Back in the early 1990s, when we were beer drinking novices, much of our time was spent loitering around pubs in the Midlands. And a lot of these pubs served lager, Marston’s Pedigree and not much else. It may be as a result of those lager dominated establishments failing to look after their beer properly, but I developed a deep dislike of Pedigree. Marston’s home, Burton-on-Trent, was once the most famous brewing location in the world with the river’s water contributing to a beer style that was usually dry with fruity malts and a feint eau-de-sulphur*. But thanks to those ropey pubs, a pint of Pedigree often had the more overpowering flavours of dirty egg with a harsh metallic finish. And as a result I have since automatically shied away from drinking anything served up by Marston’s – one of the UK’s biggest brewing operations.
Not too long ago someone gave me a small selection of mixed beers. One of the bottles was ‘Pedigree New World Pale Ale’ and, despite none of the other beers being particularly interesting, I steadily drank them all, leaving the Pedigree behind. But last week my wife fancied a light, golden ale to go with a curry. All I had left was the Pedigree. So we gave it a go…
To be fair to big breweries there are many reasons why it can be harder to produce mass market beers to an acceptable, and affordable, standard than it can be to produce small run, craft beers. Most people are capable of brewing up a very decent beer in their kitchen, but ask them to run out millions of bottles to the same consistent standard and they’ll struggle. So although the big breweries deserve criticism when they get it very wrong, as they often do, they should also be congratulated when they succeed in producing something a little bit better than the ordinary. And this, much to my surprise, is the case with the New World Pale Ale.
It’s light and golden, has a fresh, zesty aroma, a well balanced flavour of fruity New World hops (all sourced from Australia) and is a very drinkable beer. Yet it also immediately reminds me of the Burton flavour signature I first experienced all those years ago – not the dirty, eggy kind, but a beer worthy of the town’s brewing reputation.
Brewery: Marston’s, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire
Beer name: Pedigree New World Pale Ale
*This slightly sulphuric characteristic is known as the ‘Burton snatch’