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Classic Beer of the Month March 2013: Wadworth 6X

Wadworth 6X, 4.3%

Most breweries have a flagship beer. Think Fuller's London Pride, Shepherd Neame Spitfire or Wells Bombardier.

Wadworth 6XNot so often, however, do the fortunes of the brewery seem so closely tied to the success of that one brand but that appears to be the case down at Devizes, where Wadworth & Co is indelibly linked to, indeed almost synonymous with, a beer called simply 6X.

That this should be the case is somewhat misleading, as the brewery is responsible for some excellent other beers.

Horizon is a spritzy golden ale with a citrus hop flavour, Malt & Hops was one of the first green-hop beers, launched as long ago as 1992, and the new Brewers' Creations range, produced in tiny quantities on the company's pilot brewery, has seen some truly special ales delivered to a handful of pubs within the Wadworth estate.

There's also a range of bottled beers designed for the dining table. But 6X, there's no denying, is the beer everyone mentions when the name Wadworth enters the conversation.

It's partly because it's been around for such a long time, first brewed – initially as a blended bottled beer – in the 1920s, a time when Wadworth also produced a 2X and a 3X.

It's also a legacy of CAMRA's early years, when the beer was a stalwart of the struggling cask ale sector, certainly in the South of England.

Furthermore, we should not overlook the highly pertinent fact that it's a damned fine beer, with an army of happy followers that seek it out way outside its historic Wiltshire trading area.

Traditional Brewing

6X is also a brilliant exponent of traditional British ale brewing. Infusion mashed, top fermented and cask conditioned, it is brewed to be quaffable, satisfying and yet not too heady, in the fashion that distinguishes great British bitters from beers in the rest the world.

The ingredients are as traditional as they come, with pale and crystal malts in the mash tun and Fuggle and Golding hops in the copper, the long-cherished Wadworth house yeast adding fruity notes to the biscuity cereal base and smooth, rounded, tangy hop profile.

The deep-amber beer's fortunes have ebbed and flowed in recent times. A distribution contract with Whitbread in the 1990s may have seen the beer reach parts of Britain never touched before but did little to enhance its reputation, as quality control became harder to guarantee.

The deal ended in 2002 and Wadworth put in place new, stronger arrangements for the distribution of the beer, forking out £1 million on a promotional spree at the same time.

Today, 6X seems to have achieved the position of respected elder statesman in many pubs, adding heritage and gravitas to a bank of handpumps that dispense a range of here-today, gone-tomorrow ales that can only envy its longevity.

Of course, 6X as we drink it today, after decades of changing tastes, is not the same beer that began life nearly 90 years ago. But you can catch a glimpse of how things used to be by ordering a pint of Wadworth's winter seasonal Old Timer (also available year-round in bottle-conditioned format).

At 5.8%, it offers what Wadworth head brewer Brian Yorston reckons is a flavour of 6X as it was prior to World War II. Try the two side by side and take a step back in time.

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