Max’s Choice

Session BittersMid-range BittersStrong Bitters
MildsStouts & PortersOld Ales & Barley Wines

These are some of the ales I have particularly enjoyed. I dislike the word “favourite” intensely. Most of my preferences in life come with qualifications attached and none more so than where beer is concerned. With “real ales”, the skill of the cellarman is often more critical than that of the brewer and I’d rather have a good pint of an indifferent beer than vice versa. For this very reason, I wouldn’t dream of attempting to grade the beers in any way. Rather than write any old tosh, I will only give tasting notes on those I have sampled fairly recently. Other old acquaintances and new discoveries will be added in due course.

[July 2013 - This is a bit out-of-date but I hope to update it soon.]


Session Bitters

Beers you can drink a lot of when you’re thirsty or you’ve got a long session ahead of you - low in alcohol, light in body with a refreshing touch of bitterness.

BrewerBeerABVNotes
Black Sheep
Masham, Yorks
Best Bitter3.8%The true heir of the local Theakston family brewing tradition.
Brewster
Stathern, Leics
Hophead3.6%About as hoppy as a beer of this modest strength could be. A superb session beer.
Bryson
Morecambe, Lancs
Lancashire Bitter3.7%Traditional brown colour, well balanced with a hoppy finish.
Fuller
Chiswick, London
Chiswick3.4%The archetypal session beer. Why is it not more widely available?
W J King & Co
Horsham, Sussex
Horsham Best Bitter3.8%Successor to the late lamented King and Barnes Sussex Bitter. Maltier, but well balanced with a typical Sussex nutty flvour.
McMullen
Hertford
Cask Ale3.8%Lightish and pleasantly hoppy.
Oakham
Peterborough, Cambs
JHB3.8%Aka Jeffrey Hudson Bitter. Award winning golden ale with a citrussy, hoppy flavour.
Old Mill
Snaith, Yorks
Traditional Bitter3.9%By name and by nature. An excellent pint.
Oulton Ales
Lowestoft, Suffolk
Oulton Bitter3.5%Light but with a depth of flavour and beautifully hoppy.
Ringwood
Ringwood, Hants
Best Bitter3.8%Eminently drinkable.
Sambook’s
Battersea, London
Wandle3.8%Refreshing with a very distinctive taste.
Shepherd Neame
Faversham, Kent
Master Brew3.7%Distinctive and hoppily true to its origins.
Suddaby
Malton, Yorks
Double Chance3.8%Seriously hoppy but goes down too easily.
Westerham
Westerham, Kent
Grasshopper Kentish Bitter3.8%A richly flavoured but very drinkable bitter made with chocolate malt and local hops.
Woodforde
Woodbastwick, Norfolk
Wherry3.8%A jolly good beer which has won so many awards that any words of mine are probably superfluous.
Young
Bedford
Bitter3.7%Affectionately known as Ordinary to distinguish it from the stronger and sweeter Special.

Mid-range Bitters

Good all-rounders - beers with a bit more body and strength, but you can still put away a few pints without falling over.

BrewerBeerABVNotes
Brewster
Stathern, Leics
Rutterkin4.6%A fine meaty, hoppy bitter, almost home-brewed in character.
Butcombe
Butcombe, Somerset
Butcombe Bitter4.1%One of the first beers from the new wave of micro-breweries in the late 70s and still one of the best.
Goddard
Ryde, IoW
Special Bitter4.0%A lovely hoppy bitter. Sadly, but commendably, not available on the mainland.
Harvey
Lewes, Sussex
Sussex Bitter4.0%A malty, copper coloured beer with a readily-recognised flavour.
Purity
Pure UBU4.5%A well-balanced amber ale from one of the best new breweries around.
Sambook’s
Battersea, London
Junction4.5%Redolent of blackberries (thanks to the Bramling Cross hops) with a distinct family likeness to Wandle (see above).
Shepherd Neame
Faversham, Kent
Whitstable Bay4.5%An organic ale with New Zealand hops. Refreshing with a hoppy nose and dry finish.
Timothy Taylor
Keighly, Yorks
Landlord4.5%A very distinctive fruity flavour with a long bitter finish.
Tring
Tring, Herts
Monk’s Gold4.1%Refreshingly fragrant but bitter and darker than the name might suggest.
York
York, Yorks
York Bitter4.0%Well-rounded and hoppy.

Strong Bitters and IPAs

Beers that are full of flavour but need treating with a bit of respect. Personally, I prefer those where the balance is on the hoppy side rather than a cloying maltiness.

BrewerBeerABVNotes
Butcombe
Butcombe, Somerset
Brunel5.0%A seasonal cask beer (October - March) but available all year round in bottled form. Well-balanced, plenty of malt body with a good hoppy edge.
Fuller
Chiswick, London
ESB5.5%One of the finest beers you can drink. When well-cellared, it has a wonderful fresh hoppy bouquet and a rich fulsome flavour. Makes one very philosophical.
Greene King
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Abbot Ale5.0%Actually I find it a bit too malty now, but I once had a very singular experience while drinking Abbot (see Beer Matters).
Hopback
Downton, Wilts
Summer Lightning5.0%One of the first, and still one of the best, of the new breed of pale, strong bitters.
Ringwood
Ringwood, Hants
Forty Niner4.9%Lovely ruby colour. Plenty of body but not too sweet.
Thornbridge
Bakewell, Derbys
Jaipur5.9%An outstanding example of a modern IPA* with a powerful, citrusey hoppiness.

Milds

Traditionally the working man’s pint, light and slightly sweetish to replenish lost fluid and sugar. Latterly teetering on the brink of extiction but kept in existence largely by the micro-breweries, who have the flexibility to brew a wider range of beers in smaller quantities. Milds also make good session beers; some can be bland but others are full of flavour.

BrewerBeerABVNotes
Adnams
Southwold, Suffolk
Fisherman4.5%Probably better described as a draught brown ale (it has only in recent years graduated from the bottle to the cask). A rich, nutty, autumnal beer.
Elgood
Wisbech, Cambs
Black Dog3.4%Sound and unassuming, a good example of the genre.
Linfit (Sair Inn)
Linthwaite, Yorks
Linfit Dark Mild3.0%Weak but well-balanced and tasty, everything a mild should be.
Moorhouse
Burnley, Lancs
Black Cat3.4%An exceptionally tasty mild, but then it was overall winner at the Great British Beer Festival 2001.

Stouts & Porters

Dark beers made with heavily roasted malt, giving a different sort of bitterness to that which hops impart.

BrewerBeerABVNotes
Bowland
Bashall, Lancs
Hunter’s Moon3.8%Deep black with pronounced coffee and vanilla notes.
Fuller
Chiswick, London
London Porter5.4%A classic porter, rich, smooth and full-bodied with bitter chocolate flavours. Unfortunately not on draught all year round.
Hopback
Downton, Wilts
Entire Stout4.5%Rich and nourishing but slips down very easily.
Wye Valley
Stoke Lacy, Herefords
Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout4.6%A buxom beer with intense smokey, chocolately flavours.
York
York
Centurion’s Ghost5.4%A pleasantly potent porter with liquorice and vanilla flavours and a long, roasted malt finish.

Old Ales and Barley Wines

This category consists of a range of strong (-ish to very), dark, heavy and usually slightly sweetish beers, traditionally brewed for winter consumption and, not so long ago, often served straight from a pin (4½ gallon cask) on the bar. (Why not now? Hygiene regulations? Not cold enough? Feeble excuses.)

BrewerBeerABVNotes
Exmoor
Wiveliscombe, Somerset
Beast6.6%Black as the devil, strong of body and taste. Easy to drink too much of it.
Hopback
Downton, Wilts
Pickled Santa6.2%A well-tuned beer with warm, spicy harmonics (see Beer Matters).
Linfit (Sair Inn)
Linthwaite, Yorks
Enoch’s Hammer8.0%For a beer of this formidable strength, surprisingly pale and beautifully balanced, no cloying sweetness whatsoever.
Young
Bedford
Winter Warmer5.5%A lovely beer when it’s on form, once notoriously fickle but seems much more reliable these days.
 

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