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As I've gotten older my drinking tastes have changed quite dramatically to the point where I'd now rather have a nice pint of ale or bitter than a lager. Its for this reason that I tend to find myself in the bottled beer sections of my local supermarkets on just about every shopping trip looking for something new to try. Whilst my preference is still for Jennings I do like to sample alternatives and one of my more recent discoveries is Brakspear's Bitter.
Who Are Brakspear
Having started life out in 1711 when W.H, Brakspear bought a brewery on Bell Street in Henley On Thames the story of Brakspear is quite similar to that of a lot of the regional breweries. The company stayed within the family and moved to larger premises on the side of the Thames in 1812. The Brewery and name stayed within the W.H. Brakspear & sons company until 2002 when it was sold to Wychwood breweries in Witney, where the production of Brakspear's signature brands was then moved and the Henley brewery shut down.
During the takeover Wychwood had tried to find a suitably alternative site near to Henley but in the end had to move it to it's larger base at Witney. In April 2008 both the Wychwood and Brakspear brands were bought out by Marston's, formerly Wolverhampton and Dudley brewery and whilst the brewing is still carried out at Witney, Brakspear forms under the Marston's brand with Jennings, Ringwood, Marston's own, Wychwood and Banks ales.
Of course just like their mergers of other companies Marston do not appear to have tinkered with the brewing process of Brakspear Bitter. It is still brewed using the same equipment and hoops as when it was originally invented. They still use the double drop fermenting system and whilst I've never tried the bitter from it's original source I can imagine that Marston's are still doing it's flavouring justice.
What's in a Name
It seems that when it came to naming beers the head of Brakspear wasn't looking for anything too imaginative. Therefore it is fair to say that Brakspear Bitter is exactly what it says on the bottle. It has no hidden meaning or clever name, it is just a simple name that really describes the product well.
In the Bottle
Until just recently I hadn't tried Brakspear's bitter but over the last couple of months I seem to have picked it up with some regular certainty, well pretty much every time I'm in Sainsbury's. Once you open the bottle the first thing that really defines the beer is the fruity scent that greats your nose. A hint of hops and a rather less subtle aroma of malt soon follow this. The combination of scents works well together and instantly it gets my taste buds tingling in anticipation of what's to come.
As you pour it from the dark coloured bottle it has an amber appearance in your glass as the slightly off white head starts to form. Once it settles the head isn't the thickest I've seen and soon becomes just a slight whisp on top of the pint glass. As I take my first sips I am greeted by a rather malty taste that soon gives way to a slightly bitter kick that can only really be attributed to the hops. As I drink a little more though the flavour combination seems to develop and despite those initially bitter twinges it forms into a very tasty drink.
The combination of the fruity elements mixes well with the malt and hops to create a very smooth and distinctive pint. There is still a slightly harsh bitter taste that lingers in your mouth on occasions but this does not alter the enjoyment of this rather tasty pint. At just 3.4% Abv it is a bitter that is on the slightly light side but that makes it one you can enjoy in increasing quantities. Despite the bitter kick it leaves a rather pleasant and fruity after taste that will leave you wanting more.
Where Can I Get It
At present there does seem to be a lack of distribution outlets for Brakspear's Bitter. My last couple of 500ml bottles were bought from Sainsbury's but they are often out of stock. Of course as it is priced at just £1.85 a bottle and combines the tastes well to make this a bitter that can be enjoyed regularly it isn't surprising that it sells out on a regular basis.
So I Should Try It Then?
I think that's a question that only you, the reader, can answer. I would certainly recommend a pint of Brakspear Bitter if asked but whether you will enjoy it or not is all down to your own drinking preferences. It has an excellent combination of flavour that despite the odd kick isn't overly bitter. For me it's slightly different to the others that I've tried so far but it is a taste I rather enjoyed. It is perhaps not quite as smooth as Cumberland Ale but the combination of fruity notes mixed with malt and hops works well to give Brakspear's Bitter a taste I've never come across before, although needless to say a taste I very much enjoy.
UPDATE - Usually I add my updates to the end of my opinion. In this case I cannot. You may have heard that Brakspears has succombed to the advice of those idiots in the City who have achieved the impossible of pursuading gullible brewers that they actually know what they are talking about. The brewery has been sold off. The company is now a pubs only organisation. This is a trend that ha already spelled disaster elsewhere. I expect no better fate for Brakspears. Their beer is being contract brewed elsewhere. The character of the beer has changed and will probably never again achieve the glories of the past. Consequently I can no longer recommend this beer or, indeed any beer carrying this name. For you information, this was my original review, just so that you know what has been irretreivably lost. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Since I returned to the South, I can't easily get hold of my favourite Liverpool brew (Cains Bitter). I loved its taste but unfortunately the canned variety doesn't compare to the cask version. However, I have now found a more than adequate alternative, Brakspears Bitter. Brakspears has had a long and illustrious history. Based in the beautiful town of Henley-on-Thames, famed for its annual rowing regatta the company of W.H. Brakspear & Sons brews many beers, not only for itself but also on behalf of other brewers. It produces the CAMRA award winning Coniston Bluebird on behalf of the tiny Lakeland brewery, which doesn't have the capacity to produce the quantity to meet the demand created by its success. The initials W.H. stand for William Henry. However, he was not the founder of the brewing dynasty. That was his father, Robert. Robert initially worked for his uncle, Richard Hayward. Richard had inherited an interest in the brewery of the Brooks family who had been brewers in Henley for over a hundred years and in
1779 the brewery came under his control. In 1797 his uncle died. Robert had astutely accumulated a large financial interest in the brewery. He had been made a partner in 1781 and in 1803 he was able to buy out the remaining partner in the business and assume control. Interestingly, before coming to Henley, Robert wasn't a Brakspear. He was a Breakspear. It is believed that he dropped the extra "e" in order to distance himself from his Wiltshire relatives, who were not exactly the most "substantial" family either in the financial or fame sense. All except for one that is. One relative was very famous indeed. Nicholas Breakspeare (funny how these "e"s appear and disappear!) was none other than Pope Adrian IV, who in 1154 became the only ever English Pope. The Pope?s emblem was the bee and this emblem forms part of the Brakspears logo to this very da y. Robert died in 1812. Just before doing so he arranged a merger with the other Henley brewer, Appletons, in order to secure the future for his heirs. His interest in the brewery passed not to his eldest son but to William Henry. It seems that Robert considered his eldest son "unreliable". William proved a worthy successor. William was eventually able to buy out the remaining partners in the brewery, Joseph Benwell and his son Peter, taking complete charge of the business in 1848. Willliam?s sons Archibald and George took over the running of the brewery when William died in 1882. Up until 1896, Brakspears had one other competitor in the area, Greys Brewery. Greys was in financial difficulties and so Brakspears made a bid to take over the business but in order to do so they had to become a public company and it was for this reason that W H Brakspear & Sons Ltd was formed. Brakspears has been dedicated to the production of Real Ales of the very finest quality. They produce a range of regular beers as
well as seasonal and one-off beers. These are distributed to their own estate of pubs and in bottled form through retail outlets such as Safeways supermarkets. But, let?s get back to the beer. At 3.4% abv it is of lighter strength than Cains. That also means it's more driving licence friendly. It?s an excellent session beer that will enable you to enjoy more than just the odd one or two if you aren?t driving, without dire consequences. However, the lower alcoholic strength doesn?t in any way detract from the superb taste. It?s a copper-coloured beer as you would normally expect of a traditional bitter. It has the excellent hop aroma and taste that I love. It also has a slight fruitiness to it and a long-lasting taste in the mouth. I am delighted to add Brakspears to my select list of favourite brewers, alongside such luminaries as Timothy Taylor s and Hook Norton.
A real ale, amber in colour, with a good fruit, hop & malt nose. The initial taste of malts & the well hop bitterness dissolves into a bittersweet & fruity finish.GOLD MEDAL WINNER IN BITTER CLASS GREAT BRITISH BEER FESTIVAL 2000.