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The resilient British brewing tradition: Eight transatlantic case studies.


 The Editor finds it delightful that British beer styles have re-entered the brewers’ universe in the United States, and that British brewers themselves are following American footsteps not only to produce innovative versions of Old School brews but also to revive interest in those brews themselves, not least through their export to the United States.

This is too big a subject to discuss in the present essay, but it is only fair to alert readers to some of the excellent beers in question. They come from both sides of the Atlantic in various guises.

British beer.

We recently have enjoyed three such beers from England; Morocco Ale, Flag Porter and Meantime IPA. The Daleside Brewery in Cumbria produces Morocco from a recipe that dates to the sixteenth century; its name stems, apocryphally it is true, from its dark color, like the skin tone of the Moors Catharine of Braganza brought with her to England upon her marriage to Charles II; Tangiers had been part of her dowry.

Beer_Flag_Porter002.jpgThe unique flavor of Morocco Ale supports the notion that the recipe is ancient. It does not taste like contemporary beers, at least not British or American ones. This is dark and malty, reminiscent of a tangier German dark, essentially something like a strong (5.5 ABV) mild ale (the oxymoron is acknowledged) and one of the few examples of the ‘mild’ style now available in the United States. It comes in big 500ml bottles for about $4.50 apiece. Get some if you can find them.

Flag Porter is not so ancient a brew but represents its own good version of a traditional style found less and less often in both the US and the UK. Elgood’s, still held in private hands, produces the beer in Cambridgeshire at a brewery founded in 1795, so it might seem that they were comparative latecomers to the porter style, which dominated the London market during the eighteenth century.

Instead, the reference to 1825 arises because the yeast strain used to fine the porter was salvaged in 1988 from bottles salvaged from a ship that had sunk in the English Channel during… 1825. The beer itself is lovely, at once rich, smooth, refreshing and slightly sour at the finish; just how a porter should taste. You can drink a lot of it in amiable company; the strength is a traditional and reasonable 5% ABV.

Meantime IPA is something different; the brewery, in contrast to Daleside and Elgood’s, is among the new breed of British microbrewers. Founded only in 2000, it has flourished since.  The name of the brewer is apt because it is located at the prime meridian in Greenwich. They care, a lot, about tradition and the IPA consistently is considered among the most historically representative of the iconic style. Unlike the West Coast IPAs that enthrall so many beer tasters, Meantime is no heat bomb but rather a balanced, even nuanced, blend of malt and hop. A preservative 7.5% ABV, for the long nineteenth century voyage to the Raj, but you would never know it. Expensive but worth it if you can find it.

British beer in America.

American brewers have tended to take traditional British styles and take them in new directions, but looking between the lines a number of people making beer in the United States hew to traditional British styles.

Cisco India Pale Ale from Nantucket represents the true English style; it is, as one of our College correspondents commented, “a good, fresh entry level IPA” with a discernable citrus finish due to a decent dose of hops. That is true, and even if the beer can seem a bit bland it is undeniably refreshing. Expensive like anything else associated with Nantucket at $7 a bomber but worth a try.

Cody Brewing Company in little Amesbury, Massachusetts, brews on a seven barrel system, which gives them a capacity of only about 200 gallons at a time. Even though its annual output does not exceed 1200 barrels, however, Cody has brewed some thirty different beers since its foundation in 2005 and currently offers seven varieties.

Beer_Wheelers_Brown_Ale.jpgOne of them, Wheelers Brown Ale, is misnamed and misdescribed by the brewer itself. It describes Wheelers as “a rich brown ale” but adds that Challenger hops give it “a particular hop spice,” something we never associate with bland, sweet ales like Newcastle Brown. Wheelers really amounts to a unique, not to say superb, iteration of porter. The strength seems about right in eighteenth century terms at 5.7%; $5.79 for a bomber and worth trying to find.

Despite a popular conception to the contrary, not everything in Syracuse is falling to ruin, at least the Middle Ages Brewing Company. They too brew a lot of beers, twenty of them, and while they do produce other national styles, Middle Ages emphasizes the British tradition. They claim to brew “in the fashion of medieval, merry old England” which of course is risible; many of their offerings did not exist before the eighteenth century, among them pairs of IPA, porter and stout.

If the historical sense of the people at Middle Ages is lacking, however, their beer is not. They are serious indeed; they import their malt from England and get good results. The IPA, unfortunately called “ImPaledAle,” shows off a rich body and big, west coast hop finish, the opposite of the variation on IPA brewed offshore in Nantucket. ImPaledAle is a good beer with a surprising, hot mouth feel; not weak, but no blockbuster either at a sane 6.5% alcohol. A bit edgy in the American manner but an obvious descendant of its English progenitors.

Grey Sail ESA (‘extra special ale’) represents an outlier in the burgeoning world of American craft beers. Like Oskar Blue in Colorado they ship most of their product in cans; unlike most American brewers they brew several styles with a modest level of alcohol. The tiny Westerly, Rhode Island, brewer has made the conscious decision to fill a neglected niche in the ecosystem, the habitat of the session beer, something tasty enough not to pall and yet weak enough to drink for a long time in the company of friends. ESA does just that. It is a refreshing pale ale with more than a hint of hops but no trace of the biting heft of a west coast IPA; not in fact an IPA at all, more like a light ale.

Finally for now, at least for a moment, to one of the many excellent beers produced by the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project. This one is even more of an outlier, or underlier, than Grey Sail ESA. The session beer of session beers, !Magnifico! holds onto the merest hint, 3.4%, of alcohol, the kind of light pale ale unseen anywhere for several decades. It is crafted well and so refreshing if a little demure, but this after all is an understated style. And be not fooled by some of the beer raters who inexplicably consider !Magnifico a Belgian offshoot. Pretty Things does not describe the beer that way and neither should you.Beer_Grey_Sail_Flying_Jenny.png