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12-07-2016, 10:08
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http://i0.wp.com/boakandbailey.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/alton_brewed_bitter_edit_800.jpg?resize=800%2C540 Which new wave micros make what could be considered a quality brown bitter, possibly with just a slight modern twist, that could compare favourably to Harvey’s Sussex Best or Adnams’s Southwold Bitter?’ Paul, Ealing (@AleingPaul (https://twitter.com/AleingPaul))This question was prompted by our previous Q&A post on ‘Traddies (http://boakandbailey.com/2016/06/questions-and-answers-which-beers-excite-traddies/)’ and came with an example of the kind of beer Paul has in mind: Brass Castle’s Loco Stock.
We’ve been repeating a standard line for a few years now: one possible very broad indicator of a brewery’s*‘craft’ status (def. 2 (http://boakandbailey.com/guides-lists/when-we-say-craft-beer-we-mean/)) is that its best-known or flagship beer will be an American-style pale ale or IPA rather than, as with Fuller’s or Wadworth, one of its brown bitters. What this acknowledges is that many post-2005 new wave British breweries do still brew a bitter, even if it’s an also-ran in their line-up.
For example Thornbridge (disclosure: various (http://boakandbailey.com/samples-pr/disclosure-stuff-we-got-free/)) still make a version of Lord Marples (https://www.thornbridgebrewery.co.uk/assets/332.pdf)*(PDF), the cask bitter they brewed before Jaipur was invented, which was*designed to appeal to traditional Sheffield drinkers. We’ve not tasted it for a while but we recall it being notably deep brown and distinctly bitter. It uses only English and/or European*hops and contains crystal malt — indicators of its old-school identity.
But Paul’s question is quite specific: which of these new wave brewery bitters are as good as the best examples from the trad-regional-family brewers? Lord Marples is one of the best of the new breed but, being totally honest, faced with choosing between it*and Sussex Best for one pint, all else being equal, we’d choose the latter every time. (As, we suspect, would most so-called*‘crafties’ these days.)
Marble Manchester Bitter, on the other hand, we might choose over Sussex Best. (This is quite a good test.) That’s partly because it’s an homage to the Manchester pale ale sub-style and pre-1980 Boddington’s in particular, a beer that we’re a bit obsessed with, but mostly just because it’s different: not flowery and perfumed, and really bitter. But… It’s not brown. Is that a deal-breaker? It’s called Bitter, though, rather than golden ale or pale or summer or sunshine or whatever so, yes, we reckon it’s a brown bitter whose twist is that it’s not brown.
Weird Beard Boring Brown Beer is described as an Imperial Best Bitter and has an ABV of 6.5% (as per their website). It also uses American hops and Belgian-style malt, which makes it sound not much like Bitter, capital B, at all. We’ve had it a couple of times — on draught, we think, and also from bottles — but didn’t take notes. We have a vague memory of thinking it was*‘nice’. That leads us to conclude that, if push came to shove, we would choose Fuller’s ESB, which at it’s best can be absolutely extraordinary, over BBB.
We mentioned in our last post (http://boakandbailey.com/2016/07/weekend-beer-town/)*Siren Craft Brewery’s take on best bitter brewed with Brettanomyces for an Orval-like funk. That’s a twist that doesn’t fundamentally compromise the essential Englishness of the style — it enhances it, arguably,*Brettanomyces meaning ‘British fungus’*— while still adding complexity and interest. And, as we keep banging on,*Sussex Best is itself prone to funkiness, only at less extreme levels.
So, twists we like in a bitter: challenging*bitterness, regional specificity, history and Brett. Twists we don’t particularly go for in this particular style: flowery New World hops, flavourings, high ABV, irony.
Overall*we stand by our feeling that, generally, trad-regional-family brewers have this covered (http://boakandbailey.com/2016/03/time-to-let-the-old-school-rejoin-the-party/) and when we and others nag them to up their game, we don’t necessarily mean BREW A SAISON*AT ONCE! — just maybe give your core beers a tune up and a buff with the chamois every now and then to make sure they’ve not become slipped away from balanced and into*being straight-up*dull.
As ever, feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below: Which bitters, best bitters or ESBs brewed by post-2005 breweries would you choose over Harvey’s Sussex Best, Adnams, Fuller’s, Lees, et al?

Q&A: Which Are the Best New Wave Takes on Brown Bitter? (http://boakandbailey.com/2016/07/qa-best-new-wave-takes-brown-bitter/) from Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog - Beer blogging since 2007, covering real ale, craft beer, pubs and British beer history. (http://boakandbailey.com)


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