Masters Table 1998
By Adrian Tierney-Jones
Burton upon Trent is one of the great historic centres
of British brewing. Local monks started making ale back
in the 13th century, but it was during the Victorian age
that the town became a hive of brewing industry. Nowadays,
things are quieter: brewing giant Bass have their HQ here,
while Marstons, makers of the prizewinning Pedigree
Bitter, and the equally excellent Burton Bridge microbrewery
also call Burton home. However, theres another, rather
unique, brewery based here: the Museum Brewery which can
be found in the grounds of the Bass Museum.
Run by former Bass employee Steve Wellington since 1994,
yet completely independent of Bass, the Museum Brewery is
dedicated to resurrecting the classic beer styles of yesteryear.
Using a combination of early 20th century and 19th century
equipment, the brewery produces a fantastic range of historic
cask and bottle-conditioned ales tasty beers brought
back to life from the last 200 years. Some of the creations
are long-gone ales such as Worthington E, Bass
No 1 Barley Wine, Offilers Best Bitter and Joules Bitter.
Others are classic styles, such as Masterpiece Pale Ale
and Quaffing Ale, created using 18th and 19th century recipes.
Ironically some of the beers produced by the Museum Brewery
come from concerns swallowed up by Bass in the Sixties.
At least theres a positive side to this: Steve, because
of the micros excellent relationship with Bass, has
access to the recipes of these onetime breweries, which
enables him to produce a stunning range of beers.
I always try and keep as faithful as I can to the
old recipes, he says, and it helps a lot to
have local people around to advise me on what they tasted
like. Its even more beneficial when the former head
brewer is still around, as happened with one beer I made.
Even though the brewery was originally meant to be part
of the museums attractions and Steve planned only
to brew part of the week, demand has been such that the
business has become a full-time job. When he began brewing
the weekly output was only 10 barrels (in brewing terms
a barrel is 36 gallons); output has now shot up to between
This is very much a traditional brewery, says
Steve, when we brew a traditional beer we try and
match the raw materials from the old days. As the hops were
usually fuggles and goldings (which remain popular today)
that presents no problem. We cant afford the malt
that was used then but theres still plenty of good
stuff around. The yeast comes from Bass and the water (the
famous Burton water) from a well 600 feet under the surface.
Sometimes we add a bit of sugar. Its all natural ingredients.
Steve is passionate about brewing beer, a state of mind
which is equalled by his enthusiasm for fixing up beer with
food. Unlike other beer-drinking countries such as Germany,
Belgium and America, matching beer with food in Britain
seems to cause all sorts of problems. Its slowly changing
though as top chefs discover the cuisine à la bière
of Belgium and beer itself gets a makeover. As restaurants
such as Mash & Air in Manchester and Alfred and Belgo
in London demonstrate, it doesnt seem so strange to
add a bottle of beer into the pan or suggest an ale instead
of wine to go with the meal.
Part of Steves evangelical approach to beer and food
was to invite renowned chef Andre Roux to oversee a three-course
meal in which beer was both used in the cooking and accompanied
the final result. Roux has long been an apostle of food
and beer, believing that food retains the flavours
of the beer more than wine because it is less alcoholic
The meal itself started with a choice of scallops, Dublin
Bay Prawns or Welsh Rarebit accompanied by the old-style
P2 Imperial Stout, based on a recipe for a beverage shipped
to the Czarist court at the end of the last century. For
the main meal, braised rump steak enhanced with pale ale,
endives and parsley potatoes were served; Steves suggestion
here was the stupendous Masterpiece Pale Ale. Diners finished
off with apple fritters coated in a beer batter, with the
dessert beer provided by the mighty No 1 Barley Wine. The
evening was a complete success and Steve hopes it will happen
Until then though, if you want to take a trip back into
Britains brewing history and taste Steves beers
its worth checking out Burton where the beers are
served at the Good Beer Guide-listed Museum bar, attached
to the museum. Or order a case of bottles through our special
order. You wont regret it.
Joules Bitter (4.1%):
Brewed at Stone in Staffordshire until Joules was bought
out by Bass Charrington in the late Sixties it was
shut a couple of years later. This is a clear amber-coloured
ale with a beautifully floral nose of hops leading to hops
on the palate; a gentle pleasing bitterness follows with
an excellent clean finish and lingering malt offsetting
any tendency to overbitterness. Its a well-rounded
session beer and very moreish. Available on
Masterpiece Pale Ale (5.4%):
A strong and sturdy amber-coloured beer and a close cousin
of the India Pale Ales (IPA) which were sent to India during
the days of the Empire; the high alcohol strength and amount
of hops helped preserve the ales on their journey. A delicate
but forthright hoppy nose leads to a refreshing attack on
the palate; hops dominate leading to a smooth, hoppy finish
with a subtle maltiness. Goes down very well with steak
and kidney pie and similarly sturdy dishes and is also an
excellent summer thirst-quencher. Available in bottle and
Bass No 1 Barley Wine (10.5%):
Discontinued in the 1970s when it was a winter favourite.
A blockbuster of a drink with madeira and fortified wine
hints in the taste; rich and smooth but any tendency to
oversweetness is balanced by the hops, which are English
fuggles and goldings. It is made in the early part of the
year and allowed to ferment in the cask for a few months.
Serve this with dessert. Its particularly recommended
with rich fruit cake and cheese. Available in bottles and
on draught but only in the winter.
P2 Imperial Stout (8%):
The seductively mellow aromas of treacle and toffee
appear on the nose, to be followed by roast, coffee and
rich fruit cake notes on the palate, leaving the impression
of a warming, chewy, well-balanced complex stout which lingers
on the palate. A must with seafood. Available in limited
supplies of bottles and on draught.
copyright The Master's Table;