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Classic Beer of the Month December 2012: Marston's Pedigree


Marston's Pedigree, 4.5%

If Burton-on-Trent is the pale ale capital of the world, then Marston's Pedigree must be the the benchmark example of that style.

Marston's PedigreeOfficially, the beer celebrates its 60th birthday in 2012, but Marston's has been brewing pale ale in Burton since the 19th century, so the beer's roots are long and well entrenched.

Furthermore, with the diminishing presence of Bass (now also brewed by Marston's), it's really Pedigree that carries the banner for authentic Burton pale ale.

In recent decades, the beer's fortunes have been mixed. Back in the early days of CAMRA in the 1970s, it was one of the go-to beers, a standard bearer for cask conditioning.

Like Theakston's Old Peculier, Ruddles County and Wadworth 6X, it was a beer you called for if you spotted it on a bar.

Then in the 1990s, Marston's Pedigree was everywhere, distributed by Whitbread to pubs with no track record of good cellarmanship, and its fan base diminished.

Licensees accustomed to Whitbread cask beers that dropped bright within a few hours, and could be served quickly to customers, had no patience to allow Pedigree a little time to mature in the pub cellar. The result was Pedigree, Jim, but not as we knew it.

Pedigree remains widely available, but today distribution is to a greater degree in the hands of Marston's itself, as the company has grown into one of the big three British breweries, with more than 2,000 pubs.

Selling a beer far and wide and maintaining optimum standards is always going to be a tricky proposition but, with Marston's in charge of its own beer, there is considerably more consumer confidence about finding a top pint today.

That's something perhaps we should all set out to do as the beer's diamond jubilee celebrations draw to a close.

Burton Union System

The cask ale movement has flourished and competition has mushroomed, and it may seem a little passé to opt for a pint of Pedigree over the latest golden ale loaded with American hops from the tiny micro up the road, but you'd be foolish to always ignore one of the great beers of the world just to keep trying something new.

Pedigree is not just a fine beer. It is the only beer still brewed using an authentic Burton union system, which sees the beer fermented in giant wooden casks.

A swan-necked pipe leads from each cask to a trough above, allowing much of the rapidly multiplying yeast to rise and be trapped for future use, and leaving naturally aerated wort to drop back into the cask.

Amber in colour, Pedigree has a very distinctive nose, particularly when fresh. The minerals in the Burton water develop a notably sulphurous aroma, one that – it has to be said – turns as many people off as it turns on.

Beyond the aroma, the taste is bittersweet and hoppy-tangy, with a creaminess and a touch of caramel from the malt, along with a refreshing hint of apple, before a dry finish characterized by a keen, but not aggressive, Fuggle-and-Golding hoppy bitterness.

In 1952, Marston's launched a competition to discover a new name for their already celebrated pale ale. A lady named Marjorie Newbold from the Marston's typing pool came up with the suggestion Pedigree and the prize was hers.

The company has changed considerably since that time but it's great to see that the beer remains central to its activities.

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