Great bottled beers

03 June 2004
Great bottled beers

Budweiser Budvar There's a town called Budweis - bet you didn't know that. It's in the Czech Republic, where this goliath of a pilsner-style lager comes from. Actually, its Czech name is Cesk‚ Budˆjovice but the German name of Budweis is a tad easier on the tongue. Though it's not to be confused with the sweeter, lighter (read less flavour) American Budweiser made by global giant Anheuser-Busch. Suffice to say that Budvar is known as Czechvar in the USA and it's everything that American Budweiser isn't. Czech lager at its best, it's a biscuity, all-malt beer with a delicate hop character that is lagered for 90 days (the export version, anyway). Widely available.

Chimay Blanche
It's the best known of all Belgium's Trappist brews. Pronounced, "she may", it comes from a brewery fed by its own artesian wells in the Ardennes, near the French border. Chimay (available through Pierhead World Wide Beer Imports, 020 8320 4467) prefers to use winter barley grown in Champagne and Belgium, with German and American hops. Its distinctive taste - hoppy and dry - is down to the multi-strain yeast used in both primary and secondary fermentation that gives it a distinctly spicy kick. In 1986, the town of Chimay celebrated its 500th anniversary, which prompted the hooded and robed ones to put Chimay Blanche into a larger bottle. Rumour has it that, at 8% abv, Chimay Blanche is the monks' favourite - though, of course, they can't tell you that because it's a silent order.

Coniston Bluebird
The Coniston Brewery (015394 41133) was established 10 years ago behind the Black Bull pub in Coniston, Cumbria. Four years later it scooped Camra's Supreme Champion Beer of Britain for its Bluebird Bitter. Then, of course, everybody wanted it, so to keep up with demand, the owners contracted out the bottled version, first to Brakspear, then to former Brakspear head brewer Peter Scholey, who uses the gear at Hepworth & Co, in Horsham, West Sussex. Named after the famous Bluebird land and water speed machines used by Donald Campbell, it's a smidgen stronger in bottle than the cask version, at 4.2% abv. It has also won a shelf-full of awards since - I particularly like the gold medal it picked up from a panel of beer-savvy women in The Ultimate Fem'ale in A Bottle category for a recent Beauty of Hops competition. Expect a peppery, spicy, fruity nose with a twist of citrus on the finish.

Fuller's ESB (or 1845) Fuller, Smith & Turner (020 8996 2000) - to give the brewery its full name - is as much a part of the London scene as the Houses of Parliament. It has been at the site in Chiswick for 350 years, and direct descendants of the original families are still knocking about. ESB has been voted Best Strong Ale an impressive seven times in Camra's awards for its malty, marmaladey flavours and it has even inspired a string of imitators in the USA, where its influence is such that ESB has now become a generic name for a craft brewery's strong, malty, hoppy bitter, or pale ale. And 1845 has twice won Camra's champion bottle-conditioned beer. After primary fermentation, 1845 languishes in conditioning tanks for two weeks before being filtered, re-seeded with fresh primary fermentation yeast and bottled. Two weeks of conditioning follow, before being released to its adoring public, who can enjoy it at its gloriously, fruity best over the next 12 months

Greene King Hen's Tooth The 200-year-old Greene King brewery (01284 763222) in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, is a regional powerhouse, having expanded by acquiring pub groups and breweries - namely Ruddles and Morland (since closed). But from Morland came its popular bottle-conditioned ale, Hen's Tooth. Launched in 1998, and still brewed to the Morland recipe, it is cool-conditioned for a week before being bottled. The yeast is the very same used by Morland and is over a hundred years old. It has an abv of 6.5% with a ripe maltiness on the nose, with a big hoppy mouthful, and some nuttiness on the finish.

Gulpener's Korenwolf Great name for a beer, don't you think? Korenwolf wheat beer is brewed in the family-owned Gulpener Brewery (distributed by Coors Brewers in the UK, 01283 511000) in the Dutch town of Gulpen, near Maastrict. Established in 1825, the brewery uses filtered spring water from the Limburg hills and four different grains in its Korenwolf: wheat, barley, spelt and rye. It's flavoured with a line-up of aromatic herbs to produce a spicy flavour and yeasty aroma. The name Korenwolf, incidentally, refers to a wild grain-eating hamster, which is indigenous to the Limburg region. Thing is, it's under threat of extinction, so Gulpener thought it would do its bit by naming a beer after it, with a donation to its breeding programme contributed in the sale of every bottle. Korenwolf is now the fastest -growing wheat beer in Holland, and may be even over here one day, if the critics - and hamster-lovers - have anything to do with it.

Hop Back Summer Lightning I'd run out of fingers if I had to count the number of awards this beer has won over the years. Made by the Hop Back Brewery (01725 510986) near Salisbury in Wiltshire, it's the brainchild of brewery founder John Gilbert and was developed in the 1980s as a contrast to the other dark, sweet beers with a similar alcohol content (5% abv) that were around at the time. The straw-coloured brew has a fresh, hoppy aroma, a well-rounded, malty flavour with a long, dry finish. Since winning the Best New Brewery award at Camra's Beer of Britain contest in 1989, it has inspired brewers all over the country to create strong but pale beers. It also just one variety of hops - East Kent Goldings, and Gilbert recommends serving it well chilled.

Marston's Pedigree (or Old Empire) Marston, Thompson & Evershed (01902 711811) was founded back in 1934 at the height of the Burton-upon-Trent brewing heyday. Apparently, it's the last brewery in the world to use a rather costly form of fermentation called the "Burton union system" (oak fermenting casks joined - or united - by pipework). The yeast rises to the top of the cask and forces itself up through pipes fitted to the cask bungs. By the end of fermentation, almost all the yeast has been expelled and the beer is left virtually clear, which is critical for the beer's flavour, the folks at Marston's will tell you. These days only one beer is put through this system - Marston's Pedigree. Get past the faintly sulphurous aroma (a good thing, says Burton-ites) and you've got a fruity, peppery, appley, hoppy nose with a racy, orange-tinged malty finish. Though Marston's did launch a new beer last year called Old Empire, as a faithful recreation of a 19th-century Burton India Pale Ale, which, if it sells well, will also be brewed using the Unions.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale And talking of Pale Ale, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (available through Pierhead World Wide Beer) produces one of America's best. In fact, it produced one of America's first pale ales - which are generally golden beers with a snappy bitterness and a big, citrussy aroma of Cascade hops. It all started back in 1981 when home-brewers Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi made beer in makeshift containers, moving to a copper brew house snapped up in Germany when demand outstripped supply. Now beer enthusiasts can't get enough and the two of them do their thing in a shiny new modern brewery, which is best known for its flagship, bottle-conditioned Pale Ale. When New York brewer and beer-and-food-matching guru Garrett Oliver drinks it, he instantly starts thinking of Mexican and Cal-Mex food as a food match - "or just about anything that contains lime juice, chillies and coriander," he says.

Timothy Taylor's Landlord The story goes that during the mid-1970s, the owner of San Francisco's now famous Anchor Brewery visited the Timothy Taylor & Co Brewery (01535 603139) and was so taken with its Landlord beer that it became the inspiration for Anchor's popular Liberty Ale. Landlord certainly landed the most votes in Caterer's little exercise, which should please head brewer Peter Eels, and the Taylor family, who established the West Yorkshire brewery back in 1858. Maybe it's the Pennine spring water they still use, but Timothy Taylor just keeps on winning those awards. The beers are served in the brewery's 23 pubs, and in 300 or so others. According to the Good Beer Guide 2004, it has "a complex fruitiness with spicy, citrus hop characters - a well-balanced beer."

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