A perfect embodiment of what the Brits call a ‘session ale’, Ridgeway Bitter is an incomparable example of the great tradition of English “Bitters”. That being said, it’s managed to become a new classic while distinguishing itself as entirely unique. Ridgeway’s master brewer Peter Scholey uses the famed UK Challenger hops, but then adds a very new hop, Boadicea, in the late boiling stage. Peter says that the Boadicea is perfect as a ‘late copper’ bittering hop, as it lends a terrific spicy hop quality to the beer (it’s also the world’s first aphid-resistant hop varietal). To be sure it comes out right, Peter personally selects the Boadicea hops that go into Ridgeway Bitter not only from a specific farm, but from a particular patch of ground on the farm. A favorite of English craft brewers, Maris Otter malt supplies the backbone. The result is perfect balance: a wholesome, slightly sweet, bready maltiness offset by a strong but subtle hop bitterness in the nose and on the palate. Look for the unique floral characteristics of the Boadicea hops—most notably perfumed flower with leafy notes of lemongrass (nearly like hibiscus). The finish is a balanced blend of dry maltiness and notes of minerals and zesty, lemony hops. Selected as the best bitter in the world by Men’s Journal magazine (July 2005), this bitter goes well with most foods: try fish & chips or a cheddar and ham sandwich on a sourdough roll.
About 30 miles west of downtown London you’ll find our first featured international brewery; the Ridgeway Brewing Company stands as a proud Phoenix that has risen from the ashes of the revered Brakspear Brewery. Sometimes there’s just no sense to life… such is the sentiment many craft beer drinkers—UK citizens and others—felt when they heard that this venerable establishment, where the most famous and perhaps best Bitter in England had been made for centuries, was being sold off to make room for an upscale hotel. The year was 2002, and for an establishment that had been in operation since 1779, the situation was a real heartbreaker. Thankfully, the master brewer at Brakspear was determined not to let his craft come to an end. Peter Scholey set out on his own, setting up shop as the Ridgeway Brewing Company, not far from the site of the original brewery.
The Ridgeway Brewery is named for the ancient road—passable now only on foot—that meanders through the southwest of England. The now patchy stone surface of the Ridgeway was laid by Britain’s oldest inhabitants, the Druids, thousands of years before the Romans set down their own routes through the region. It is the oldest road in the British Isles and Europe. It runs for nearly 100 miles, passing Stonehenge as well as Peter Scholey’s relatively modern home. It would seem the name represents Scholey’s intent to keep British history alive and well as he connects old-world brewing with modern brewmaster’s innovation.
The beer we’ve elected to feature is a classic English Bitter—the first beer to bear the new Ridgeway name—a clear indication of the brewery’s pride and purpose as they launch their new flagship. One of the core definitive British styles, Bitter is irrefutably English… In the south of England, they refer to their prized ale as ‘Bitter’; when it first appeared on the scene, it was distinguished by a crisp, refreshing hop bitterness that was unlike other ales of the time. The marks of a good bitter are superb drinkability, fullness of flavor and lightness in body and alcohol content. Keep in mind, this is the ale that would be consumed pint upon pint, for hours on end as the night wore on in British pubs. It mustn’t be too filling, nor too intoxicating. Ridgeway Bitter nails the style perfectly.
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