Traditional English beer doesn't travel well so head to the pub if you want to sample great ale
If you want to find great cask ale in London, ask an Italian. Well, one Italian in particular: Alessio Leone, who mans the bar and the cellar at the Gunmakers Arms in Clerkenwell. One lunchtime not long ago, he served me the best pint of ale I've had all year: the nutty, perfectly-bitter Harvey's Sussex Best.
Alas, that's not always the case with cask ale. Too often it's badly looked after, or past its best, resulting in a beer that's flabby or watery. But if cask ale can be disappointing, then it's got nothing on the bottled versions of Britain's most well-known ales.
As I found out in the US earlier this year, it's not good for British beer's reputation. I went to an event designed to promote British bottled beer, but I doubt it had the intended effect. The beers tasted nowhere near as good as it would at home.
It's a real problem for Britain's brewers. Drinkers around the world are going gaga over Belgium's historic brewers because their bottled product is so good; they're less enamoured with British beer because – too often – the liquid they get to taste is unexciting, to say the least.
That's not to say that traditional brewers don't make good bottled beer. Great strides have been made in recent years. The likes of Fuller's, St Austell, Adnams, Thwaites and more recently Shepherd Neame have raised their game.
But if you really want to taste traditional English beer at its best, then go to the pub – but make sure they have their very own Alessio.
Tried and tested
The closest you'll get to cask ale at home. A classic, dry, Southern-English bitter. 3.7 per cent, £31.98 for 2 x 5-litre mini-casks, cellarandkitchen.adnams.co.uk
Shepherd Neame Double Stout
Bitter, a little spicy, very drinkable. And in a light-defying brown bottle, too. 5.2 per cent, £30 for 16 x 500ml bottles, shepherdneame.co.uk
St Austell Tamar Creek
This is more Belgian than British. If you like sourness and funk, this is definitely the beer for you. ABV, £14, 750ml, staustellbreweryshop.co.uk
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