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Des de Moor
Best beer and travel writing award 2015, 2011 -- British Guild of Beer Writers Awards
Accredited Beer Sommelier
Writer of "Probably the best book about beer in London" - Londonist
"A necessity if you're a beer geek travelling to London town" - Beer Advocate
"A joy to read" - Roger Protz
"Very authoritative" - Tim Webb.
"One of the top beer writers in the UK" - Mark Dredge.
"A beer guru" - Popbitch.
Des de Moor

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Great British Beer Festival Real Ale in a Bottle Bar 2006

First published in BEER August 2006

The Great British Beer Festival is sometimes known as the biggest pub in the world, but for the dedicated beer hunter it’s also one of the best offies in the world as well. You’d be hard put to find anywhere else that offers such an imaginative and eclectic international mix of classics and rarities in convenient portable form.

Although the imported beers at the Bières sans Frontières bars are an attraction in themselves, British bottled beers have long had a presence too and in recent years the choice has widened and deepened, following both the growth in the market and CAMRA’s increasing committment.

This year I’ve been privileged to get an advanced peek at the RAIB bar beer list, which excited me so much I’ve decided to suspend this column’s usual focus on just three beers. From around 75 different lines on order, I’ve picked a dozen — not necessarily “the best” but a selection that captures the richness and diversity of live bottled beers currently on offer from British brewers.

I should qualify “British” because, with the exception of one beer each from Scotland and Wales (neither of which I’ve found room for here), this year’s list is entirely from England. While regrettable, this fact is more of a reflection on the curious rarity of bottle conditioning in the other countries of the UK than, I think, the chauvinism of the buyers.

The selection runs the gamut of British beer styles, including four welcome examples of that still relatively rare beast, the bottle conditioned mild. Of these Banks & Taylor Black Dragon Mild (4.3 per cent ABV), from Shefford, Bedfordshire, is an excellent interpretation of the style, with a light and refreshing but generously malty palate, slightly sourish fruit and herbal flavours, finishing with fruit, malt and a moreish roasty edge.

There’s a strong choice of bitters including from the likes of RCH and Woodfordes, but I’d plump for Hogs Back BSA (4.5 per cent), recently praised in this column for its rich malt, wet stone notes and citrus aroma, biscuity palate, and leafy hop finish with a good dose of peppery bitterness. It comes from an exemplary farmhouse micro in Tongham, Surrey.

The list reflects the growing popularity of blond and golden ales, including a gluten-free choice, and, given the season, I’ve allowed for a couple of these. Oakleaf Hole Hearted (4.7 per cent), from an award-winning Gosport, Hampshire-based micro, is an American-inspired single hop beer featuring the floral, fruity notes of Cascade over a relatively full-bodied cereal palate.

Also targeting summer thirsts is Wychwood Duchy Originals Summer Ale (4.7 per cent), another beer with a hoppy accent, this time from Belgian-grown Fuggles and Goldings and English Target. Originally commissioned by Waitrose supermarkets and hard to find otherwise, this is the only bottle conditioned beer in the Duchy Originals range of organic products (proprietor HRH The Prince of Wales), supplied from Witney, Oxfordshire.

Wheat beers include O’Hanlons Double Champion [since renamed Goldblade] (4 per cent), one of several offerings on the list from this excellent micro in Clyst St Lawrence, Devon. Spiced with coriander and late-hopped with First Gold and Cascade, this subtle beer has a touch of Turkish delight in the aroma and is dry and clean, with banana, vanilla and citric tones.

Stepping up the strength, the list includes five interpretations of Britain’s hoppiest traditional style, India Pale Ale, including arguably the best revivalist example available, Burton Bridge Empire Pale Ale (7.5 per cent), from IPA’s spiritual homeland of Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire. This impressive beer has ozone and orange zest on the aroma and assertive vegetal hops on a rich complex palate with peach notes on a very long finish.

Newly-launched Cornish interpretation St Austell Proper Job (5.5 per cent) is at a more approachable though less authentic strength for a true IPA, but is packed with flavour including roses, honey, pineapple, strawberries, lime and pepper – the chewy hop finish never overpowers.

Several other pale ale variants inspired by old recipes can be found on the list: Fullers 1845 and White Shield, surely two of the best British bottled beers around, are hard to pass over but widely available elsewhere. Spare some space, though, for Youngs Special London Ale (6.4 per cent), a big nutty, malty and figgy ale made with “phenomenal amounts” of Fuggles and Goldings hops – this will be some of the last made in , before production moves to Bedford.

In a darker mood, the selection of porters and stouts includes several established RAIB classics, notably RCH Old Slug Porter (4.5 per cent) and Wye Valley Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout (4.6 per cent). The former, from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, belies its unappetising name with a tempting liquorice and vanilla pastille aroma and nutty herbal coffee and burnt fruit flavours with a hint of sage.

The latter, from Stoke Lacy, Herefordshire, is inspired by dry Irish stout but knocks the spots off the best-known commercial examples of the style. It’s much tastier than it deserves to be at this strength, with smooth malted milk, fruity acidity, leather and a long roasty finish with a hint of cinnamon.

Several notches of gravity upwards are a trio of Imperial stouts, including current benchmark interpretation Harveys Imperial Extra Double Stout (9 per cent), from Lewes, Sussex. This masterfully complex and marvellously cakey, oily brew, redolent of fennel seeds and mocha, will develop for many years in the bottle.

For a final bottle to cellar away for bedtime sipping in years to come, there’s a choice of three barley wines. I’d pick Woodforde’s Headcracker (7 per cent) – light of both alcohol and heart for the style, with fecund hops, orange marmalade and fluffy fruit salad in the finish. The brewery, in Woodbastwick, Norfolk, is something of an RAIB specialist, with several excellent examples of the heights bottled beer can reach in talented and sympathetic hands.

It’s understandable if in the past you’ve just stuck to the enormous choice of draught beers at GBBF, but there couldn’t be a better time to stretch the benefits of admission by joining the carry out club. By the way, you can spot us by our suspiciously clanking rucksacks. 

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