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My local Hydes pub recently had Marble Manchester Bitter on as a guest beer, and it’s no exaggeration to say it was possibly the best pint of beer I’ve drunk this year. I’ve expressed scepticism before as to whether wall-to-wall hops are necessarily a good thing, but this was a superb example of a pale and uncompromisingly hoppy beer that at the same time had an underlying malt balance. It’s often said that brewers of widely-available beers have to some extent dumb them down so that they don’t shock drinkers’ palates, but is that really true? Would Manchester Bitter fall flat on its face if presented as the staple “ordinary bitter” in a tied estate of 500 pubs? Actually, I don’t think so – rather I suspect offering such a distinctive, high-quality brew would enhance the owning brewery’s reputation.

It tends to be put down as an inevitable consequence of growing older and more cynical, but I genuinely believe that most widely-available cask beers have become blander over the past thirty years. In particular, back in those days, the North-West bitters produced by Boddingtons, Holts and Yates & Jackson were often genuinely, uncompromisingly bitter in a way only a few micro beers are today. Yet those were the staple beers in pubs frequented by ordinary folk, not beer buffs. Yates & Jackson is now only a memory, Boddingtons a pale, transplanted shadow of its former self and Holts, while still an excellent beer when on form, falls much more into the category of having a good balance of malt and hops. In an age when the default pint of choice has become cooking lager, might it actually help brewers’ sales if they introduced more individuality into their regular cask beers?