Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

Favourite brews – Worthington White Shield

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One of the world's great beers - old but with a modern twist

Worthington’s White Shield, at 5.6 per cent ABV, is probably the world’s most authentic India Pale Ale. It is a survivor from the 1820s and nearly 200 years on it is still a great beer.

This is why it was so good to see it pick up silver in CAMRA’s 2011 Bottled Beer of Britain competition.  The gold deservedly went to St Austell’s Proper Job.

William Worthington established the Worthington brewery, now owned by Molson Coors, in the English town of Burton on Trent in 1744. It became one of a handful of companies to trade lucratively with the Baltic States along with the better known Burton entrepreneurial brewers run by the Wilson, Sketchley, Bass and Evans families.

By the 1820s a worsening relationship with Napoleon Bonaparte had dealt much of this trade several mortal blows. An alternative market had to be found.

Since at least the 1780s the East India Company had exported beers to the Indian sub-continent following in the wake of the administrators and troops who left the United Kingdom to work in settlements there. Records show that some of the first shipments took place in 1697.

The trade was dominated by London brewer Abbot & Hodgsons, but the Burton brewers were no mugs and they recognised a business opportunity when they saw it.

The trade quickly became dominated by Burton brewers Bass and Allsop, and to a lesser extent Worthington. They first began to imitate the London brewers’ beer but discovered that a Burton IPA had the attribute of arriving in Calcutta pale, clear and sparkling.

Sometime around the start of the 20th century the beer stopped calling itself India Pale Ale and it became known by its heart shield and dagger label design, which was first registered as a trade mark in 1863.

Worthington was never one of the big Burton brewers and was subsumed within the growing Bass empire in 1927. Somehow the beer survived as a bottled beer. It was a curiosity as it still contained yeast in the bottle. Drinkers’ conversations often focussed on whether the beer should be poured clear or have the yeast tipped into the glass too.

Over time several attempts were made to revive the brand, and its yeast even became sticky, which meant that it stayed in the bottle when poured.

By the 1990s its production was so small that its production was farmed out to contract brewers around the country. In 2000 Steve Wellington, the brewer at Burton’s Museum brewery persuaded the then brand owner Bass to bring it back to Burton.

And as they say the rest is history. Steve Wellington is a fantastic champion of the beer. Molson Coors invested millions in a state of the art, hands on brewery and a taste of the 19th century is winning over new fans to beer in the 21st.

And as I sip my glass of White Shield, I’ll toast both Steve Wellington and Molson Coors.

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Written by timhampson

August 13, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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