Tuesday 22 June 2010

I'll Have an E Please, Bob

I've got a glass of Worthington E in front of me. It's a bottle conditioned beer from the White Shield brewery in Burton upon Trent, 4.8% alcohol by volume, copper brown in colour, with a deliciously complex aroma - nutty bread, baking spices, some caramel - and a similar set of flavours playing out across the palate, but finishing dry, spicy and nutty.

As anachronisms go, it's pretty enjoyable, but it's still an anachronism. Worthington E became a best-selling beer for Bass in the 1970s, when it saw widespread distribution as a filtered and pasteurised keg bitter. It was famous - notorious even - and like most keg bitter, production slowly declined until it became almost extinct. It's still been in occasional production, brewed by Steve Wellington at the Museum Brewery in Burton upon Trent on an as-and-when basis, mostly as a cask ale. But now it is about to be released in bottle, in smart blue livery.

And it's a great beer, classically dry and nutty, with that slightly abrasive hop dryness that is characteristic of beer brewed with the sulphate-rich waters of Burton. I'm enjoying it, but at the back of my mind, I find myself asking: Who is this beer for? Anyone who remembers the 'original' Worthington E (by which I mean the keg bitter) will be baffled by its reappearance - maybe they will buy it through nostalgia, and they will be pleasantly surprised. Anyone who only has a vague handed-down folk memory of it will probably steer well clear of it. I imagine that this won't be an atypical reaction to seeing the beer on the shelf again, and it will get passed over for something a bit more contemporary, a bit louder, a bit brighter. Which would be a terrible shame.


  1. I thought that this was an ostensible copy of Bass bitter, but I obviously completely misheard that when in Burton!

    It's a really good beer and it fits well into the White Shield portfolio, but the name is a little bit of a sticking issue: stuck to the beer it once was, tarred with the drug reference.

    I never knew Worthington E so this was a 'new' beer to me. I guess that it will also be new to many others too.

  2. I think that is the problem with beer nostalgia — Bass, Truemans, Worthington E, even though recreations might be wonderful beers they have a whiff of a Saturday night concert in the Fens featuring Brian Poole and the Original Tremeloes and Freddie & The Dreamers (minus Freddie of course who is dead).

  3. Mark - it was certainly a Bass beer by that time, but a beer in it's own right. But did you like it?

    Adrian - yhou did get up to some high jinks out on the Fens, didn't you?

  4. In my time in the wild east I often thought it a place where many traditions were observed with no regard for modern mores, so it wouldn’t surprise me if a barrel of dry-hopped Bass was served in some social club near March which none of us will ever be able to find.

  5. I vaguely remember there was a time when some pubs sold Draught Bass as "Worthington" for obscure historical reasons.

  6. Worthington E was originally the Worthington equivalent of Bass Pale Ale/Draught Bass, that is to say, their top-of-the-range Burton IPA-style beer. (As, indeed, was Double Diamond at Ind Coope). Then they decided to turn it into one of them new "keg" beers what everyone wanted to drink back when the Beatles were producing their first long-playing record. But if (and I'm assuming he is) Steve W is brewing it to the recipe from the 1950s or earlier, then it ought indeed to be a fine beer.

  7. ATJ - beer geekery in the 1970s? There really is nothing new under the sun, is there?

    Curmudgeon - I'd guess that's to do with Bass and Worthington becoming one brewery, and their recipe portfolio being amalgamated (but that's only a guess)

    Zythophile - it's interesting to drink something that has gone 'full circle'. No doubt a lot of the beers that became kegged shadows of their former selves started out as pretty decent beers, given their origins.

    'E' now stands alone, distinctive and different from most contemporary beers, but clearly related to White Shield. It is indeed Steve W who is brewing it, so as you say, it's perhaps unsurprising that it's such a decent beer, and given that Steve has gone on record about how terrible it was in its keg heyday, I would imagine he has gone for a 'golden era' recipe.

  8. I'm not so sure that it will get passed by, the White Shield logo and branding sure means it passes on the "good label" front.

    Hopefully people who have tried & like White Shield will try this one too?

  9. Baron - I hope so. White Shield is always sold out in my local Morrisons, although I can't tell whether that's because everyone is buying it, or production is still quite small - I think it's still quite a niche beer at present

  10. Zak, when I was drinking this in Burton a couple of months ago, Steve told me that at one point in its life, E essentially was Bass. I enjoyed it tremendously whilst there.

    I'm not old enough to remember E as it once was, but do have fond memories of it as an export beer supped in Canada back when I was young and stupid(er). Didn't know anything about beer, of course, but relative to the range of rubbish we had available on this side of the pond, my friends and I thought it was pretty good stuff.

    None of which addresses the question of to whom this is intended, of course, but perhaps there are sufficient others of my ilk and vintage who will feel a vague but unspecific nostalgia for the brand.

  11. Stephen - it seems as though E might be a perfect example of British beer history - a once great brand, amalgamated and bastardised into near extinction, only to rise again, phoenix-like. Or that might be a slightly jingoistic, dewy-eyed interpretation.

    I found out yesterday that the majority of the current production of E is bought by the staff at Burton - and it's a tiny production antway. Perhaps when production shifts to the new on-site 8 barrel brewery, they might leave some for the rest of us.

  12. I thought that this was an ostensible copy of Bass bitter, but I obviously completely misheard that when in Burton!

    That's what I remember too. I'm sure we were told that it's the oldest known Bass recipe but with a different name.

  13. Chunk - if that's what Steve says he's brewing as E now, then that's the case. Like all bers that have changed ownershi and production locations over time, there is sure to be some variance in what went into it.


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