Introduction –
In recent times, there has been a resurgence in popularity for English Ales.  This increase in interest seems to be driven by three factors –

  • Firstly, an increased investment by entrepreneurs in craft breweries and regional breweries has increased awareness of beers on offer;
  • Secondly, many of these breweries have put a renewed emphasis on the quality of the beers that they brew – increasing the range that they have of premium ales, and, in some cases, re-designing recipes to reinterpret the beer style that the beer represents;
  • Thirdly, (and ironically), the increased push behind cheap mass market lagers has accentuated the difference between these beers and slightly more expensive premium beers – the noise about cheap beer seems to also be making people think more about the quality alternatives; and
  • Fourthly, the increased focus in the U.S. on quality and craft beers has opened up a substantial market for these beers, making it more feasible to invest in quality and range.

One brewery in the U.K. that is riding the waves of these trends is Daniel Thwaites’ brewery in Blackburn Lancashire.  Having recently (in 2007) celebrated its 200th anniversary, Thwaite’s is enjoying considerable success with a number of the beers that it brews - Wainwright, a recent addition to their range, is now the fastest growing premium bottled ale in the U.K.  This success is on top of an historical continued success for their beers – for example, a beer called Thwaite’s Best Mild is one of only three ales to win Champion Beer of Britain twice at the Great British Beer Festival (England’s largest beer festival event).

Both of our beers to-day come from Thwaite’s brewery.  Our first beer has recently won Best Brown Ale at the World Beer Awards.  Flying Shuttle is a delicious brown ale brewed at 4.9%.  The second beer that we are tasting to-day is Lancaster Bomber, which (together with Wainwright) is one of Thwaite’s two most popular beers.

Daniel Thwaite’s – Contemporary Tradition –

Heritage is an important aspect of successful, long established breweries.  There is a fine act in balancing maintaining the heritage of a brewery with progressing with new beers, and re-interpretations of old beer styles.

Having recently celebrated its bicentennial, it is clear that this balancing act is at the forefront of the minds of the brewers at Thwaite’s.  Recently, at the Great British Beer Festival, Thwaite’s shire horses were brought out on display at the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) in London.  These fabulous animals are celebrating a birthday of their own this year – their 50th year as part of Thwaite’s heritage.  The horses pulled a traditional dray, and the ceremoniously dressed draymen delivered cask beer to the festival on the first day of the event.  These shires are featured on the Thwaite’s logo on all of their bottles.  They are an example of heritage in its purest form, as a celebration of how beer would have been delivered hundreds of years ago.

The way in which Thwaite’s sells its beers in England is very much traditional as well.  While the beers are available in supermarkets and off-licences across the U.K., Thwaite’s still operates and manages a chain of about 450 pubs across the North of England.  In fact, there is probably no better way to appreciate the culture of English beer than to sample a cask beer fresh from the brewery in a local pub in the countryside of England.  This system, whereby breweries own pubs and sell their own beers through these pubs, is very much an English model – in fact in America, it would be illegal for a brewery to own and operate pubs in this way, as their model for distributing beer has been heavily influenced by the American experiences of Speakeasy’s during Prohibition.

In terms of the contemporary side of the equation, in the last number of years, Thwaite’s has done a superb job in launching a range of new beers in the last number of years.  Wainwright is the beer that seems to have established itself as the fore-runner of these new beers – a beer which enjoys the position of fastest growing Premium Bottled Ale in the U.K.  Also launched at the time of the bicentennial were Flying Shuttle (one of the beers that we are tasting to-day) and Double Century.

It is great to see with breweries such as Daniel Thwaite’s that a focus on quality, range of beers and heritage is working so well.  Their beers are superb interpretations of the style.  Through their taste, they evoke images that one would associate with beer brewed in the North of England – a place that combines traditional English heritage with the upheaval and change brought about by the Industrial Revolution.  True to their heritage, all of the Thwaite’s beers deliver delicious flavour, often with distinct hop character.  Across the range, from Wainwright (an easy to drink, hoppy golden ale), to Very Nutty Black (a dark mild, which, as the name suggests, gives an abundance of walnut flavour in the beer), each beer is its own interpretation of the style on which it is built, giving the drinker the opportunity to sample a range of different styles from the same brewery.  Nuttiness in the beer seems to be almost a house character (to varying degrees), so if this is a flavour that tickles your fancy, the Thwaite’s beers will not disappoint.

Lancaster Bomber –

Beer Style -  Chestnut Red Ale / Strong Bitter
Alcohol by Volume -  4.4% a.b.v.
Brewed by -  Daniel Thwaite’s Brewery
Brewed in -  Blackburn, Lancashire, England

It’s hard to not connect this beer with England.  Anybody vaguely familiar with the Second World War will know that the Lancaster Bombers were RAF planes during this conflict.  Most people familiar with the beer would say that it is famous because it was endorsed by Andrew (Freddie) Flintoff – a Lancashire cricketer who was on the England team when they defeated Australia in the Ashes in 2005.

In some respects, it is lucky that this beer has two claims to fame.  In 2007, Lancaster Bomber won a Gold Medal at the European Beer Star Awards in the European Strong Ales category.  This is noteworthy in and of itself, but the story is even more interesting when one takes into account the beer’s name, and the fact that the awards for this particular beer competition were presented in Nuremburg in Germany.  The hosts of the event were keen to emphasise that the reason for the beer’s popularity and success (aside from its taste) was because of its endorsement by the famous cricketer, and nothing to do with being named after a World War Two bomber.  Good to note that the Germans had a sense of humour about this – in fact, the following year, when Thwaite’s won an award at the same competition (in 2008, it was with Wainwright), the presenter of the award, in good humour, was keen to point out (again) that Lancaster Bomber had won the previous year.

So what about the beer itself?  Lancaster Bomber is a chestnut red-brown ale.  In bottle, the beer is filtered (in fact, it is a sterile filtered beer – this is a process which is used to secure the shelf life of beer in an alternative way to having to pasteurise it).  As a sterile filtered beer, one might not expect as much hop character to survive into the bottle.  However, in the case of all of the Thwaite’s beers, they manage to achieve the best of both worlds with their beers – sterile filtering is a more gentle way to brew/package a beer, so the beer’s flavour is maintained true to the ‘out of the brewery’ condition, and, at the same time, the beer has retained the hop character that makes it distinctive.

On the nose, Lancaster Bomber has a slightly nutty, floral hop character.  On the palate, the beer comes across with a toasted bread, digestive biscuit and caramel character, mingling with a full hop character that comes across as slightly nutty (almost a house character for Thwaite’s beers).  There is a background of fruity esters, but for the most part, this beer is primarily about the slightly oaky / nutty hop character merged with the toffee and digestive biscuit sweetness.

Lancaster Bomber is quite sessionable (easy to drink, and not too strong to be over powering in any way).  At 4.4% a.b.v., it is in line with what would be considered average in terms of beer strength in Ireland.  However, it is pleasant to see that, even at a strength slightly lower than is the case with other imported beers, that this beer has a deliciously pleasant character that makes its’ moreish quality all the more pleasing as the beer is drunk.

And just to confirm that relations between the brewers of Lancashire Bomber and the Germans are still on good footing, after winning their award for Lancaster Bomber in Nuremberg, Ian Bearpark (Thwaite’s Production Director) was invited back to Germany – this second time to give a talk on English cask ales at the University of Berlin.  He drove a nine gallon firkin of cask beer from England to Germany, along with the ‘Beer Engine’ equipment necessary to serve the beer.  Definitely a more pleasant English ‘invasion’ of Germany!! J.

Flying Shuttle –

Beer Style -  Brown Ale
Alcohol by Volume -  4.9% a.b.v.
Brewed by -  Daniel Thwaite’s Brewery
Brewed in -  Blackburn, Lancashire, England

Being from Lancashire, and brewing a beer to celebrate their bicentenary, it makes sense that Thwaite’s would brew a beer named after an iconic part of Industrial Revolution history.  The Flying Shuttle was an Industrial Revolution invention that transformed the cotton industry.  It is also particularly appropriate that this beer would be an interpretation of a traditional English ale style – Brown Ale.

Like all of the beers that Thwaite’s brew, Flying Shuttle is a deliciously superb example of an interpretation of a classic English ale style.  In this case, brown ale is probably one of the more esoteric of styles – not mainstream in any way, and definitely the type of beer that one would expect to appeal primarily to beer officionados.  However, as well as ticking all of the boxes with the aforementioned group, this beer is, quite simply a delicious beer of its own right.

Flying Shuttle presents with a substantial, yet bright, dark mahogany colour, and a dark cream / light brown, full head.  This beer has a slightly nutty aroma that comes through in the flavour of the beer.  Also present on the aroma (which comes through in the flavour) are elements of cinnamon and nutmeg – pleasantly, yet subtly spicy.  This combines with a dark treacle sweetness on a rich malty foundation.  The malt base for the beer comes through as chocolate, digestive biscuit and dark treacle, and it combines with a delicious dark fruit flavour in the background (dark plums, figs).

This beer is a superb example of a brown ale.  In comparison with another well known brown ale (Newcastle Brown), Flying Shuttle has much greater depth of character and substance to its flavour – definitely a beer that one would associate more with the North of England, and the richness of character of ale that one would expect from this area.

Brown Ale as a style is a style that has enjoyed a resurgence in the U.S.  In the U.S. it would appear that people who appreciate quality beer are actively searching out the more unusual beer styles, and delighting in the interpretations of these styles from breweries who take the trouble to brew them.  It is clear that Flying Shuttle has all of the taste credentials to enjoy considerable success – while not being overly sweet, this beer has a delightful balance of sweet toffee and dark fruit character perfectly matched with rich, nutty hop character.

Flying Shuttle recently won ‘Best Brown Ale’ at the World Beer Awards – an accolade most deserved.