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When I wasn’t reading the new Best Of issue, I spent most of yesterday fawning over Oliver Breweries, who are bringing British-style beer to D.C. It’s a style that hasn’t received proper recognition among the Belgian, German, Italian, and now even Quebecois treats we drink in this city. English-style beer is grounded by mildness and balance, which sounds unsexy compared to the extreme counterparts that usually attract people to beer bars. They’re more often the pint you want to sit down for an evening with: the girlfriend type, not the billboard model.
Olivers brewmaster Stephen Jones hosted a beer dinner at Commonwealth this week, featuring pairings for four of his brews, each one illustrating a different facet of English brewing style. Here’s how they turned out:
- Ironman Pale Ale (cask) – This frothy column of copper is hoppy by English standards and a bit honeyish from the 6% abv, which is high for an English pale. A good intro to English beer for U.S. hopheads.
- Three Spires – This golden ale is a Boddington’s killer. Jones served it “on nitro,” which gives beer the creamy head made famous by Guinness and Boddington’s. I’ve always thought this process robs beer of its aroma and flavor — and to a certain extent it does — but largely that effect is less due to the nitrous oxide and more because Boddington’s tastes like a beer-and-water cocktail. It has its place, but only until you taste Three Spires.
- Dark Horse Brown Ale (cask) – This is the type of mild ale that embodies English beer. It’s only 4% abv, pours a rich, chestnut brown, and tastes like bread, baked beans, caramel. I want it with fries and a burger; I want it with dessert, I want it at 2 a.m. before closing time and I want it at breakfast. Like Ricky Gervais’s The Office, mild ales show us the value of subtlety.
- Bishop’s Indulgence Stout – A decade ago, this 8% abv stout, brewed with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans, would have been extreme. But today, when alcohol percentages hit the teens and every brewer and their mom has a bourbon barrel for aging, this dessert beer is practically a model of restraint.