Name – Best Bitter
Brewer – Ballard's
Classification – I'll let you take a guess, but the clue is kinda in the name...(see above)
Strength – 4.2% ABV
Verdict - At A Glance
On the eye– Rich, deep and radiant orange amber. Gorgeous.
On the nose – Dry roasted nuts, pepper, spices and liquorice with faint high citrus.
On the tongue – A sharp, bitter, nutty and well hopped brew which tastes and feels as real as any pub served ale. An exemplary bottled beer. One for all breweries to be aware of.
On the subject – I'm just going to say this in the hope that you go on to read the review in full... It may be insignificant, but Ballard's Brewery is run by Carola Brown who – among other things – happens to be a woman. An elusive creature, still, in the world of brewery control. However, if this fact is not insignificant, then I think it might be time for the entire industry to take a good long look at itself, because this one beer alone from Ballard's range is not only a better beer than most others currently on the market – it is also tangibly different. Do read on.
On the market – The relative scarcity of a product like this is nothing less than morally wrong, and shopkeepers everywhere without it on their shelves should hang their heads in shame. Medals of honour and gold stars go to the likes of Waitrose (not known for their poor quality stock!) and Hops & Pips. Or just order a lorryload from the brewery's own online store.
On the whole – 9.5/10
This is like deja vu.
I kept taking sips and thinking – 'I've been here before'. The sense of familiarity came instantaneously and was unwavering.
The odd thing, though (aside from the fact that I know for sure I've never encountered this drink before) is that this strong reaction was not related to the flavour of the beer.
In fact, it wasn't any aspect of the beer itself that felt familiar.
It was the beer's effect.
The beer was working a very strange magic on me. I slipped quickly into a wonderfully contented sense of being in some unspecific somewhere in which I felt comfortable and at home.
After a few sips, I worked out precisely what the cause of this magic was. This beer is essentially a huge number of brews you've loved throughout your life, gathered and fused together into one gloriously evocative ale.
Not a bottled ale, I might add. This fusion of favourites does not consist of all your cherished shop-bought brews. I'm talking about all your favourite pub-bought cask ales, brought together, brewed into one beer and merely served in a bottle.
Without wanting to sound any more deranged than I probably already do - this really is no 'bottled beer' I'm reviewing today. It might have been poured from one, but it sure doesn't look, feel or taste like one. The behaviour, character and the experience of this beer is that of a freshly served and very well kept cask beer, and I suspect that the reason for this is the beautifully executed bottle-conditioning, which deserves closer attention here.
The conditioning of this beer is the best example I've come across. Regular readers will know I've had some pretty heartbreaking experiences with bottle-conditioning during the course of these reviews and I've had some fairly strong thoughts on the subject (here's an example) but this beer has rapidly reminded me why the industry continues to persevere with this concept. I now realise what all these many failed attempts are trying to achieve, and I'm now inclined to think that even failed attempts are worth it – because the cause is a much more noble one than I'd ever realised.
When bottle condition is done badly – it ruins the drink. When bottle conditioning is done well – you get an entirely new kind of experience, and Ballard's Best Bitter is the clearest demonstration of this that I know of. Any sceptics would rethink their stance after a glass of this stuff.
In fact, I would challenge anyone to tell the difference between this and a pub served cask ale in a blind tasting. I invite people to hold such trials all across Britain. I predict 50/50 results across the board.
The body, the carbonation, the freedom of expression and the freshness of the flavours – all say “the landlady just pulled me.”
I hope you'll pardon that hugely ill-chosen phrase.
Of the flavour itself – this is a hop favoured ale (as any proper bitter should be) with absolutely no gaps in the flavour spectrum all the way down to a lovely biscuit and nut malt base. It's taste really does have that feeling of 'completeness' overall, as though someone has taken the time to accommodate each and every receptor on the human tongue, and therefore the capacity of this beer to satisfy is nothing short of jaw dropping.
There's a real feel of nature in this glass. Abundant dry citrus, cereals, soft spices, gentle floral waves, faint granary loaf and flapjack suggestions and so much more besides, but the reality is that it has all been so perfectly crafted that the main flavour of this beer is actually just beer, if you see what I mean. The sense of perfection is so immediate it is almost too hard to believe that it was put together from separate ingredients. All the elements have been combined together so naturally that it feels like it just simply came into being in it's current form like some miraculous biblical arrival.
I need to calm down a little.
Let me just get right back to basics.
This is by far the best 'Best' I've so far found.
It is by far the best bottled-conditioned beer I've so far found.
The only question left is whether or not this is the best beer I've so far found.
It is certainly one of them.