a kind of lager IMO, a darkened sweetened form, intended to be drunk as cool as possible and to refresh.
To be sure there were exceptions, Courage Imperial Russian Stout of course, Traquair Ale in Scotland (not the herb-flavoured one, the regular one), later Le Coq Extra Double Stout from Harvey in Sussex, maybe a beer or two from Adnam’s.
Timothy Taylor’s bottled beers were always a cut above too, I should add.
But these were usually not easy to find and not the kind of staple the cask beers were, for the dedicated beerperson, I mean.
The action was at the pub, in cask ale that is – a model quite different to how craft beer developed in North America where a fresh can or bottle usually is as good as the draft.
I’d think though with the growth of the smaller breweries especially in the last 20 years you can find now a larger range of bottled and canned beers that feature the British palate at its best.
I recall the double stout from Fuller shown, a historical recreation, that was outstanding. See more information here.
We need to see that beer here. So I agree LCBO should look for better traditional-tasting U.K. beer. And why not have a British beer festival in Toronto? With domestic contenders allowed too.
In this regard I can tell you the current County Durham Signature Ale, made by the small Durham Brewery in Pickering, ON, is outstanding. It tastes very close to a Courage Best Bitter in the 1980s, say, or Ind Coope Burton Ale or Ruddles County Ale of that period.*
It’s full of British malt, dark fruit esters, lovely floral English hop – 100% Albionic and really good, it shows why British beer was considered an aristocrat of the genre for centuries.
Signature has been available for some time now but it is at a pitch of quality. I don’t recall it tasting like this before and the label states British-style, which I think is new too.
If anyone in Ontario wants to know the true English draught beer taste, you have it right there – a bit more carbonated but you can decrease that in the pour, or use a swizzle stick.
I’m hoping LCBO will expand its U.K. range to include the topmost in quality, meanwhile I’m stocking up on Durham Signature.
*But do not drink it cold, only lightly cool or even “shelf”: otherwise you will lose much of its value. Also, the cans I saw were expiry April 30, 2018, probably issued a month or two ago not more.