Like most beer drinkers, if pressed to name my favourite beer I wouldn’t be able to. There’s a whole host of mitigating factors, time of day, time of year, weather, drinking company, drinking venue...the list goes on. However there are beers that if I'm lucky enough to find them on the bar I will make them my first pint. They’re beers that I’d happily drink 2 or 3 of in a row without feeling a pressing need to try something new. They’re beers that I would leave one pub for if I knew they were available somewhere else. I call these my benchmark beers. I find myself judging all other beers in the style against these stalwarts of my beer portfolio
I think the first bar that I realised had reached this benchmark status was Butcombe Bitter. A perfectly balanced classic English beer, mid amber in colour and well balanced bitterness and sweetness. I was surprised to find that Bristol airport serves cask ale and was excited to find it was Butcombe. Is it affected by the fact it was the first ale I tried? Perhaps. It could equally be that the proximity of the brewery to my home town and a loyalism to my county. Pete Brown has his Acorn Barnsley Bitter and I have Butcombe Bitter.
Greene King XX mild is another beer I’ve left a pub to get a pint of elsewhere. Very few GK pubs sell this any more; so if you are lucky enough to find it then get a pint or three. My preferred dispense point is The Junction Inn in Southampton, hop off the train at St Denys and there are three pubs in close vicinity but The Junction does food and invariably it'll be GK mild that does the job.
Some of my favourite beers have been lost in recent years. Pride of Romsey IPA was lost when the Hampshire brewery went under in 2007. Here’s hoping someone resurrects it. The IPA benchmark spot currently remains empty though there are some serious contenders.
My benchmark stout is Hopback Entire Stout, an opinion it seems I am not alone in holding as it won Champion Winter Beer of Britain 2011. My benchmark porter is Ringwood XXXX, when I can find it!
Of course like all good beer geeks I’m keen to try as many different beers as possible but I always get the butterflies in stomach excitement of finding a benchmark beer on the bar and the anticipation of that favoured flavour passing my lips whilst waiting for the pour.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this tendency so tell me your benchmark beers!