Olympia Brewing Company has long proclaimed "it's the water" that makes
their beer different. That may be true for them; it certainly is for Bass.
Bass ale is brewed in Burton-on-Trent, an English town known for the quality
of its water, rich in brewer's salts that impart a gentle, satisfying body.
Quite frequently, brewers will add these salts (calcium compounds) to their
brew water in order to simulate the water of Burton. Imitation, as they say,
is the most sincere form of flattery. And in the beer business, flattery
will get you everywhere.
Curiously, (and sadly in a historical context), the English owners of Bass have sold off their brewing business to global giant Interbrew. This was in order to concentrate on their entertainment concerns, such as hotels and other things that are far less important than beer. This made little sense to me (and other beer enthusiasts), but apparently did to Sir Ian Prosser, Bass’s chairman at the time of the sale. "There is a high degree of sadness about this, but our responsibility has to be with shareholders”, Prosser said. How about responsibility to the core business that got the company started?
Certainly, the brand has considerable value and will continue to be produced by the new owners. It has been around since 1777 and the Bass symbol, that familiar red triangle, was England's first trademark to be registered. There’s a lot of history behind Bass, too. Did you know that the Titanic was well-stocked with Bass ale? It was. Five Hundred cases, to be exact, many of which went down with her. The beer was also immortlaized in an 1882 painting by Edouard Manet entitled Bar at the Folies-Bergère.
Napoleon, it seems, was exceedingly fond of Bass. He wanted to build a Bass facility in France, no doubt so that he would be well-supplied when his continental system blocked English imports. Edgar Allen Poe was known to enjoy a pint or two of Bass, as was Buffalo Bill.
Bass has a lot of history for me, too. I remember my first Bass today like I only drank it an hour ago. What was this wondrous stuff I thought? So much different from most of the beers I had tried at the time (Bass was one of my first imports), so much more flavorful. Today, 2700 some odd new brews later, Bass still holds a special place in my heart.
Bass Ale pours to a deep amber color with a thick creamy head and a big yeasty-malty nose. The palate is rich and mushroomy, reminiscent of a Ringwood beer with a touch of buttery flavor. There are notes of fruity prune and plum, and a cake-like malt body to boot. It's a delicious, malty English ale with a balancing to slightly bitter hop finish. The mouthfeel is bold and assertive, and yes, it's the water. The bottle I'm drinking tonight is a full imperial-pint size of 19 and a quarter ounces, a good deal at $1.99.
The bottle I’m drinking tonight tastes as good as any Bass I’ve ever enjoyed, so no worries concerning a “dumbing-down” by the new owners. At least so far, anyway.
I absolutely love this beer with red meats. Perhaps a beef Wellington with roasted red potatoes and a salad? Or just a beef roast or steak, this is the beer for red meats in my opinion.
Update 1/4/2012: Back in the late eighties when I worked for the Stanley Works (Stanley-Bosticth to be precise), some of my co-workers and I would stop at a local bar every Friday night and down pints of draft Bass Ale. In honor of those Friday nights and friends still with us and friends departed, I ordered up a mug of deliciously malty and buttery Bass Ale this evening. The beer is still a pure delight, so smooth and malty and packing a distinctive English yeasty character. Still one of my favorite beers of all time, and a reasonable $6.25 a pint.
And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.
*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.