a little search for Burton IPA


Sometimes I do wonder what the hell I have done to deserve a passion for beer, the miles that I do, the gym sessions that I hate and a collection of glasses that really are becoming an issue.  Ok, so that’s the biggest crock of crap that I have ever written, I love it, but there must have been a black cat kicked somewhere. Certainly if luck had anything to do with this trip, we were shit out of it!   I really wanted to call this article “#fail”…

Inspired by the excellent Hops and Glory, by Pete Brown, The Reluctant Scooper and I had made plans for me to drive the 250 miles to come up to the delights of Derbyshire, go do some flyfishing and importantly head to Burton drink some IPA’s.

Such was our conversation inspired by Pete’s excellent book, we couldn’t get to Bombay, ooops Mumbai, for just the bank holiday weekend… and we really didn’t fancy Hayward 5000, we decided to go to Burton instead.

Pete himself

Pete himself

That was the plan, by the end you’ll see how far we got away from it just to achieve the goals.    We also didn’t want to ring up some PR company representing Coors or the like, to get the “inside track” – this had to be done like every other beer tourist that makes trails to Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, Bamberg, Brussels, Koln, Düsseldorf,  or the other marker towns and cities that have given us marker styles within the whole spectrum of beer.   You’d go to Koln for Kolsch, Düsseldorf for Alt, Chicagoland for Bourbon Barrel Beer, San Diego for Double IPA,  Brussels for Lambic and Gueuze etc etc…  So, why not IPA in Burton?  I know it’s an export product, but there should be some semblance of this beer available?

Being honest and as travelled as we both are, Simon far more than me within the UK and being local to Burton we knew that the chances of getting this IPA in Burton was probably limited to two bottles, one of Worthington WhiteShield and the other being Burton Bridge’s Empire IPA.    The BB IPA is actually listed in the Beer Judge Certification Program as a marker English IPA; Category 14a says this:

14A. English IPA

Aroma: A moderate to moderately high hop aroma of floral, earthy or fruity nature is typical, although the intensity of hop character is usually lower than American versions. A slightly grassy dry-hop aroma is acceptable, but not required. A moderate caramel-like or toasty malt presence is common. Low to moderate fruitiness, either from esters or hops, can be present. Some versions may have a sulfury note, although this character is not mandatory.

Appearance: Color ranges from golden amber to light copper, but most are pale to medium amber with an orange-ish tint. Should be clear, although unfiltered dry-hopped versions may be a bit hazy. Good head stand with off-white color should persist.

Flavor: Hop flavor is medium to high, with a moderate to assertive hop bitterness. The hop flavor should be similar to the aroma (floral, earthy, fruity, and/or slightly grassy). Malt flavor should be medium-low to medium-high, but should be noticeable, pleasant, and support the hop aspect. The malt should show an English character and be somewhat bready, biscuit-like, toasty, toffee-like and/or caramelly. Despite the substantial hop character typical of these beers, sufficient malt flavor, body and complexity to support the hops will provide the best balance. Very low levels of diacetyl are acceptable, and fruitiness from the fermentation or hops adds to the overall complexity. Finish is medium to dry, and bitterness may linger into the aftertaste but should not be harsh. If high sulfate water is used, a distinctively minerally, dry finish, some sulfur flavor, and a lingering bitterness are usually present. Some clean alcohol flavor can be noted in stronger versions. Oak is inappropriate in this style.

Mouthfeel: Smooth, medium-light to medium-bodied mouthfeel without hop-derived astringency, although moderate to medium-high carbonation can combine to render an overall dry sensation in the presence of malt sweetness. Some smooth alcohol warming can and should be sensed in stronger (but not all) versions.

Overall Impression: A hoppy, moderately strong pale ale that features characteristics consistent with the use of English malt, hops and yeast. Has less hop character and a more pronounced malt flavor than American versions.

Comments: A pale ale brewed to an increased gravity and hop rate. Modern versions of English IPAs generally pale in comparison (pun intended) to their ancestors. The term “IPA” is loosely applied in commercial English beers today, and has been (incorrectly) used in beers below 4% ABV. Generally will have more finish hops and less fruitiness and/or caramel than English pale ales and bitters. Fresher versions will obviously have a more significant finishing hop character.

History: Brewed to survive the voyage from England to India. The temperature extremes and rolling of the seas resulted in a highly attenuated beer upon arrival. English pale ales were derived from India Pale Ales.

Ingredients: Pale ale malt (well-modified and suitable for single-temperature infusion mashing); English hops; English yeast that can give a fruity or sulfury/minerally profile. Refined sugar may be used in some versions. High sulfate and low carbonate water is essential to achieving a pleasant hop bitterness in authentic Burton versions, although not all examples will exhibit the strong sulfate character.

There was also on the BJCP site a listing “Meantime India Pale Ale, Freeminer Trafalgar IPA, Fuller’s IPA, Ridgeway Bad Elf, Summit India Pale Ale, Samuel Smith’s India Ale, Hampshire Pride of Romsey IPA, Burton Bridge Empire IPA, Middle Ages ImPailed Ale, Goose Island IPA, Brooklyn East India Pale Ale

Ok, considering that only one comes from Burton, the Burton Bridge IPA… the rest will be ignored.   I hope someone will readdress that list soon, Pride of Romsey was a nice pint.  I hate dumping big chunks of copy and paste, but at least you can get an idea of what parameters are being made of this iconic brew from afar.  Whether this is healthy, I’ll leave that debate to the comments down below.


So, driving the 4 hours up to Derby to meet up with Simon meant an early leave.   I got there at 10am, kidnapped Simon and headed to Derby for a fry up.   Since we’re gonna be drinking strong beer, I figured we needed a liner to take the impact.

The day started auspiciously, the breakfast was an interesting indication to our luck levels, the tea coming sometime into our bacon and egg devouring sesh.

We mooched on up the road to Burton, intending to swing by a Flyfishing venue, at Willington – we drove up and down the lane, and again… wondering where this lake was?!?   The google map search had us right there – then only stopping and asking highlighted the none too small a fact that the lake was now a marina serving the canal boaters.   Progress from a strange angle.  #fail2.

So, we carried on up the road to Burton, the long 10 or so mile drive was brought to a scenic end by the advent of the Pirelli depot, which is one huge building.   The Victorian industrial redbrick scattered the early fringes of the town, memorably Rumenco in one of the massive station yards, well, not memorably.

Simon had decided that we should go to the CAMRA pub of the year for the best outside chance of scoring an IPA. This pub, the Coopers Tavern is a flat fronted multi room place of many years standing.   Full of breweriana, much of it Bass and the like, with more than an unnoticeable amount of other midland brewery stuff, I think Banks from vague memory.   This observation was something that sparked a train of thought with the Reluctant one.  We  settled into a couple of pints, with me actually suppin’ on a pint of gravity served Bass.   We also sampled a quick taster of the new RedShield, I am assuming this a “brand extension” of the venerable White Shield, ‘spose Red ( please remember (red) ) is a trendy brand now, rather than Blue everything.   I just cant help thinking of Red Shield when I ever hear of a Red something beer.  See, I am writing loads about why I really enjoyed my swift sample of Red, what was it called?  The Bass was actually passable to fair, to my surprise.  Certainly one of the easiest pints to drink I had all day.  So, no illicit barrels of sample brews in the Coopers, no brewers reserves, no surprises… nothing fun to drag the crowds/beergeeks in.    In fact I had only just been to a pub beerfestival at the Bull Horton Kirby and had the chance to try the WhiteShield on hand pump, it wasn’t the same brew I remember from the bottle recently.     Reading Pete’s book, he refers to the contract bottler.   Something that’s really happening at the moment, but certainly was an important part of the trade back then.

Something of family history – it was one of my fathers favourite tipples from way back – I always remember the effort he went to keep Whiteshield in the pub, even though we were a freehouse and getting Whiteshield during the times of it’s “kicked around a few breweries” – before Steve Wellington helped revive it’s fortunes.

_MG_2156Mr Reluctant and I moved on to the now established and famous Burton Bridge Brewery.  It was heaving with folk, drinking their pale ales. Their Stairway to Heaven was on.  This is a 5% pale ale, fairly hoppy and good golden malt.   We sat and chewed the fat over a couple of other samples, their Festival was also on the oche (okky).  We wandered around the delights of modern Burton, the modern retail icons of Sainsbury’s/Asda et al… in search of what we had to be able to buy a bottle of Worthington Whiteshield.   We failed.

The weather was turning for the worse.  Being from the south coast, the midlands over cast greyness comes hard.  We headed back to Derby, Mr Reluctant impressing on me the virtues and opportunity for a diverstiy of brew.    We went to the Flowerpot, enjoying their own brews as marveling at their dispense system.   The way that they combine great ale and live music is something to behold, congratulations!  Mr Reluctant raving about the Summer Marble was right!  It was a truely excellent pint.   But, this wasn’t getting us closer to Burton IPA.   In a flash of inspiration we decided to walk to the other end of town to see a Marstons Pub, go see what they happened to their incarnation of an IPA,  Marstons Old Empire.

We found an absolute delight of an heirloom pub, seemingly we’re told from around 1830  A bolted together cottages style place.   We sampled a couple of halves of their Old Empire.  It was in good nick, and tasty.   I will admit I do have a soft spot for the canned version, especially when I am out fishing.

We made a little video

*I really want to try to get a better render of this film, it’s really much better on the camera we filmed it on.

After leaving Derby, where I can wholeheartedly recommend for good ale, we headed home for some much needed food and more IPA.    Ok, so just for insurance purposes I brought up a selection of IPA‘s.

Reading that within the style guides there would have been no oak in the beer once drunk, I can hardly believe.   If you put anything near oak for any period of time, even the what became a short haul to India, there had to be some influence on what Peter writes as what we’d call bright beer now within the barrel.   The low aroma Hungarian type oaks, Memmel, would have had some influence.   It wouldn’t have been heavy heavy OAK, like 1980’s Chardonnays… just a woodsiness behind the given hops and malts.    Having looked at a certain American brewer who’s supposed to use wood in their fermentation, albeit in a different point than an IPA, and yes I can’t believe I am referring to them in this context, but that’s using beech for nucleation, improved fermentation rather than add flavour.    I am not getting into some debate with what or what didn’t happen to the barrels – but, all said, I am sure that there would have been a “flavour” driven from the wood, I wonder even if there was some fermentation of the wood sugars?

Anyway,  Mr Reluctant and I opened a number of “IPA’s” – Golden Hop,  Moor JJJ IPA, Southern Tier Cuvee One, Pliny the Elder and Burton Bridge Empire.  One would think that we’d have with drawn to chambers with ceiling spinning after that lot.  Alas we can report back that two found their way to the drain.     The Southern Tier Cuvee One an insanely oaked IPA, was truly aromatic to 11.  The Pliny caused Simon to pause.   The Golden Hop was pleasant, the others we both knew… The Burton Bridge IPA was infected and a shade past it’s best, which was a shame considering it was bought from the brewery that morning.      Over the course of the evening, I realised that I had a tweet from someone from the PR department of Coors – telling me where to get Worthington Whiteshield.  Great we said, but we’re not going now, and wasn’t what the trip was about – it was about seeing what we could do.   Of course the museum was shut, I still haven’t even been in there.    (I can remember Rodger at at British Guild of Beer writers event making noise about it’s demise, that’s soon forgotten then?! and I still have Mr Reluctant commenting about their business model and designed failure ringing in my ears)

Much of our discussion over the day was centred around the people of Burton – what it must have been like to be an employee of these breweries when they all lost their key markets – closures happened, jobs lost etc etc… We hear of Miner, Car workers, etc in the history books, but never of the brewery workers. It must have left one serious scar on their economy, psyche and quality of life.  I suspect that they are still trying to recover.

The following day I headed south, ish, via north, a minor accidental detour.   Ok, I used to have a Tom Tom it’s since died and I am waiting for a new one to arrive, as such I had to follow my nose which considering my zero sense of direction was something to behold.    I headed down, well, up the M1, coming to Sheffield rapidly.  Funny, I thought, on the map it’s north of Derby, so what’s it doing here?    So, realising my fail I carried on thinking it’d be nice to head to Manchester, such was the quality of the Marble Summer Marble.

There is a lovely road that seemingly a lot of other people like, called the A616.  It’s very scenic.  Eventually I went past a big sign shouting trout fishery.    Ok, this’ll be good I thought… I drove tentatively into the fishery – it looked lovely. Maybe the first victory for the weekend?

A few hours thrashing the water to a foam, in a headwind seemed appealing, especially on a bank holiday Monday?  Bank Holiday Monday’s are notoriously bad on put and take fisheries.   5 hours later, couple of tugs later I was fishless. Moving around the platforms I had feint tugs but failed to connect.   I wandered past heading further into the windward bank, were very few attempted such was the increasing wind.  20 mins later, as much as Robert’s your mothers brother… bish bash bosh, the cool box was full.   Phew. perhaps this jinx was breaking.

Looking at the clock I decided the four hour drive needs some lead in if I was to get home before day break.     Then I got a text.   “Text from: Kelly Ryan”  – “are you in the area for the brewery opening? at the pub now” Ah, well, it’s on the way home?!   So, 50 mins later I was at the fabulous Coach and Horses.   Kelly was there and so was a newish brew from Thornbridge… Seaforth.   An English IPA? wow.  The first half disappeared fast, refreshing after a hard days toil on the water.  I’d forgotten how hard it was chucking fluff all day, I couldn’t remember the last time I went, but suffice to say the fly that I started with on the rod was the one that I finished with.

_MG_2160I was joined at the table by Kelly and Mark Tranter of DarkStar Brewery, chatting about beer and brewing – the couple of halves of Seaforth disappeared easily.  This was a delectable brew.  very impressive and perhaps closer to an IPA.

We chatted about modern UK hops, some of the weird and wonderful stuff that Kelly had written about on his blog at the “rubbing” – with Charles Faram.

All in all it was a wonderful trip, the hoped for suprise of a modern incarnation of what is such a celebrated style was scarce, but at least pointed at by a brew by Thornbridge, both with their Seaforth and Halcyon.

You can see that there has been attempts by various bodies to invigorate the history and heritage of Burtons Brewing History. They were just too early and forgot to tell everyone in the town too.

I drove home wondering why I spent that time doing this, when I could have been on the beach at home – but, it was fun, thanks Pete for the idea.

PS:  Luke from Epic did this.

You can see what IPA’s we have – here


13 thoughts on “a little search for Burton IPA

  1. Well at least you had fun! Burton Bridge, Marstons Old Empire and the venerable Worthington White Shield all qualify as authentic Burton IPAs in my book (literally), but getting hold of them in the town can be more difficult than you would think…

  2. I know there’s some decent IPAs produced in the UK, but my problem, as proven by your fruitless quest, is that they’re far harder to locate and buy than they should be. Annoys the shit out of me.

    Speaking of IPAs (subtle shift of topic), any sign of the Double Trouble?


    My debit card is primed and ready for action. Just let me loose.

    • Well, I can assure you that it’s arrived safely – along with Southern Tier Oak Aged UnEarthly, Intigue Imperial Black Ale, and Mokah. Alesmith YuleSmith. Founders Dirty Bastard, Old Curmudgeon, Cerise. Plus a new Mikkeller Brew. These are very limited…

      Have no fear, I have lots of Lost Abbey and Port Brewing – including Older Viscosity and Angels Share. Serpents Stout, Hot Rocks, and a few others including Devotion, Lost and Found, RedBarn, Avant Garde. 3rd Aniversary,

      • …Well then. That all sounds fucking spectacular (pardon my French). I didn’t realise you were getting Southern Tier stuff in.

        Monday it is.

        Thanks as ever for the update.

  4. Brilliant stuff guy. Love the cracking photo of the pints lined up on the bar, very nice depth of field!

    British IPAs don’t seem to make it into the pubs like they should, but thankfully White Shield etc are popping up in shops and supermarkets more often.

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