The search for the West's best ale starts here…Back to list
So, Crumbs was sitting in the boozer the other day with a few of the lads, and someone said – yes ladies, in that boring way that boys often do – “Okay, so what's the best beer in the world?” Cue: discussion. Obscure American craft ales that few of us have ever heard of, yet alone tasted, came up, and half-remembered pints from trips to Belgium and the Black Forest.
But then Adam said, “You know, if I could only drink one beer for the rest of my life, I think it would be this one.” And okay, there was some mumbling, but no-one disagreed.
We were in a Bath Ales pub – The Salamander, since you ask – and the drink in question sat, at the amber end of chestnut, in all four of our glasses (even Simon, normally a lager man, had one). It was Gem, of course, that malty, bittersweet session bitter, with its slightly spicy smell and toffee-with-biscuits taste. At just over 4% (more when bottled) it's a safe choice for the entire evening, goes well with food (particularly of the red-meat-and-cheese variety), and makes a brilliant entry point to the beardy, spider-webbed world of 'real ale' drinking for just about anyone: lager boys like Simon, girls more used to a decent Sauvignon Blanc, whoever. (If Madonna had come further west than the Cotswolds in her bizarre English adventure of a few years back, we're sure that she'd have sung Gem's praises rather than that of Yorkshire's – admittedly magnificent – Timothy Taylor's Landlord.)
There are loads of good reasons for the success of Bath Ales – that Watership Down logo, those easy-to-remember names – but not least must be the taste, based loosely, it's said, on Fuller's London Pride circa 1990, before it had spread much beyond the capital. Some CAMRA-types get a bit sniffy about Gem, apparently – the caramel yumminess can be seen as a flaw rather than a virtue – and perhaps its crisp, clean marketing (no shoddy cartoon labels; a resistance to silly names like 'Old Ratty's Gut-Burster') goes against the grain. Whatever.
But, of course, Bath Ales – really a Bristol micro-brewer in all but name – isn't the only local beer maker, and many of them have some rather fine brews on offer too: Abbey Ales in Bath; Butcombe, Bristol Beer Factory and others in Bristol; outfits like RCH Brewery (makers of the very special Pitchfork), Towles', Devilfish, and Wickwar Brewing Co. slightly further afield. It's our plan to try them all and report back over the weeks and months. Can anything topple Gem from its perch? It's going to be fun finding out…
By Matt Bielby
Image by Shu Han
It was Gem, of course, that malty, bittersweet session bitter, with its slightly spicy smell and toffee-with-biscuits taste.
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