It’s important to note that what follows is our assessment of the best ales we encountered on the CBP and NOT the best ales generally available in Chester. By definition, as these lists only relate to a once a week event, there’s an element of randomness here. For that reason, fine micro-breweries such as Red Willow, Summer Wine and Sandstone aren’t represented – we simply never encountered their ales on a Thursday night.
It’s also important to note that we’re not beer ponces. Occasionally, we’ll savour a fine ale and might make the odd remark as to some nuance of flavour or triggered reminiscence, but by and large we drink in the British style. We believe ale is for quaffing and that high quality ale is the starting point for a good night out and not the ultimate objective.
Weak beer or ‘quaffing beer’ is our thing then, but we’ve also taken the odd strong ale along the way. So that’s where we’ll start – strong ales first (Pt. 1) , followed by the quaffers (Pt. 2) – and in both cases we’ll begin with the fifth best and finish with the top ale in each category.
Strong Ales (abv 4.3% and above)
5. Timothy Taylor’s Landlord Bitter (4.3%) – The Rake & Pikel (No. 13)
Ah, the old taste of cold tea. In days of yore, before the advent of exotic hops, summer ales and the IPA resurrection shuffle, this fine ale was always considered to be among the very best of what the English brewer could muster. Well it was if you lived oop north anyhow. Nowadays, it’s pretty much a national beer – and is often served in a condition that’s not worthy of it’s heritage and character. When it’s kept well and served properly though, it’s still a magnificent ale and although we had a nice pint in the Greyhound (No. 89), the Rake & Pikel provided the best example.
4. Titanic Nine Tenths Below (5.9%) – The Chester Beer Festival (here)
Perhaps beer ponces would disagree, but ironically, I don’t think a large scale beer festival where dispense is directly from the cask is the best place to sample ale. It’s often flat, sometimes cloudy and always too warm. After a few have been tried, they all begin to taste the same – such was the case at this event – until we sampled this fantastic brew. The massive whack of hops really set this ‘new generation’ IPA apart from the rest of the ales up until that point – and thereafter to be honest. It’s just a shame that we’ve not seen it since in a decent boozer served through a diffuser at the right temperature. No doubt we will before long though.
3. Moor Pacific IPA (6.0%) – The Red Lion, Northgate St. (No. 85)
What’s this ? An ale from ‘darn sarf’ !! Get out of town ! What was it doing ‘in these parts’ then ? Well it was on the Nicholson’s rota for their national IPA festival – and the Red Lion on Northgate St. being their sole representative in Chester is where we found it. Bit dark for an IPA I thought – maybe more of a strong golden ale. It’s gloriously complex though and several pints would be required to figure out all the nuances of flavour. I had a half – at 6.0 % and mid session, mid week, that was sufficient. Must re-visit this one and/or any other Moor ales at the earliest opportunity.
2. Marble Dobber (5.9%) – The Pied Bull Beer Festival (here)
Great name for a great ale – the ‘dobber’ was the biggest marble in any northern kid’s collection, right ? And ‘big’ flavour is what this fantastic IPA delivers – nice malt underlush but with approximately one English ton of hops per pint, incorporating massive citrusity with highly dominant grapefruit. Grapefruit is the daddy flavour in this hooligan assault on the palate in fact. Dry as well. Nice and dry. A wonderful ale – and on this occasion, served by it’s creators under proper pub conditions during a fantastic ‘meet the brewer’ night at the Pied Bull.
1. Thornbridge Jaipur (5.9%) – The Little Oak Beer Festival (here)
I’m afraid there was only ever going to be one winner in the strong ales section, for this is the perfect beer. A beer that cannot be surpassed. Hop flavour, hop aroma, sweet malt, spice, tropical fruit, long bitter finish and a lethal combination of high strength and drinkability. This is a beer that will seduce you and will kill you. It’s that good. My advice would be to steer clear of it completely.
That's all for now folks - stay tuned next week for CBP Best Ale Pt.2 - the Quaffers.