Friday, 11 January 2008

The Best Beer in the British Isles is What?

Guinness Special Extra Stout if we are to believe the mob at "Beer Advocate", a USA based magazine published by two controversial beer geeks, the Alstrom brothers. In the current edition there is a set of lists. Top this, top that. Now lists in beer terms and words such as "top" or "best" are dangerous in that they set out to define something that almost certainly nobody will agree with, but they are easy to come up with. Some might even say they are sloppy journalism. Like cheap beer, they are simple to produce. Like cheap beer they can be hard to swallow.

The Britain and Ireland list, comprising as it does of bottled beers, is heavily weighted towards those beers that are exported to the US. How else can we explain 3 Sam Smith's bottles, which let's face it are overpriced and fairly ordinary, in the top 25? Or Fuller's with 4 if you count Gales HSB? The beers are also heavily predominated by strong beers, with so called "cult" beers like Lees Harvest Ale, Royal Oak and Thomas Hardy's featuring. In fact there are 3 versions of Lees Harvest Ale in this top 25!

It isn't that the beers are bad, though some of them obviously are, it is that the list is just plain wrong. It sets out to be what it isn't. In this top 25 I'd probably rate a dozen quite highly and most of the others as "yawn". As it happens one I rate well is the Special Export Stout brewed for John Martin in Belgium. My review of this beer can be found on the Oxford Bottled Beer Database.

So remember Dear Reader. Lists are fun, but don't believe a word of them. Best beer in the British Isles? As Ricky Tomlinson would say, "My Arse!".

There are other lists too. Don't get me started on the best German beers which are dominated by bocks and doppelbocks. The Belgian List is fairly respectable though!


Ron Pattinson said...

I'm with you there on Guinness Special Export. You can get it in the supermarket here in Amsterdam. My dream is for Guinness to produce a bottle-conditioned version. What a cracking beer that would be.

I've never understood why Sam Smith's bottled beers are so liked in the USA. I haven't really liked any of their beers since the problems they had with their yeast in 1976. Before that, Old Brewery Bitter wqas a pretty decent beer.

Jeff Frane said...

I've never seen a list like this that wasn't remarkably stupid, no matter where it issued from. What's particularly stupid about this list, as already noted, is that it's essentially limited to bottled beers exported to the US. Having tasted British beers in Britain, live, and having over the years tasted a fair number of them either kegged or bottled in the US, I can only say that I no longer am willing to take the latter approach. Ever. If I can't drink British beer as its best, I won't drink it.

Except maybe Fuller's Vintage Ale. I don't want to be completely hard-assed.

Paul Garrard said...

I totally agree with you Tandleman, lists are usually bad news. The one in the Independent recently was equally as bad:

Tandleman said...


Incomplete link I'm afraid

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Its all there , its just blogger doesnt display it all because its to wide.

Rednev said...

Lists are fun; they give us something to disagree with, or in extreme cases, rant about. However, I do think anyone compiling a list of the best British beers is simply a complete prat. There can't be anyone has tasted a sufficiently large sample of all the beers available to be able to make a meaningful judgement.

That doesn't stop any of us from pontificating though, does it?