FOOD & DRINK / Michael Jackson's guide to British bottled beer

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MORLAND'S OLD SPECKLED HEN

5.2 per cent

I've always thought of this as a beer that has a dry maltiness to it - most malt gives a sweet taste, but this is dry, quite cleansing and appetising: fresh and dry and a bit biscuity. This would be quite nice to drink before a meal to sharpen up your appetite.

BLACK SHEEP ALE

4.4 per cent

An attractive amber colour - and look at the head retention on it. This has got what they call in the brewing industry a 'Yorkshire bite' - a yeasty robustness. I think it's from the calcium sulphate in the local water, and it's almost a salty taste. It's quite a complex beer - similar to Samuel Smith's, but a bit more of everything: a really malty nose, and as you taste it more flavours come out. Very nice with the Sunday roast.

CALEDONIAN 80/-

4 per cent

This has a lovely aroma - Scottish beers are generally maltier and sweeter than English beers, but this has a really fresh, appetising aroma and a very clean sweetness. Drinking this one, you really do get the sense that beer is made from barley malt - it is almost as though you are in the field. That bit more sweetness would go very nicely with pork. This is a very good beer indeed.

SAINSBURY'S BOTTLE-CONDITIONED ALE

brewed by McMullan's, 4.5 per cent

These bottle-conditioned beers really should be left to stand for at least a day to let the sediment properly settle - somewhere cool and dark, but not a fridge. A larder would be ideal, if anyone still has one. What you get with all these beers is a bit more tartness and fruitiness, because of the secondary fermentation in the bottle - a bit more champagney-ness, if you like. This one is an attractive russett colour, and it's really quite fruity - the most fruit I've tasted so far. (It doesn't matter, by the way, if you do drink a little of the sediment along with the beer - the yeast is good for your skin and your hair.)

SHEPHERD NEAME SPITFIRE

4.7 per cent

This is very bright in appearance; quite dry, a bit of earthy hop on the nose. To me it has more of a sense of draught ale than the last one did: I think if I poured this out into a pint glass I might be able to - not fool myself that it was a draught ale, but sort of collude in a conspiracy that it was . . .

KING & BARNES FESTIVE CONDITIONED

5.3 per cent

The colour - slightly claret - betrays some darker malts, and there are deeper aromas, too. Some are light and flowery, but there is also a touch of chocolatey maltiness, and some yeasty acidity. This is a beautifully balanced beer, and quite a long finish as well. The flavours lurk around on your tongue and don't want to go away. Can't you imagine drinking this with pheasant or something?

MARSTON'S INDIA EXPORT PALE ALE

5.5 per cent

The allusion to India in the name shows that this is the kind of beer that was originally exported to the Indian empire. The key to them was very strong and very hoppy. This has definitely got the biggest hop aroma so far, and a nice hoppy dryness in the palate as well, but it drinks gentler than the nose would suggest. Most of the beers that are called IPAs these days have lost all connection with the name - they're just conventional pale ales or bitters adopting imperial airs and graces - but this does have real hoppiness. But it's also got that distinctive Marston's fruitiness - a kind of Cox's Orange Pippin flavour that comes from the linked wooden casks they use in their brewing. If you like their Pedigree then you might like this just that little bit more.

Michael Jackson is author of 'The Beer Companion' (Mitchell Beazley pounds 19.99)

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