A while back the BBC posted a feature titled "50 things to eat before you die" and I thought at the time that this would make a good topic for beer. So in the spirit of adventure and living life to the fullest, etc. etc., I’m coming up with the 50 beers to drink before you die, in ten weekly installments listing five beers each (in no particular order, other than whatever theme I fit them into).
The theme for this week is the United Kingdom: four English beers and one Scottish.
Possibly nothing screams "English beer" more than a Bitter; this low-alcohol session beer is a staple of the English pub. Though called "bitter," these beers actually vary in bitterness, and are not as bitter as one would expect; a Bitter is simply a moderate-to-low alcohol Pale Ale.
Young’s is a classic offering of the style. Their website says:
Bursting with taste, Young’s Bitter is an easy to drink, refreshing ale with a fresh, fruity aroma that leaves a long, satisfying bitter finish. It is traditionally brewed to deliver a clean taste and is light and dry in flavour with a subtle taste of hops.
Young’s Bitter is a comfortably low 3.7% alcohol, a perfect session beer. So have more than one.
BeerAdvocate score: 85/100, 93% approval.
Porter is also quintessentially an English beer, developed during the 18th century in London. In fact, Fuller’s own site provides a great capsule history:
The origins of Porter date back to London in the early nineteenth century, when it was popular to mix two or three beers, usually an old, well-vatted or ‘stale’ brown ale, with a new brown ale and a pale ale. It was time consuming for the publican to pull from three casks for one pint, and so brewers in London tested and produced a new beer, known as ‘entire’, to match the tastes of such mixtures. Using high roasted malts, ‘entire’ was dark, cloudy and hoppy. It was also easily produced in bulk and ideally suited to the soft well-water of London. Very quickly, it became popular amongst the porters working in Billingsgate and Smithfield markets, and gradually, the beer took on the name ‘Porter’, in recognition of its main consumers.
Fuller’s London Porter is probably the best example in the world (hyperbole? Or not?) of this classic style. (I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m basing this bold claim on the fact that it’s the number one beer in the "porter" category on BeerAdvocate.) There’s a lot of good Porters out there—my hometown brewery makes a favorite—but Fuller’s is the one to set the standard.
BeerAdvocate score: 91/100, 100% approval.
Old Ales are darker, fuller-bodied ales that accentuate the malt sweetness and alcohol level. Theakston’s Old Peculier is an exemplary sample of the style, malty and buttery (I actually used "buttery" in my review of it here). In fact, I opined that it would be a good session beer, but upon further reflection, a 5.6% alcohol ale is probably not the best to be drinking for a session beer.
BeerAdvocate score: 87/100, 97% approval.
Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale
Samuel Smith brews a lot of good ales, and the one I finally settled on was their Nut Brown Ale. A Brown Ale is another well-established English style, and while many might point to Newcastle Brown Ale as the prototypical English Brown—it’s certainly more well-known—it just doesn’t hold a candle to this version.
And at only 5% alcohol, this (like the Bitter) makes for an excellent session beer—a little on the high side, but not overwhelming. And it may well be that you won’t be able to drink just one, as it is.
BeerAdvocate score: 87/100, 98% approval.
When I think of Scottish beers, the first style that pops to mind is Wee Heavy. A Wee Heavy is sort of a Scottish barleywine; big sweet roasty malty brews with high alcohol to warm you through the chill Scottish nights.
SkullSplitter is a superb example of this style. Plus, it has a big Viking on the label, and it’s called SkullSplitter—if that’s not a good reason to drink a beer, I don’t know what is.
BeerAdvocate score: 88/100, 99% approval.