Kennet and Avon Brewing: Dundas Best Bitter (England: Bitter: 4.2% ABV)

Visual: Caramel brown. Very large caramel brown touched white mounded head that leaves suds.

Nose: Wheaty and peppery. Slight earthy touch. Light lime and greenery.

Body: Peppery. Lightly milky. Coriander. Solid bitterness. Brown paper. Light caramel. Light cream and orange backing ovaltine.

Finish: Coriander. Peppery. Slight sour tang. Wheaty and earthy. Moderate hop feel. Choco toffee malt drinks. Charred notes.

Conclusion: You know, on the first sip I had of this, I was ready to give it some shit. It comes in slightly light, dominated by a peppery chunk that made it seem rough edged. “Why?” I was about to whine. “Why is so hard to make a good best bitter?”

A few sips later I was instead nodding appreciatively – it is lightly earthy, and still definitely peppery, but the beer had balanced itself pretty quickly – there was now a gentle toffee sweetness backing it, but more importantly that slight sour, almost brown paper feeling backing character that makes for the more refreshing aspect of a well developed bitter. It has some grip now, where it felt light before, a slightly thicker texture that lets the hop character and moderate bitterness grab your attention without getting super intense.

So, now kind of answering my opening paragraph question, in a round about way – yes it is hard to make a good best bitter – and while this isn’t a showstopper it has a good mouthfeel, solid flavour and balances mild sweetness, good earthiness and a slight sour touch – all which combine to make it a solid beer for a session.

This, I think is what makes it so hard to do a good best bitter – here you have nothing super stand out, but everything in the right proportions. It manages to deliver a good beer and has had to do it without the crutch of being able to use high amounts of fruity hop, heavy amounts of malt, nor high bitterness. Instead it has had to use everything it can get out of restrained bitterness, malt and less showy earthy and spicy notes to give a complete experience.

It is hard because you are working with a comparatively limited selection of tools – if you push too much experimentation you lose a lot of what makes the style – and when done right it is unlike any other beer style – a very savoury experience in a lot of ways – a satisfying liquid meal of a drink. This isn’t the best of the best bitters, but it manages that and makes it a a good one.

Background: So, a quick google tells me this is gluten free. Huh, usually gluten free beers shout it more on the label, while this tucks it away on the back. Anyway …. the best bitter isn’t one that turns up very often in the new wave of beer scene, so when I saw this at Independent Spirit thought it would be cool to give it a go. Drunk while listening to more Warrenpeace – yep this was pretty much directly after doing one of the Jefferson Wood Experiment notes.