Manet's Un bar aux Folies Bergère
showing a Bass bottle (detail).
In the 1970s, many Higson's houses used to sell Draught Bass as a guest beer, including my local here in Southport, the Guest House. Recently I've had the chance to try both of these beers: Bass of course has never gone out of production, while Higson's is on its second revival.
The InBev website says of Bass: "It is a full-flavoured ale that is still brewed to an original recipe, using only the finest ingredients and the experience of generations. It is brewed with two strains of yeast to produce a complex, nutty, malty taste with subtle hop undertones." Note: an original recipe, not the original recipe, and that description seems - shall we say? - optimistic. It was on in the Guest House last night and I had two pints of it; I'm not one for tasting notes, so I won't try, but it didn't taste as awful as some beer drinkers have claimed - merely very ordinary, and not standing up well alongside the micro and regional beers that surrounded it on the bar. My view that the venom heaped upon this beer is because it was regarded as the Rolls Royce of beer in the 1970s - the White Star in Liverpool was famous for the quality of its Bass in those days, and I rarely went to Liverpool without a visit to that pub.
The original Higson's was last brewed in Liverpool in 1990. It's now on its third incarnation, this time being brewed by Liverpool Organic Brewery, and I had it in Liverpool a couple of weeks ago. This brew was apparently approved by Liverpool CAMRA at the Liverpool Beer Festival where a couple of versions of the beer were being tried out. Again, I had two pints of the beer and it seemed even less like Higson's than the previous version of two or three years ago; I was struggling to find any resemblance to the beer I remember. Unusually for a product of Liverpool Organic, it was fairly unremarkable with not much to object to, but not much to draw you back for more either. I looked on the Liverpool Organic Brewery's website about the new Higson's, but could find nothing there about it.
To my palate, neither of these beers reflect the ones fondly remembered from their 70s heyday, but this is not necessarily because they aren't as good: it might be that our tastes have moved on and what used to seem wonderful in an era when there was so much mediocre beer around now faces much stiffer competition, or perhaps after more than 20 years we can't really remember tastes and smells as accurately as we'd like to think. Who knows? There is nothing wrong with either of these beers, but neither is outstanding in today's beer world.