Classic Beer of the Month February 2016: Butcombe Bitter
Butcombe Bitter, 4%
If you are going to build the fortunes of a brewery on just one beer, it had better be a damned good one. Luckily for Butcombe, it was.
When former Courage executive Simon Whitmore established Butcombe near Bristol in 1978, he had a very clear vision of how he wanted the brewery to develop.
He only intended to produce one beer – a single brew for customers to focus on, with no watering down of interest through multiple brands – and he created an ale that has stood the test of time.
Butcombe quickly established itself as one of the most successful of the new generation of small breweries in the era after CAMRA was founded. But it wasn’t until nearly twenty years later that Whitmore added a second regular beer to the range.
The brewery has changed hands since – it is now part of the Liberation Ales group, which also owns the Jersey brewery of the same name – and today the selection of beers includes a couple of golden ales – Butcombe Gold and Adam Henson’s Rare Breed – plus a wide range of seasonals, but the bedrock of the range remains its Bitter.
'The West Country's Favourite Beer'
The company describes it as ‘the West Country’s favourite beer’ and, seeing the quantities sold in that part of the world, that seems a fair assertion.
On a recent visit to the area, I spent time with a group of friends in a pub that had a selection of cask ales. We each tried different ones but for the second round, most of us returned to the Butcombe we had enjoyed previously.
The recipe for the beer has, no doubt, been tweaked and twisted over the years but the basic formula has been maintained to keep locals – and visitors like ourselves – more than happy.
The beer is based on 100% Maris Otter barley – both the pale malt and the black malt used in the mash tun are produced from that celebrated variety.
The hops are described on the company’s website as ‘secret’ but are in fact Whitbread Golding Variety – a traditional British hop that delivers the perfect balance and light fruitiness for a satisfying, very moreish pint.
Tastewise, the deep amber ale offers a harmonious combination of malt and hops, with a softly nutty, faintly chocolaty note and a gentle sharpness from the hops that build nicely in the finish as it dries. It’s a fine quaffing ale.
Butcombe Bitter is not just a good pint, it’s a beer to build a brewery on.