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Classic Beer of the Month February 2015: Fuller's Chiswick Bitter

Fuller's Chiswick Bitter, 3.5%

British bitter is the envy of the world. Travel to other countries and try to get a full-flavoured pint for around 3.5% ABV and you'll see what I mean.

Fuller's Chiswick BitterCask-conditioning plays a big part in this success. If you filter beers of such modest strength, character and body are lost.

You also lose freshness generated by active yeast that complements the delicacy of the beer and allows subtle flavours to shine through.

Strangely, most pubs do not take full advantage of this great British concept.

When choosing their cask beers, the emphasis is all too often on beer of 4% plus, even though there are many drinkers who really want something less heavy, especially at lunchtimes or on an evening during the working week.

So many wonderful low-strength beers are still being ignored, including one of the finest. Fuller's Chiswick is not even stocked in my local Fuller's pub but it's a beer I always seek out when I can.

Chiswick is the London brewery's often-overlooked session bitter. It was first listed in the Good Beer Guide in 1981 but quite probably dates back much earlier.

It underplays the company's flagship brand, London Pride, by more than half an alcohol percentage point. In my mind, that's just a number, as the beer is just as tasty and possibly more satisfying.

Gloriously Refreshing

Chiswick is a gloriously refreshing beer, bright with flavour and, importantly for a beer of this strength, compelling enough for you to want to stick with it for an evening. It's not a bland, wishy-washy brew that you're eager to ditch after one pint.

Dark golden/light amber in colour, with pale and crystal malts in the mash tun, it bursts with an enticing, hop-led aroma, suggestive of sticky marmalade. The taste is bittersweet, but with a punchy hop character, courtesy, in part, to dry hopping.

Target, Northdown, Challenger and Goldings all weave their seductive spell, peppery resins blending with that distinctive Fuller's orange marmalade character you recognise in London Pride and ESB, and obscuring the fact that this is a beer of just 3.5%.

The finish is then suitably dry and lingers well, allowing you to take a good gulp and then relax for a minute or two as the tangy, leafy, lipsmacking hop flavours settle on the palate.

Back in 1989, Chiswick was judged Champion Beer of Britain at CAMRA's Great British Beer Festival, taking the bigwigs at the brewery by complete surprise. But it was a timely award, providing a vital shot in the arm for an under-performing brand.

Despite such an accolade, more than a quarter of a century on, it remains the most underrated of Fuller's beers, shunned in the glossy compilations of beers you must try before you die in favour of the company's more obvious beers.

As beer lovers visiting from other countries will tell you, that's rather an oversight.

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