Pale and hearty
Michael Jackson on the return of a classic pale ale, ditched by Bass, rescued by its loyal drinkers
A salute this weekend to the great Worthington White Shield, back in robust health after a near-death experience. This indefatigable beer is the truest survivor of the era when British brewers made pale ales strong and happy enough to withstand the journey round the Horn to the India of the Raj - I shall have a bottle as an aperitif before my Saturday evening curry or my Sunday roast.
The Worthington brewery, founded in the 1700s, was acquired by Bass in 1927, but the beer survived and flourished, its yeasty sediment the bane of shaky-handed bartenders everywhere.
In 1992, faced with slow sales, Bass cleaned up the yeast strain a little (losing some of its clovey complexity), and gave the beer one last marketing push. The resultant sales were not enough for a company increasingly preoccupied with blander, volume products.
At the end of last year, Bass let slip that it would make no more White Shield. When zealots protested, Bass agreed to license the product to the small Sussex brewer King and Barnes, which has in recent years become something
Since it was announced that King and Barnes would be making the beer, the brewery has received a steady stream of letters from consumers, pubs and clubs, enquiring as to its availability.
of a specialist in bottle-conditioned, yeast-sedimented beers. Since it was announced that King and Barnes would be making the beer, the brewery has received a steady stream of letters from consumers, pubs and clubs, enquiring as to its availability.
Using the same malt and hops, and yeast supplied by Bass, the brew's new guardian has just produced its first batch. It has all the malty firmness that I remember - and, perhaps, an even more appetising, aromatic, hop bitterness and refreshing acidity.
To compare, I took from my cellar one of the last Bass bottlings, which seemed slightly darker in colour and bigger-bodied. So how much difference has the switch of brewhouses made? The trouble with such comparisons is that the new version is fresh from the brewery, while the old one has enjoyed some maturation in the bottle. That extra colour might be from slight oxidation; the fullness of body might be an illusion caused by some loss of hoppy freshness.
I shall store a sample from the new bottling. I will keep it dark and cool but not refrigerated, as that would stop the yeast from working. This is a beer that needs months, rather than years, of maturation in the bottle.
I shall try it at three months and six, to see if more yeasty, rose-like complexity has developed. If you fancy trying the same
experiment, the reborn White Shield is in some Bass pubs, and is also available nationwide from Tesco, priced at 99p. Its future in Britain may well be assisted by exports to the United States, where such delights are increasingly appreciated. The beer is already
being advertised and reviewed there.
Another classic beer that once spread Britain's fame abroad was Courage's hugely assertive Imperial Russian Stout, a style beloved of Catherine the Great. Might it, too, be reborn? Courage last brewed it in 1993, and still believes the British consumer is not interested. "That's the bad news," says a company spokesman. "The good news is that our export division is assessing the opportunities in America."
God bless the New Frontier.
Published Online: DEC 15, 1998
Published in Print: JULY 11, 1998
In: The Independent
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