You know, I usually don’t have that high of standard for a “British” pub.  People get their pints, they get their shots, and they get their banger-in-the-mouth (us yanks call them a sausage-in-the-mouth).  As such, even when the tap list is fairly robust in size, they rarely stray from the lagers, ciders, and Guinness.  I went to one the other night, nothing all that special.  There was one that I actually haven’t had before, with a fairly nondescript name of Abbot Ale.  Typed it in to my phone, saw Beer Advocate rated it at an eighty-three.  Not bad, not bad.  So I called over the waitress and ordered one Imperial Pint (a little shy of 20oz).
Delving a little deeper into this beer, the Greene King website describes it as having “masses of fruit characters, malty richness, and superb hop balance.”  Ah, it’s going to be one of those kinds of ales?  I immediately thought of some very religious ales I’ve had that fit the bill.  Like those other ales, I know that they are usually pretty remarkable on tap.  When it got to my table, it was very inundated with those little ‘fisheye’ bubbles tap beers will get.  Because of this, it was a dark reddish amber color at the bottom, quite clear, and a hazy light cafe-au-lait color near the top.  Just above that was a stark white and massively creamy head.  It was that super-rich head you get with good English beers, almost as flat and solid as porcelain.  If nothing else, a darned picturesque beer.  The head stayed for pretty much the whole beer, and left very thick lacing all the way down the glass.  That’s one of the things I like about Abbey beers, they get really really into things like clarity and consistency and lacing, and crank them up to eleven.  Personally I’ve always been more of a uniqueness and complexity guy, but I can definitely appreciate the craftsmanship that it takes to make something like this happen on cue.
The nose to it was very malty and sweet, lots of toffee notes.  Perhaps… English toffee?  Oh, I do think so.  There’s also a bit of that fruity bit of malt and yeast marriage, a bit like dried plums.  No real hop note to the nose, but I could see it getting lost in this malty sweet cloud.  The taste was surprisingly and refreshingly complex.  It followed the nose in the sweet toffee malt and sugary stone fruit notes, but it also had just a touch of citrus hops.  There is even a bit of bitterness, not unlike a woody or tobacco note.  You mainly get these in the breath after the gulp, but they are enjoyable none the less.  More often than not I was licking my lips and really savoring the taste left after.  The mouthfeel was pretty indicative of the head, very creamy.  Not thick, but not super watery.  Overall, very easy to drink, not too tiring in any way, and still quite identifiable British.
It’s good to know that in the world of so-so British themed pubs, there will be some mainstays that are truly solid, great beers.  I know what I’ll be ordering next time, and now maybe you can have something to pick out in a list of vaguely familiar English beers.