Just Make it Proper
There has been discussion in social media recently about a pub ale phenomenon that is, well, brewing in the United States. Some say a trend is manifest to sell an English-style, lower gravity (c. 4%) ale as “pub ale”. Some feel the term will be used to describe a pub’s basic ale offering, whether an English brewing approach is followed or not.
If the trend centres on an all-English malt and hopped brew I’m all for it, but I’ve had too many tepid examples – including in the U.K. – to be much excited.
I don’t mind the low ABV, but too many such beers show excessive caution both for hopping level and final gravity.* One may think this odd given the vigorous hopping evident in IPA over the years including in West Coast, latter-day East Coast, and Black IPA, but the idea is widespread in craft culture here that traditional English beer is “mild” in taste.
This idea derives, in fairness, from modern-day English brewing particularly export “keg” examples (filtered, pasteurised) and bottled or canned UK beer, which is a form of keg beer. This reflects to be a sure a world-wide trend in industrial brewing to reduce hop levels, which craft brewing has only partially corrected.
So all to say, if the trend bruited results in hopping with an eye more to historical levels, especially 19th and early 20th century, and finishing to a gravity where you can taste the malts, I’m in favour. I’ve called for it repeatedly over the years in these pages, most recently a few months ago.
On the marketing level, a discussion continues why the term “bitter” and its variants, such as special bitter, need replacement by euphemistic formulations such as pub ale. Once again the UK has lead the way with its “amber ale” phenomenon: most of the old-line, bitter-labeled brands have been replaced by amber formulations.
(This is not quite the same as the anodyne “pub ale”, as “amber ale” or “amber beer” have a long, intermittent history in British brewing usage, but it’s broadly the same issue).
Certainly in export markets, British brewers were alert early on to attune names to market expectations. Boddington’s Pub Ale, a good seller in many markets, is a stronger version of Boddington’s Bitter marketed for export since 1993.
Back in the 1980s the now defunct regional brewer Greenall Whitley sold a Cheshire English Pub Beer in the U.S. I recall it especially in the Northeastern market.
My recollection is of a good solid brew, yet I notice in his 1982 The Pocket Guide to Beer, legendary beer author Michael Jackson gave it a low score, adding the beer “has little to do with the resonance of its name”.
In the recess of my mind, something suggests the Cheshire English Pub Beer may have been a lager, but I cannot find any substantiation. I suspect Jackson wrote up the beer in the also-now-defunct American beer magazine All About Beer, but its archive is no longer extant, or at least publicly available I understand.
Certainly in the 1980s Greenall’s marketed an ale as such in the U.S., Chester Golden Ale. It is mentioned in the 1988 Analysis of Beer prepared for assay purposes by the State of Connecticut. The Cheshire English Pub Beer is there too.
Were these the same beer, differently branded? Their abv was not quite the same. The Golden Ale was 5.43% and the English Pub Beer, 5%. They may have been different ales, or the same with the Pub Beer lowered to 5% for that branding.
Or possibly again, the Pub Beer may have been a lager, a version of cleverly-named Grünhalle Lager, brewed by Warrington-based Greenall’s at the time. The self-descriptive Beer-Coasters site has a fine collection of Grünhalle labels and coasters.
Included is an amusing series in comedic pidgin (Germanified) English. Either way, lager or ale, the Cheshire English Pub beer had a fine, evocative label, as you see in this Untappd page.
It sold plenty of units, I recall seeing the beer for years in specialty retailers. I’d buy it again just for the label, pace St. Michael of beer writing.
Whether pub bitter, pub ale, pub beer, is down to marketing needs. I defer to the business call of the brewers on that. Just make it taste right, proper, if you will.
*Often too low, for my taste.