Yeah, alright, so summer may be coming around the corner but there’s still plenty of us that would choose a lightly chilled dark bitter on a sunny afternoon. Sure they’re heavy but they’re flavourful and lip-smackingly good, so here’s two of the finest English dark bitters: Buttcombe Original Bitter Ale and Bath Ales Barnsey Dark Bitter – let’s see which comes out on top.
Round One – Appearance
I don’t know about you, but unless a bitter is a draught I don’t want to see a head on it. Thankfully, neither of these beers have much of a head and look deep, full and very easy on the carbonated quality.
The Buttcombe is ever so slightly lighter than the Barnsey with a mahogany-red colour. Barnsey, on the other hand, looks closer to Coca-Cola or Guiness than it does a bitter, but to me that’s the sign of a bitter with that beautiful caramel quality.
Round Two – Aromas
Gravel-like aroma with rich and full caramel-oozing cake character sums up Buttcombe’s bitter the best. It has that mineral water freshness and a mellow, dry raisin note. Putting it all together it’s as seductive as a good sticky-toffee pudding.
The Barnsey is less potent with notes more in line with stout; those bready notes and a subtle creaminess, maybe a bit of bitter chocolate too.
Round Three – Drinking the Stuff
Buttcombe is a lot less sweet in the mouth than it suggests on the nose. It has a stinging nettle note mixed in with the largely full and boastful caramel character; there’s also a frothy (albeit bitter) mocha-like length. Best of all, it lingers for a fair amount of time and makes you want more. I can imagine it going well with roast beef, too. Body-wise it’s pretty light and easy-drinking for a bitter, but as we’re heading into the summer days a light bitter is going to be a much better buy.
Barnsey, on the other hand, tastes exactly like that cocoa-rich chocolate. Ever tried something like the 70% Green & Blacks chocolate bar? It’s pretty much exactly like that. A little thicker than the Buttcombe too, but still light and you could comfortably manage two pints.
All in all, I’ve got to give it to Buttcombe. There’s just more to the experience of drinking it.
OVERALL WINNER: BUTTCOMBE ORIGINAL BITTER
Written by Ben Franks, www.benfrankswine.com, @Writer_Franks
Edited by : Laura Thompson