Bass Pale Ale, Staffordshire
Though the Burton Union system of brewing was abandoned some time ago, Bass remains a beacon of quality brewing in a market too often today swamped by enthusiastic amateurs selling cloudy brews called Darned Old Socks or something equally unfunny. Brewing is both art and science, and best undertaken by professionals who have worked for decades learning their trade.
Burton-upon-Trent in Staffordshire is surely the capital of British brewing, at one time producing one in four pints sold in this country. There are several reasons why such a centre of excellence as modern management-speak would have it grew up. Firstly the water in Burton is special: there are deep wells producing clear pure water, but this water has plenty of character from the gypsum through which it has passed on its way. The calcium sulphate dissolved in Burton water gives it a special nose (mimicked by those wishing to reproduce the flavours by adding Burton salts). Secondly the transport system – canals and railways – in the area made for easy movement of precious cargoes inland and to the nearby ports like Liverpool and Manchester . And thirdly the proximity of Herefordshire and Worcestershire , great hop growing country, meant those raw materials were easy to secure. Traditionally Challenger hops feature in the brew, and Northdown, though with continued improvements in transport they may as well come from Kent as the West Midlands now.
The term pale ale was used long before we called our clearer beers ‘bitter’. Pale ale became fashionable after the heyday of porter and stout, dark brews in stark contrast to the clear liquids we now know and love. Legend has it that India Pale Ale became all the rage in England after a consignment meant for the Empire was washed ashore after a shipwreck, but how true this is may be questioned.
Bass, cask conditioned and characterful, is one of our great beers. Its very character can lead to an unfortunate side-effect, a somewhat aromatic flatulence sometime after enjoying the beer, but that is a small and hopefully private cross to bear for one of the great tastes of Britain: Bass is often described as nutty, hoppy though not overly so, and with a tiny hint of citrus.
John Buchan ’s hero Richard Hannay in The Thirty-Nine Steps, fantasizing about his ultimate meal while hungry on the Scottish moors, comes up with Porterhouse steak, fried potatoes, and Welsh rarebit . Washed down with a quart of Bass. All the major food groups then. Marvellous.