The 50 Best beers

In search of the perfect pint? Will Coldwell and his panel of experts recommend crisp lagers, hoppy ales and brilliant bitters

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The Independent Online

The experts

Jon Howard works for the Campaign for Real Ale.

Martyn Cornell was Beer Blogger of the Year in the British Guild of Beer Writers' 2011 awards for his Zythophile blog. @zythophiliac

Pete Brown is the author of Shakespeare's Local, out in November. @PeteBrownBeer

Melissa Cole is the author of Let Me Tell You About Beer, the perfect beginner's guide to the world of great brews. @melissacole

Magic Rock High Wire £2.40 (5.5% ABV)

"High Wire has an explosion of fruit flavours," explains Jon. "A crisp, golden pint, and a remarkable creation from a brewery that started up only last year."

Badger Golden Champion, £26 for 8 bottles (5% ABV)

"A perennial favourite from the West Country," says Pete. "Flavoured with a hint of elderflower, this beer is a wonderful evocation of summer evenings and a perfect accompaniment to the caramelised crispy bits of the barbecue."

Young's Bitter, £12.80 for 8 bottles (4.5% ABV)

"This is the perfect session beer," says Melissa, who loves its "soft earthy nose, the hint of orange marmalade and its delicious gentle astringency."

Thornbridge Saint Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout, £36 for 12 bottles (7.7% ABV)

This full-bodied stout is delicately laced with chocolate and you immediately catch the intriguingly smoky scent of peat, a hint of vanilla and espresso.

Harviestoun Schiehallion, £14 for 8 bottles (4.8% ABV)

"This fascinating lager will blow you away," says Melissa. "Chock full of aromas and flavours like fresh-cut grass, brown sugar, lychee and green mango, it is a complex and stunning beer."

Adnams Explorer, £13.50 for 8 bottles (5.0% ABV)

"A fine example of a blonde ale using US hops in a restrained fashion," says Melissa. "Full of herbal, citrus notes, it reminds me of a sea walk."

Ilkley Brewery Siberia, £28.75 for 12 bottles (5.9% ABV)

"I'm going to admit this is a shameless inclusion, as I created it in collaboration with Ilkley, but it's just so yummy," says Melissa.

Kelham Island Pale Rider, £2.82 (5.2% ABV)

"Sadly the great man who made this, Dave Wickett, has just passed away," says Melissa. "However, the beer is a joy, with aromas of peach, raspberry and cucumber."

Windsor & Eton Conqueror Black IPA, £29.99 for 12 bottles (5% ABV)

"The Conqueror is a mouth-watering collision of different styles – 'hoppy and dry' with 'dark and roasted'," says Jon.

Otter Bright, £2.24 (4.3% ABV)

This beer has an understated flavour, but that doesn't make it any less masterful. Light and refreshing, it only takes a few sips to ask: could this pale ale come any paler?

Buxton Moor Top, £2.30 (3.6% ABV)

Jon is a great fan of this dry hopped pale ale: "It's brimming with a citrus flavour and aroma, with a slight bitterness in the finish and a late grapefruit kick."

Thornbridge Wild Swan, £2.10 (3.5% ABV)

"Thornbridge is a force to be reckoned with in brewing," says Jon. "It has won more than 190 Camra and SIBA awards since 2005. Wild Swan is a favourite – pure white gold in a glass."

Fyne Ales Jarl, £25 for 12 bottles (3.8% ABV)

"This light-coloured ale is also light in body, with summer fruits bursting through and a crisp dry finish to top it all off," says Jon. "Ideally consumed on a fine summer's day."

Keswick Thirst Run, £2.98 (4.2% ABV)

It was a design error which prevented Keswick's premier ale from being named "First Run", but fortunately it was the only mistake it made with this golden pale ale.

Freedom Organic Dark, £12.50 for 12 bottles (4.7% ABV)

"Welcome to the dark side," says Melissa. "This brew strikes a great balance of freshness and sweetness that allows you to enjoy the sweet toffee and fruit notes."

Windsor & Eton Republika, £2.25 (4.8% ABV)

"Brewed with Czech ingredients, this beats the Europeans at their own game. Which is nice," says Pete.

Chapel Down Curious Brew, £29.99 for 24 bottles (4.7% ABV)

"This is a lager brewed with champagne yeast, giving it a delicious grapey fruitiness and tingling sparkle," says Pete.

Meantime London Lager, £15.99 for 12 bottles (4.5% ABV)

The only complaint most people have about this perfect summer lager is that it doesn't come in big enough bottles.

Otley O-Garden, £2.94 (4.8% ABV)

"On the nose there is orange and clove, topped off by rich tropical-fruit notes," says Melissa. "Then you get a sweet clove up front and an earthier note from the coriander."

St Austell Clouded Yellow, £21.95 for 12 bottles (4.8% ABV)

"This sublime offering is rich in vanilla, clove and coriander. It flutters like its namesake on your tastebuds," says Melissa.

Bristol Beer Factory Hefe, £28.99 for 12 bottles (4.5% ABV)

Melissa can't think of a better British take on the German-style Hefeweissbier, or yeast-in wheat beer. "It's full of all the things Weiss beer fans love."

Thornbridge Versa, £2.50 (5% ABV)

"Thornbridge is proving it can reach high standards with

any beer style," says Pete. "This naturally hazy Weiss beer is cool, quenching and full of banoffee."

Camden Wheat, £2.40 (5% ABV)

Camden Brewery opened in 2010. Camden Wheat is unashamedly inspired by classic unfiltered Weiss beers and is one of the best in the range; cloudy and citrusy.

Woodfordes Wherry, £27.12 for 12 bottles (3.8% ABV)

"From one of the most successful East Anglian start-ups, now 31 years old, Wherry is a light, moreish, balanced, bitter," says Martyn.

Crouch Vale Essex Boys, £2.80 (4% ABV)

"With its pale-brown feathery head and aroma of fruit cake, fudge, straw and burnt caramel, this is definitely one to sup with relish at the end of a hard day," says Melissa.

Triple fff Alton's Pride, £20 for 12 bottles (3.8% ABV)

"This has enjoyed a barrel load of success in Camra competitions," Jon points out. "A traditional amber bitter, it ticks all the boxes."

York Brewery Terrier, £1.99 (4.2% ABV)

A light golden ale with hints of orange that liven up the flavour before the dry, grassy finish. It's an expertly balanced bitter that makes for very easy drinking.

Sambrook's Wandle Ale, £2.80 (3.8% ABV)

"This is one of the major breweries to help a real-ale revival in London over the past five years," explains Jon. "Wandle balances a touch of dryness with a rounded, sweet flavour."

Crouch Vale, Brewers Gold, £2.80 (4% ABV)

"Two-time winner of Camra's Champion Beer of Britain competition, this golden brew has become one of the most recognised real ales in the UK," says Jon. "Crouch Vale also makes Amarillo."

Liberation Ale, £2.70 (4% ABV)

"Beer drinkers in the Channel Islands are well aware of the Liberation Group," says Jon. "This ale is well worth tracking down at the pumps here if you can't get over there."

Dark Star Sunburst, £2.15 (4.8% ABV)

This is a deliciously light ale, with plenty of lemon flavours and an infallible grapefruit tang. It is also available in cask during the summer.

Monty's Sunshine, £28 for 12 bottles (4.2% ABV)

"Does exactly what is says on the bottle," says Pete, "from its sunny orange label to its grassy, fruity aroma and all the way to its light, crisp flavour."

Leeds Brewery Hellfire, £1.99 Only available in Yorkshire (5.2% ABV)

"Wonderfully sharp, bitter and quenching strong ale. Assertive and bold, perfect with spicy food," says Pete.

Timothy Taylor's Landlord, £2.50 (4.1% ABV)

"One to drink all night, it's a marvel how satisfying it is," says Martyn. "Subtle marmalade-and-fruitcake bitterness."

St Peter's Brewery Golden Ale, £23 for 12 bottles (4.7% ABV)

A perfect balance between a refreshingly bitter beer and sweet honey and caramel flavours. Beautiful bottle, too.

Sam Smiths Nut Brown, £2.59 (5% ABV)

Everyone loves Sam Smith's. This is a unique creation which contains, unsurprisingly, a flavour of nuts, with chestnut, hazelnut and almond tones.

Otter, £2.29 (3.6% ABV)

Originally called Beautiful Daze, after the music festival Beautiful Days, for which it was first brewed, this is a superb light-and-easy bitter.

Fuller's Vintage Ale 2011, £5.45 (8.5% ABV)

For Melissa, these ales are at the forefront of the trend for ageing beer. "This is drinking beautifully already, but there are undercurrents of cherry that will only get better."

Magic Rock Human Cannonball, £3.90 (9.2% ABV)

"Beer geeks love the citrus and pine flavours of New World hops, and this is jam-packed full of them. Will leave you begging for more," says Pete.

Brakspear Triple, £15.04 for 8 bottles (7.2% ABV)

"This not only takes its name from being triple fermented but also from being 'triple hopped', with three additions of target hops," says Martyn.

Woodforde's Headcracker, £18.42 for 8 bottles (7% ABV)

This is a deliciously sweet barley wine, which warms the throat – a perfect winter brew. It's no surprise that it has won Woodforde's many awards.

Brewdog Hardcore IPA, £2.69 (9.2% ABV)

Brewdog has gained a reputation for its attention-seeking approach. But this IPA really is artful – not least because of how well they have covered up the volume with sweet malts. Wonderful.

Guinness FES, £1.89 (7.5% ABV)

"The closest you'll get to the real 'Guinness original', FES stands for Foreign Extra Stout; a strong, black, roasty classic that replicates the stouts of the 19th century," says Martyn.

Hook Norton Double Stout, £24 for 12 bottles (4.8% ABV)

"If you want to know what stout should really taste like, start here," says Melissa. "Rich coffee, chocolate and Malteser notes."

Ramsgate Brewery Gadd's Black Pearl Oyster Stout, £2.60 (6.2% ABV)

"A connoisseur's stout from a place where they know about beer and oysters, this typically Kentish brew has a sweet and salty finish," says Pete.

Cairn Gorm Black Gold, £2.20 (4.4% ABV)

This multi-award winning Scottish stout is fantastically rich and dark. The gold in the name can only refer to the wonderful sweetness.

Innis & Gunn Rum Finish (7.4% ABV)

Pete says, this is a "triumph". "It's a little bit spicy, thrilling and sophisticated at the same time – like saying a rude word in front of the Queen."

Thornbridge Bracia, £9.99 (10% ABV)

"Using seven different malts, roasted barley and five different hop varieties, brewer Stefano Cossi has created an instant classic," says Martyn.

William Bros Fraoch Heather Ale, £18 for 12 bottles (5% ABV)

"A revival of an old Scottish ale style, Fraoch (Gaelic for heather) has been a deserved success," says Martyn.

Wells Banana Bread, £1.99 (5.2% ABV)

With its banoffee and caramel taste, deep golden-brown colour and playfully peppery tingle, there is no denying Wells have achieved exactly what they set out to do.


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