“What is Burton-on-Holt” you ask? It’s a Burton Ale, formerly a very popular style in England, originally brewed for export to Russia, Poland, and the Baltic states. The style is quite rare these days, though beers called old ales or winter warmers are brewed in the same vein. We brew our Burton Ale because here at the Civil Life, we champion the forgotten English beer styles (and the forgotten virtues, like civility).
Burton-on-Trent is northwest of London on the left bank of the Trent River in Staffordshire. (The Civil Life is southwest of the Arch on the east side of Holt Avenue). Burton-on-Trent is known among drinkers as the birthplace of IPA, but before the brewers there started churning out light-colored hoppy beers, they produced a darker, more malty brew known as Burton Ale.
The local water had a lot to do with how tasty these beers were. The famous eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911) explains it thus: “The superiority which is claimed for Burton ales is attributed to the use of well-water impregnated with sulphate of lime derived from the gypseous deposits of the district.” We treat our incomparable Saint Louis city water with gypsum to achieve the same effect.
If you’ve tasted our Burton Ale, you know it’s rich and malty with layers of caramel, toffee, and spice, with enough hops to balance it and keep that malt richness from coming off as cloying. At a respectable 6% abv, it will warm you up while still allowing you to remain civil.
There are still some widely available English beers brewed in the classic Burton style. If you’ve had a Theakston Old Peculier, a Young’s Winter Warmer, or a Fuller’s 1845, you know the style and how good it can be. For the most part, though, the style has faded into history.
Martin Cornell says is his great book on English beer styles “Burton Ale is almost forgotten as a type of beer; a style famous for a century and a half that became obsolete within a couple of decades after the Second World War.” He quotes The Brewer’s Art published by Whitbread Brewery on mid-twentieth-century English beer styles: “there are four chief types of beer: pale ale, mild ale, stout and Burton.” Take note: the Civil Life still proudly brews all four of these styles.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, RAF pilots used to say of an airman who had been shot down, he had “gone for a Burton.” By extension, the phrase can refer to anything that has disappeared or been ruined or destroyed. As long as the Civil Life brews beer, that is not a fate that will befall Burton Ale. In fact, we will continue to resurrect the great forgotten styles. (Rejoice, our dark mild ale is returning soon!)
Please come down to the pub and join me for a pint of Burton Ale and some civil conversation. Feel free to read a few pages of Cornell’s excellent and informative book. Enjoy classic English beer styles in a classic English-style pub. Just don’t say you’ve gone for a Burton.
~ Dr. Patrick Hurley, Esteemed Barman of Tower Grove South
The Civil Blog has returned. It is predominantly authored by Civil Life Barman, Dr. Patrick Hurley, who can be found tending to our bar patrons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He is also responsible for tending to our draft lines, which is recognized as one of our most important tasks. Special guest writers will appear from time to time. We hope reading this blog will give you much insight about the Civil Life and most importantly help you understand a bit more about all of us that work here and the beers we put our hearts into.