Old Bust Head Brewing Co. | English Style Pale Ale
ABV: 5.6% | IBU: 21
Old Bust Head Brewing Co. has appeared on taps throughout bars in my new hometown and because it’s made in Warrenton, which isn’t far from me, I knew I had to give it a shot. At my glorious Harris Teeter, I bought a 6-pack of their English-style pale ale, interested in both the beer but also the beer category itself — I’ve circled around English pale ales, but never dove into the style.
Old Bust Head’s English-style pale ale is the brewery’s flagship beer and it’s understandable: It is approachable, easy-drinking and with enough bitterness to linger on the palate. It pours a clear amber with limited head. Old Bust Head says the beer is made with Fauquier County’s well water and 2-row brewer’s malt and 2-row caramel 40L malt. For hops, the beer uses Goldings, Fuggle and Cascade.
The beer and the brewery get their name from a former crossroads in the rural Virginia county, near the home of the brewery’s founders. The farm road is still called Old Bust Head, but the crossroad is no longer in existence — neither is what used to a blacksmith and corner shop.
The origins of the odd name cannot be specifically traced, according to the brewery.
“Some say, the locals came up with the nickname when a neighbor fell off his horse after ‘overindulging’ at the corner shop one evening,” their website says. “Others say those who imbibed at the shop were partial to Saturday night fights, or that they just fell down and busted their heads on the rough old country road. Whatever the true story may be, clearly the locals who dubbed the corner ‘Bust Head’ enjoyed not only the potent libations brewed there, but also a little good humor.”
Learning about English-style pale ales was a bit of a roundabout process as well. A Serious Eats article provided some of the best explanations, noting that the English-style is incredibly balanced in comparison to hoppy, American-style pale ales or IPAs.
“As it stands, most modern English IPAs are deep golden to medium amber in color with a lively aroma of earthy, grassy, and floral English hops,” the article notes. “A firm base of toasty or caramelly malt flavor and fruity yeast are noticeable as well. This stuff bears very little resemblance to the hop-dominated, explosively citrusy American IPAs that are popular right now. Though these are aggressively hoppy beers, the English hops typically used are less overtly fruity and bright. And malt flavor plays a much bigger role in these beers, as well.”
Likely, one of the most well-known English-style pale ales would be Fuller’s London Pride; Bass Pale Ale is notable as well. I’ll wager that this style was likely less apparent before American IPAs exploded in the marketplace, strongly marking the differentiation between the bitter English ales and their American counterparts.
For someone who is trying to learn her hops, exploring English-style pale ales is also a great way to clearly taste the difference hop variations can make in a brew (Fuggles and Goldings, in comparison to Centennial, for example). And, needless to say, I’m a big fan of this one, from Old Bust Head.
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