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John Bull Bounces Back

by Roger Protz, 08/04

Bedford brewer Charles Wells has brought back a major ale brand, John Bull Bitter. The beer was famous in the 1970s and 80s as a filtered and pressurised keg beer brewed by Ind Coope of Romford, part of the national Allied Breweries group.

Allied became Carlsberg-Tetley in the 1990s, the Romford brewery closed and John Bull Bitter disappeared. Charles Wells, Britain's biggest independent, family-owned brewery, acquired the John Bull brand for export to mainland Europe and Russia, but it has more recently won agreement to revive the beer for the domestic market. It was launched at the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival in London in August and is now on sale in 50 specialist pubs in London as a handpumped, cask-conditioned beer.

The celebrated figure of John Bull first appeared in 1712 as a character in satires by John Arbuthnot. His series of pamphlets, The History of John Bull, were a satirical attack on Whig politics and introduced Bull as a typical Englishman of his day - a bluff, bull-headed farmer wearing a squat top hat, a neckerchief and a waistcoat decked out with the Union Jack.

John Bull became a popular figure and at the end of the 18th century James Gillray, the most influential of Georgian caricaturists, incorporated John Bull in his engravings and ensured his place in popular culture. He later appeared as a cartoon figure in the satirical magazine Punch, drawn by the celebrated artist Sir John Teniel. By this time, Bull had been elevated from a farmer to a country squire. He continued to figure in cartoons and sketches in the 20th century and was used as a symbol of national unity in both world wars, but from the 1950s he went into decline.

Paine's Brewery in St Neots, on the Bedford/Cambridge border, first brewed a beer named after John Bull in the early 20th century. Allied Breweries later acquired the brand. Charles Wells has now revamped the beer as a premium, London-style cask beer at 4.1% alcohol and called it John Bull Finest Bitter. Pale and crystal malts have been blended with Challenger hops for bitterness and the classic Goldings variety for aroma. The beer has a distinctive hop resins and citrus fruit aroma - citrus fruit is a hallmark of the Wells' yeast strain - followed by a rich, tangy malt/hops/fruit palate, and a lingering finish packed with juicy malt, tart fruit and bitter hops.

It is currently on sale in 50 pubs in London owned by the Nicholsons group for a special launch period. After that, the beer will become a seasonal brand in Charles Wells' portfolio and will enjoy wider distribution.

For details of stockists contact Charles Wells on 01234 272766 or www.charleswells.co.uk.


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