12 days of IPA: The Ones In Burton-Upon-Trent

Beer Town isn't what it once was. There are still serried ranks of fermenters but the scale of Burton's former glory days is better measured by the absence of the past. Private railways that once split through streets into brewer's yards have been ripped away and replaced by access roads for sprawling car parks. A decaying leisure complex floods the area between the River Trent and the High Street where malthouses and breweries once crowded. Every superstore, every retail park, every shopping centre... everywhere there once was industry and service to supply and support it.

Tangible signs of Burton's past are comparatively few. And it seems the same could be said for IPA. The last time I went looking, with beer polymath Phil Lowry, we came up short. Familiarity, certainty and blind hope would guide me this time.

I made early doors at the Burton Bridge Inn. Damp dogs drying before the fires, weathered old men drank from pewter tankards whilst holding slightly-shouty conversations. And I get what I'm looking for; a bottle of the brewery's Empire Pale. Scant head suggests little condition but there's spiced, chewy marmalade and an almost-aggressive Burton snatch.

The rain still lashed down all along Bridge Street as I headed for the Brewery Tap of the National Brewery Centre. And here's my dead cert: I can't imagine them not having Worthington White Shield. Plenty of it on offer today; Sunday diners don't seem to be ale drinkers so it seemed to be me with the only cask pint. A few bedraggled parties from the museum tour enjoyed their splash-in-a-glass samples.

I'm still not sure why Eastenders was showing on the flat screen TV - surely that's why people go out on a Sunday? Truth be told, the Brewery Tap bar nowadays is more like a holding pen for diners before they shuffle off to the restaurant. There's plenty of wood and chrome but the place isn't exactly a destination in itself. Still, I was happy to skulk in a corner and read the IPA chapter of 'Amber, Gold & Black' IPA by Martyn Cornell. Drinking IPA in Burton whilst reading about IPA; priceless.

As for White Shield; earthy, fruity, rough-handed rather than gentle caressing... and again has that snatch to remind you, uncompromisingly, that you're drinking a beer brewed in Burton.

The wind blew me down Guild Street and off to the Cooper's Tavern. Which was quiet, their lunchtime crowd must have drifted off into the mizzle. No hoped-for Thornbridge Jaipur; the only IPA was from Newby Wyke and that spluttered a last gasp into the glass. Only one thing for it; I'd have to drink Bass instead.

Cards on the table: I don't care how the incremental changes have changed the beer over time, how it's all-too often a piss-poor beer in dodgy pubs, about the irony of how the world's first trademarked beer brand is owned by AB-Inbev and contract-brewed for them at Marston's whilst celebrated at a museum funded by Coors.

Good beer is where you find it: I find it in a Bass cask at the end of a corridor in the Cooper's.

The act of drinking beer is many things to many people at many times; social, raucous, convivial, introspective. For me, for an hour on Sunday it was contemplative. A half-hearted attempt at a crossword, farting about with my camera, thinking....

There's IPA to be had in Burton, for sure. It may not be what you're expecting. But that maybe because you sometimes need to challenge your assumptions about IPA. And about beer. And as to why it matters.

Today's Obviously Made Up Fact About IPA:

IPA is illegal in sixteen US states under “misuse of trade description” legislation. Such beers have to be sold instead as “hoppy pale ales originally brewed for, but not exclusively supplied to, the area of South Asia now known as the federal constitutional republic of India”.