To the Bitter End

“A pint of bitter please,” is a rarely made request from me and, being born and raised in Leeds, I should know bitters pretty well. But being born in the 90’s, when Tetley was bought by Carlsberg and its site in Leeds subsequently shut down in 2012, I have no fond memories of it. There are no rose-tinted memories from my childhood, sat gazing longingly at freshly pulled pints of the stuff and no cheeky sips of suds when no-one was looking.

During my teenage years in my innocent naivety, I dismissed the bitter (and all cask beer) as an old man’s drink. Nothing more than flat, boring and warm. Sneaking into the pub before the age of 18, I found refreshment in a cold bottle of sparkling lager. It seemed logical, to me, that I would look no further when lager did what I wanted it to. Flavour & exploration wasn’t on the agenda here, beer was simply a means to an end.

So why now, at the age of thirty, do I find myself attracted to the bitter? Have I become the old man I once dismissed in my teens? Have my tastebuds failed me? Despite feeling like I’m over the hill, it is neither of the two. Having dismissed and ignored cask beer for so long, in hindsight I feel like I may have missed out and robbed myself of experiencing the early days of the craft movement. And, much like everything else, things come round full circle. Just look at the alleged revival of the dark mild…

Let’s get one thing straight; the bitter isn’t going to suddenly become my favourite beer. Nor is it likely to even be in the top 5, but having drank more recently, it’s hard to ignore the comfort found within a hand-pulled & sparkled pint. Having tried the latest offering from Quirky Ales in Garforth, it also suddenly dawned on me how photogenic cask beer is when being pulled. I stare in awe at a murky NEIPA, or a lovely amber west coast, but watching a cask pint settle can be somewhat mesmerising.

I’ve become addicted to hops and haze just as much as the next craft beer lover, but there are times where even my tastebuds want a break. Cask, and now potentially bitter, ticks that box for me. This isn’t to belittle the craftsmanship gone into these styles, far from it in fact, as they’re elegant in their own right. A living product and one that is hard to master, cask beer deserves its own recognition away from any comparisons to its modern & contemporary brethren.

I can sit and enjoy a pint of bitter and enjoy its complex simplicity. I can sit and enjoy it, without un-picking its parts and assessing which tropical fruits I think I found within it. It can prove to be a refreshing and well-needed change in many instances, and one that I will seek out more regularly between my so-called ‘Hazy bois’. There’s no shame, or guilt, in enjoying something that others might dismiss or scoff at. Assuming its been well-kept, that is…

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