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Worthington White Shield

The truest British survivor of the India Pale Ale tradition is Worthington White Shield. It recalls the era when British brewers made pale ales hoppy enough to withstand the journey round the Horn to the Indian Empire (hops work as a preservative, as well as imparting their appetisingly herbal bouquet and dryness).

The Worthington brewery, founded in the 1700s, was acquired in 1927 by Bass, its neighbor in the English beer capital, the Midlands town of Burton-upon-Trent. The Worthington brewery closed, but its name and famous beer survived as an element of Bass. As a very traditional brew, White Shield continued to be bottled on a sediment of living yeast, even as blander mass-market beers grew in popularity after World War II. In the 1950s and 60s, it was the bane of shaky-handed bartenders throughout Britain. By the 1970s and 1980s, it was known only to connoisseurs, and was fast becoming an artefact of living history.

In 1992, faced with slow sales, Bass cleaned up the yeast strain a little gave the beer one last marketing push. The resultant sales were not enough for a company increasingly preoccupied with blander, volume products. In 1997, Bass let slip that it would make no more White Shield.

When zealots protested, Bass agreed to licence the product to the country brewer King and Barnes, in Horsham, Sussex, to the south of London. This small brewery has in recent years become something 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 individual consumers, pubs and clubs, inquiring as to its availability.

The brewery follows the Bass recipe for White Shield. It uses Halcyon barley, from the northern part of Norfolk; Northdown and Challenger hops; and a two-strain yeast supplied by Bass. The King and Barnes brew has all the malty firmness that I remember; a light nuttiness; and flavors reminiscent of lemon juice or rooty licorice. There is perhaps an even more appetising, aromatic, hop bitterness and refreshing acidity than before, but White Shield is intentionally more delicate and complex, and less assertive, than the new generation of American IPAs.

Being bottle-conditioned, this one of the few brews that will develop with age. I can never resist the temptation to drink it fresh, but it will develop more rose-like flavors over a period of three to six months, perhaps two or three years. If you want to lay down a proportion of your stock, store it somewhere dark and cool, but not refrigerated, as that would stop the yeast from working.

Published: JUNE 1, 1999

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