This is not going to make me popular in Pontypridd, and it will go down very badly in St Albans. But Otley Brewing Company, the widely admired Welsh brewery, and Roger Protz, doyen of British beer writers, have got together to revive a vanished classic and brewed entirely and utterly the wrong sort of beer.
Yes, I must tell you that the “Burton Ale” the Colonel and Otley have just created under the name O-Roger, and which Roger describes in detail here, isn’t a Burton Ale at all, but an IPA.
They’ve reproduced a beer that has certainly been called “Burton Ale”, from the mid-1970s, when it was first made under that name at the former Ind Coope brewery in Burton upon Trent. And they went to the trouble of asking two former Ind Coope brewers to tell them about that beer, so they could make their reproduction as accurate as possible. Unfortunately the beer called Burton Ale that those guys brewed at Ind Coope in Burton, which was Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival in 1990, was NOT a Burton Ale in the sense of being in the Burton Ale style, the slightly sweet, not-too-bitter, darkish ale popular right across Britain until the 1950s, but something utterly other.
It’s the fault of the marketers at Allied Breweries in 1976. They were feeling under pressure (pun intended) from the five-year-old Campaign for Real Ale, who were persuading beer drinkers across Britain that the sort of bland, fizzy beers big brewers such as Allied produced were nowhere near as tasty and enjoyable as the traditional brews from smaller companies. So Allied took its Ind Coope Double Diamond, an India Pale Ale with roots in the 19th century that had been a best-selling nationally distributed bottled beer, and then a best-selling nationally distributed keg beer, and decided to launch it as a handpumped cask ale. Except they couldn’t call it Double Diamond Cask, because Camra had been repeatedly and extremely rude about Double Diamond keg – I remember buying a badge at a Camra beer festival that declared: “DD is K9P”.
So as marketers do, they riffled through their old brands for inspiration, and found Ind Coope Burton Ale, which was still going in the 1950s (when it was described by the beer writer Andrew Campbell as “rather light” for a Burton Ale and, unlike most other beers in the Burton Ale style, “not sweet at all”) but seems to have vanished as a brand soon after Campbell wrote about it in 1956. This, the marketers decided, was the name for their rebadged cask-conditioned draught Double Diamond IPA, and they even copied the typeface and general style of the Edwardian Ind Coope Burton Ale bottle labels for the pumpclips of this “not a Burton Ale” Burton Ale. Since most drinkers had forgotten about, or never heard of, Burton Ale the beer style by the mid-1970s, there were very few protests, though my father was one who objected. Burton Ale, he insisted, being a London traditionalist when it came to beer, had to be dark, and this new “Burton Ale” was far too pale. Which, being an IPA in Burton Ale clothing, it was.
Unfortunately, Roger P has assumed that the Burton Ale of 1976 and after (which is still being brewed, by JW Lees in Manchester, apparently) is the same as the much older Burton Ale, and he writes in the Morning Advertiser this week:
The [Burton Ale] style went into deep decline in the 20th century as drinkers switched their allegiance to pale ale and bitter. But in 1976 the style was reborn when Allied Breweries launched Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale.
Nooooo! The Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale launched in 1976 was and is an IPA, a bitter pale ale of exactly the kind that had pushed out genuine Burton Ale. Anyone drinking today’s Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale and thinking that is what the Burton Ale style should be like is going to be getting the wrong end of a very muddy stick.
You may be feeling that it’s terribly rude and curmudgeonly of me to be pissing all over Roger and Otley’s parade by pointing out their error. However, I’ve been banging on since 1998 about Ind Coope Burton Ale post-1975 not actually being a Burton Ale – in fact I first said so in the pages of What’s Brewing, and I’ll allow you the joy of guessing who the editor of that paper was at the time. So it hacks me off rather more than somewhat to see my efforts at getting the true facts about Burton Ale in front of the world shunted sharply off course by some much-publicised misinformation.
That said, the first part of Roger’s brief history of Burton Ale in the Morning Advertiser I linked to up the top of this rant is accurate enough – and the beer Roger and Otley have produced together certainly sounds a good one, even if it’s not a bleedin’ Burton Ale. If you find it, try it and I think it’s very likely you’ll enjoy it. Just don’t believe that’s a Burton Ale you’re drinking.