IT’S been a long time since I’ve had good British ale, hasn’t it? It certainly feels like it. That’s why I’m delighted to have here a bottle of ale from a brewer I haven’t tried before. Here is Courage Directors.
It gets off to a good start in the looks department. The bottle looks the right shape. It looks like a miner excavated it from a seam and then chiselled it into the what we have before us. It also has things embossed around the shoulder. Pictures of hops make an appearance. As do the welcome words “Independent Family Brewer”.
Around the unusually long neck, is an equally long neck label.
It tells us that this ale was originally brewed for the “directors”. And that it’s “now brewed with distinction for you”. That’s an excellent story. But it belongs on the back label. The neck label is where you expect to find information about what sort of drink it is.
The neck label doesn’t end there though. It has a back.
The small writing on this side of the neck label tells us that it was brewed by Wells & Young’s Brewing Company Limited in Bedford. Which, is a bit disappointing. I was hoping that Courage would be independent. Especially as that’s what it has embossed around the bottle’s shoulder.
For the curious, they have their postal address and web address both printed on this label. Their web address is at www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk. It’s a pretty good corporate brewer website. No annoying Flash. After a bit of searching, here is their page about Courage Directors: https://www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk/wellsandyoungs/beers/ales/courage-directors-bitter
The front label is one, big, good-looking roundel. That combination of purple and gold looks very classy.
First up, the “Courage” logo. Why does it feature a cockerel? Near all the hop and barley imagery is also a date: 1787. I don’t know about you, but that’s more than enough heritage. Things are looking good for Courage Directors.
Under the “Directors” name are a few bits of vital information. First, they describe it as a “Traditionally brewed superior quality ale”. Which doesn’t tell me quite as much as I’d like to know. Not that I’d necessarily understand it, but I like to read details. Especially if they baffle me. Under that, and standing most prominently of all is the alcoholic volume. This ale weighs in at 4.8% volume, which is neither very strong nor weak.
The back label has some more information. But not as much as you might think. That’s because most of it is taken up with a few small details being repeated in half a dozen different languages.
It starts well enough though with a decent background and description. We learn that Directors was originally brewed for the directors of the brewery. That they describe it as an “amber ale”. Which is confusing because they describe it with different words on the front label and on the website as a bitter.
Fortunately, they dive straight into a detailed description of what it tastes like. They describe it as “full of character, with a distinctive spicy hop aroma, the perfect balance of crystal malt with crisp, fruity, butty hops and a lasting finish”. Crikey, that sounds complex and delicious. Exactly like an ale should be. My mouth is watering.
Underneath that, they give a refreshingly complete list of ingredients. To quote the label again, it contains “water, malted barley, sugar, hops, yeast, colour, E150C”. I like to see a full list of ingredients. Even if colour and an E number are an unwelcome sight. You’ve got to respect the honesty. I just hope it won’t taste artificial.
Below that, the details become even more mundane. You’ll probably have guessed that this bottle is the typical 500ml size. And that, together with the 4.8% volume brings it to 2.4 UK units of alcohol. All very boring.
What you want to know is what does it taste like? And will you like it? There’s only one way to find out.
What with them describing it as an amber ale, I expected an amber yellow colour. That is not how Courage Directors looks. It’s more of a light shade of brown. It looks like how I’d imagine a straightforward bitter to look. As for the head, there isn’t much. Just a patchy layer of creamy white.
The label described it as having a “spicy hop aroma”. Whatever the aroma is, you’ll have a hard time identifying it. It’s not very strong. From the little I could smell, I’ll happily go along with “spicy hop aroma”. It smells kind of ‘bitter’ in a hoppy way, and in a tangy way. Which, I’ll call ‘spicy’. It is weak smelling though. But is it weak tasting?
After a couple of gulps, Courage Directors tastes like a good bitter tasting ale. The label described flavours like malt, fruit and nutty hops. After a few more sips, I’m detecting some flavours of maltiness, a small bit of fruitiness and a tiny taste of hops. With so many flavours on the label, I expected an onslaught of interesting flavours. But that’s not what this ale is about. Apparently.
Yes I can taste hints of all of those things, bit it’s the lingering, bitter, hoppy aftertaste that Courage Directors is all about. Of the many, many promises on the back label, a “lasting finish” was one of them. And that’s where it truly delivers. You get a decent, medium intensity, hoppy aftertaste that doesn’t go anywhere. You can taste those “nutty hops” form some time. It’s going to stick in my mouth until I Listerine my mouth before going to bed.
What am I enjoying about this bottle of Courage Directors? Quite a few things. I like the blend of flavours and taste which I haven’t tasted elsewhere. That’s something that scores it points for distinctiveness. The taste is rich. The hoppiness is nice and easy to get used to. So much so, a regular beer drinker can enjoy this. It’s smooth and not at all gassy. Strong enough, too. All in all, a well made, honest, hoppy, bitter ale.
What aren’t I enjoying about this bottle of Courage Directors? Well, it could be incredible if the flavours weren’t hidden by the blanket of hoppy bitterness. It really is dominated by that side of it. And that makes bores me. Even so, I know a lot of you will love it for that down to earth bitterness. Also on the list of downsides is how hard it is to find. This bottle came from a wine shop in Cockfosters, North London. And it was the first bottle I had ever seen. At £1.99 pence, it’s expensive too. Aside from those things, there’s not much to dislike.
How can I sum up Courage Directors? It’s an ale with the emphasis on bitterness. If you like your ale to focus on the straightforward bitterness, this is one to try. It’s probably also worth a look if you like the big name bitters sold in cans in every supermarket. Personally, it’s interesting and unusual flavours that do it for me. So I probably won’t be buying up lots of bottles of Directors. But if I find this on tap, then why not?
Have you tried Courage Directors? What did you think of it? Do you know anywhere to buy it in your area of the world?
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