I am wary of using the word ‘iconic’, it’s a word that trips off the pens and tongues of the media all too easily.
I’ve discussed iconic brews here at the Brewclub, and surely Bass should rank highly in any such list.
William Bass founded the brewery that bore his name, in 1777 at Burton-upon-Trent in the east Midlands. By 1877 the brewery was the world’s largest; brewing in excess of a million barrels a year. Indeed when London’s ‘St Pancras’ railway station – the main-line terminus that serves Burton – was built in the 1860’s the warehouse under the station was designed with spaces between the supporting pillars measured to accommodate beer barrels.
Burton’s water proved ideal for brewing, with a high calcium sulphate content that brought out hop flavours and bitterness. Other breweries around Britain added sulphur to their liquor in a technique known as ‘burtonisation’.
Burton quickly became (and remains) a centre for brewing, using a unique brewing technique that used interconnected barrels rather than large vats or tuns, known as the ‘Burton Union’ method.
Bass famously registered the red triangle trademark on 1st January 1876, the day that the UK’s Trade Mark Registration Act 1875 came into effect. Legend has it that a Bass employee queued overnight to be the first in line and record trade mark number one, but sadly history does not reward such dedication with a name-check.
Bass’s trademarked pale ale features in Manet’s famous 1882 painting “At the Bar of the Folies Bergere” and was, allegedly, served on the Titanic.
While draught Bass is still brewed at Burton (by Marstons), bottled Bass is now brewed at Samlesbury, near Preston, Lancashire, part of the AB InBev empire – presumably using the aforementioned ‘burtonised’ water.
It’s also brewed locally ‘under licence’ in both Belgium and the United States.
It pours a rich chestnut colour with a white head that fades slowly, lacing down the glass as it goes.
The nose is subtle, I wasn’t really expecting anything too unusual from this old lady; there are, however, hoppy hints, along with mellow malt.
It’s medium bodied, nothing to write home about, with a nutty maltiness. Not as ‘nutty’ as a Yorkshire ale like Landlord or Black Sheep, but there are hints, there’s no evidence of the hoppiness that burtonised water should promise.
Bass claim that this is still brewed “according to its original recipe“, but I suspect that ‘according to’ are the weasel words, or more accurately ‘according‘. I simply cannot believe that this is the brew that, according to legend ‘Napoleon fought over‘ – one might think that he had more pressing concerns than ale – or that was served on the Titanic.
It’s okay, it’s just not that special.
And for an iconic brew, that must be a disappointment