ALE Winter 2000 No. 300

Star Performers

CAMRA members in East Anglia were asked to rate for quality all the beers regularly brewed in the area, along with a selection of widely available national and regional brands. Members were asked to score the beers out of 10 for intrinsic quality - i.e. how good they are when properly served. Over 300 people took part in the exercise, so the results can be seen as truly representative of CAMRA's overall view on what are the best real ales around.

Forty-three beers scored an average of 7 out of 10 or above and were therefore awarded five stars. At the very top (with 8.5) was White Dwarf from the Oakham brewery at Peterborough. As anyone who tried it at the 1999 Cambridge Beer Festival will testify, this pale wheat beer is a triumph of the brewer's art. In fact four of the top ten beers were from Oakham; all their ales have a distinctive hoppy, floral taste and are seen in these parts too rarely. If you're ever in Peterborough, seek out their brewery tap, which is in the old Labour Exchange on Westgate (at least for now). Also with beers in the top ten were Dark Horse of Hertford (Fallen Angel), Woodforde's (Norfolk Nog and Headcracker), Nethergate (Umbel Magna), Reepham (Velvet Stout) and Fenland (Doctor's Orders). Four Adnams beers achieved five-star status, with the rare (and now departed) but wonderful Extra scoring highest. Elgoods had two successes, including the 1998 Champion Beer of East Anglia, Black Dog Mild. Our own then-new City of Cambridge Brewery scored 7.6 for Jet Black Mild, but Hobson's Choice, with 6.95, just missed out. Mauldons, St Peter's, Brett Vale, Green Jack, Wolf, and Banks and Taylor also feature in the five-star category.

What is noticeable is that, Adams and Elgoods aside, all the five-star beers are from breweries established in recent years. These 'micros' are invariably run by enthusiasts who ensure that their beers are well crafted, tasty and distinctive.

Having said that, our other regional brewers also produce good ale. Ridleys, McMullens and Tolly all received four stars for at least one of their ales. Highest-scoring Greene King beer (with 5.9) was the delicious XX Dark Mild, but the exercise took place before the launch of the excellent Triumph, which would surely have scored well. Of the other beers regularly available in the area, those scoring five stars were fairly predictable, such as Timothy Taylor Landlord, Batemans Mild, Fullers London Pride, Youngs Special. The highest-scoring national brewery ale was Ind Coope Burton Ale (four stars). Ten big brewery products only managed one star, but we'll draw a veil over them.

East Anglia Beer Star Ratings - the complete list.

Local breweries

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