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Trendspotting: “Pub Ale,” The British Invasion

Beer spotters are no strangers to new styles and nomenclature that may or may not stick. Witness this year’s “Cold IPA,” which is just hoppy lager, or “India Pale Lager (IPL),” under a new name. Well, we have another entrant into 2021’s new beer buzzwords.

It’s been said that one is an anecdote, but two are data, and now there are two DC-area breweries serving something called “pub ale.” What is it? You asked, and we answer, kind of, below!

City-State is DC’s newest brewery, and they feature Trainspotter: Green Bullet Pub Ale, so named for the current iteration with Green Bullet hops, which originated in New Zealand but are now grown in Washington state. It’s 4.5% alcohol by volume and if we were sticking to Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines it would fit comfortably into the British Bitter category, 11a Ordinary Bitter. Maris Otter malt? You bet! “British beer is liquid conviviality,” says City-State founder and CEO James Warner, and we agree.

To the north, Silver Spring’s Silver Branch Brewing serves Cheshire Grin: Nitro Pub Ale. Silver Branch is explicit about the beer’s British origins; at 5.5% ABV, this one is an Extra Special, as opposed to an Ordinary, Bitter. “A classic ESB brewed with prized heirloom Maris Otter and Target and Williamette hops, Cheshire Grin would be at home in the cozy British pub,” notes the brewery.

So, is “pub ale” a new name for Bitter, because the latter’s connotations might scare away some drinkers? Not quite. Instead, think of pub ale as an umbrella term for beers, low- to medium-gravity ales in particular, that would comfortably fit being served in a traditional, British-style pub. Golden ales, milds, and other British styles that lend themselves to sessioning,… those are pub ales; and this includes Bitters.

The term “pub ale” may well come from Boddington’s Pub Ale, by far the most popular use of the term. But IRI (Information Resources, Inc.) data shows that sales of this premium import have been in decline over the past 5 years. And yes, the canned version of Boddington’s we see in the States qualifies as an ESB, too.

Brickman Ruby Mild at Virginia’s Cedar Run Brewery? Absolutely a pub ale, as is Bluejacket’s Love Language. The latter is served via an unadorned, unadjuncted cask at The Shelter right now, so if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to go have a proper session with a few pints of bitter. Cheers!

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