Beer Review: Courage Directors

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.

Courage Directors front 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.

Courage Directors back neck label

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 It’s a pretty good corporate brewer website. No annoying Flash. After a bit of searching, here is their page about Courage Directors:

The front label is one, big, good-looking roundel. That combination of purple and gold looks very classy.

Courage Directors frotn label

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.

Courage Directors back label

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?

Rating: 4.05

Have you tried Courage Directors? What did you think of it? Do you know anywhere to buy it in your area of the world?

Do please leave your corrections, opinions, information, advice, requests and recommendations in the small boxes below.

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7 Responses to “Beer Review: Courage Directors”

  1. James Says:

    Directors is one of my favourites, and has been available in Sainsburys (in Kent anyway) for a while now. Great wite up BTW!

  2. andrej Says:

    E150c is caramel, it’s just cooked sugar and it’s harmless

  3. Anonymous Says:

    whats not to like ;o)

  4. Old Fogey Says:

    I have been a drinker of Directors for many years, it is not as good as it used to be, could this be because it is now brewed in Bedford and not Hampshire. The same thing happened to Ruddles County when the brewing went from Rutland to Suffolk, a few years ago, I dont drink County anymore.

  5. Ben Says:

    Old thread I know but my two cents for what it’s worth…

    I’m a big fan of real ales and have spent the last year or so on a mission to find my own “personal best bitter” and I’ve tried so many new ones I’ve lost count.

    I’ve searched far and wide and thought I’d found the Holy Grail in Admiral’s Ale (5%) from the St. Austell Brewery in Cornwall; it’s expensive and almost impossible to find but it is a nice pint and until I found Directors’ in CANS… yes the CANS, I made it my staple beer.

    I know… I know… “Real real ale lovers abhor CANS”. I hear you say. Not so. The Directors’ in cans (at £5.50 right now for 4 at Sainsbury’s by the way – and on offer at £9 for 2×4) is quite simply simply the best beer I’ve ever tasted. It’s a beer I now drink every day and I never get bored of it.

    The stuff in the bottles should be the same but to me it has a slight tinge of artificial carbonation to it.

    A year ago if you’d said to me that after searching for a long time for a personal best bitter it would turn out to come from a can, I never would have believed you.

    Just my humble opinion mind.

    • Anonymous Says:

      Totally agree! I also used to really look down with contempt on canned beer, but Director’s in a can, though not quite in the same league as draught, is an excellent beer to drink at home.

  6. Ron Matthews Says:

    A bit of history; I used to work in a Courage pub in London near the Houses of Parliament. Directors was one of our best sellers and had a very strong following. When production of the beer was moved from the Anchor Brewery near London Bridge to a big new facility near Reading in 1981 I was flooded by complaints that there was something wrong with the Directors. I found the beer was insipid, lacking flavour and weak-bodied. I contacted head office and was assured that the recipe was exactly the same.
    There was no autopsy into the death of the original Directors. The company, now just a name, was only interested in costs, not quality.
    So what caused the difference? My obvious thought was the water used to make the beer; London water has a strong character.
    Possibly it was an issue of transportation. It is certainly true that some beers don’t travel well. I used to live in Cardiff where the local Brains beers were superb, but on a visit to nearby Swansea I found the beers to be much less palatable, despite being well kept.
    This also highlights the essential difference between the craft beer sector and big industrial brewers. Small producers can’t compete with the giants on price, but they take pride in making an excellent product for discerning customers.

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