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Mar 5, 2012 03:30 PM

Bass Ale - The Horror

I picked up a 12-pack of Bass Ale this weekend after a having gone quite a while without buying any for whatever reason and I was astonished as to how bad it tasted. NOTHING like the Bass Ale I remembered. Inspection of the bottle turned up some disturbing statements like "originally brewed in Burton-on-Trent" etc. and close inspection of the carton (on the bottom) revealed it is now brewed in Baldwinsville, NY. What a shame, InterBev is determined to kill this brand in the US I guess - not sure if they tried to "Americanize" the taste or just cutting corners but I won't be buying any more.

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  1. This was announced about nine months ago. Expect to see a lot of promotion behind the beer. I am curious if you have tried it on tap as well. A true burton ale is a treat. It is a shame if this beer has been ruined.

    6 Replies
    1. re: cwdonald

      I have not tried it on tap for a while either, CW. I am very sad as Bass was my "goto" beer if I was in a place with a less-than-stellar beer selection. They would usually have Bass and it was usually quite good (always good in bottles, usually good on draft as long as it was reasonably fresh).

      1. re: cwdonald

        Well, Bass Ale was ruined by Bass, PLC decades ago, long before 2000 when they sold out to Interbrew, which then had to sell the brewery itself to Coors to satisfy UK anti-trust regulators.

        US labels used to say Luton, UK- but that's merely A-B-InBev's UK headquarters. The cask Bass Ale sold in the UK is still brewed in Burton by Marstons, but the bottles and kegs send to the US has long been a different beer, and after the Interbrew/Coors contract deal ran out, brewed at an AB-I brewery in Samlesbury, UK.

        Bass Pale Ale, however, while it came from Burton-on-Trent, was never a "Burton Ale"- which is a much different (and, today, relatively rare) style of beer.

        While AB-I should at least be congratulated for a rather prominent label proclaiming the bottled beer's new origins (not every brand brewed elsewhere is so transparent), the draft beer buyer has no such notice. I still see Bass tap handles that say "Imported" on them, menus that list "UK" for the beer and assume it is sold for the same price.

        1. re: JessKidden

          Jess thanks for the great history and clarifying the style of beer. I think the one other thing that is interesting is that theyy dropped the word India from the label in the US produced product. There is so much IPA out there that a beer with an IBU of 75 (what Bass supposedly is) cannot stand up to the likes of Stones and other super hopped IPAs... so Bass is now just a pale ale.. and a pale imitation of what a great beer it once was. Now if I could only get a well kept pint of Marston's Pedigree on cask.. I would be a happy man.

          1. re: cwdonald

            Some UK brewery historians claim that Bass never used the "IPA" designation for Bass Pale Ale (tho' their independent bottlers did use it on the supplemental labels they attached to the back of the bottles).

            In the US, the labels have said "IPA" at times - for one example, in the mid-'80's, when it was imported by what was then known as "Guinness Harp Corp." (now Diageo USA), the classic Bass label included a relatively small "I.P.A." under the brand name. (Seen here ).

            Bass' current IBU's really is claimed to be as high as 75? Yeah, I'm surprised at that figure for even the bottled exported Bass I recall from the '60's and '70's.

            1. re: JessKidden

              My non authoritative source for the IBU content. Its interesting if you look at home brew recipes for Bass clones, they are suggesting a much lower IBU somewhere in the 50 range.


            2. re: cwdonald

              Actually, Stone IPA and most of the other "West Coast" style IPA's that are popular today are around 75 ibu's. I'm doubtful that Bass ever had that level of bitterness; I've never had a Bass that tasted that bitter.

        2. I usually have Guinness or German brews when I order in a bar. Saw the Bass on tap at a local place and after a taste, accused her of not cleaning the lines. She pointed at all the others drinking it. I paid and left the brew. Now I know why the very off taste. Thought my memory was going. Thanks for the explanation.

          1. This has happened with so many other imported brews in the past. They use local water and brewing equipment, truck it to your local market or pub but charge like it was sourced and transported across the ocean. Thankfully there are now so many wonderful local micro brews available that there's not need to get these imposters.

            10 Replies
            1. re: BluPlateSpec

              some American versions of English ales taste more English than the beers that are marketed as English. Here in SF, Magnolia makes some very nice bitters and milds, and the new brewer at Social Kitchen has a deft touch with English session ales

                1. re: chuckl

                  How new is the Social Kitchen brewer? We went there when we first moved here back in August and enjoyed it, but haven't been back too often. I thought their beers were pretty well made, though, for the most part.

                2. re: BluPlateSpec

                  Well I find it very hard to believe you can blame it on the water. It is relatively easy to adjust the water to be close to if not equivalent to the source water.. such as Burton on Trent. I think the real culprit is the idea that the palate of the mass american consumer is not the same as the English or German or wherever consumer and they change the recipe. I have no doubt that is what has happened to Bass. I tasted it ONCE since it has become available in the US under the new recipe. And I do not recognize it as Bass. Bland tasteless and brown is how I could characterize it.

                  1. re: cwdonald

                    The US has long gotten an "export" version of Bass Ale (in the UK, the most revered version is the cask "Draught Bass", of course):

                    "The bottled Bass exported to the United States is made to a higher
                    gravity and alcohol content... It has a different hop specification
                    (less hoppy) and is filtered and pasteurized."
                    ---M. Jackson, Beer Companion, 1993.

                    And note that was written before the "Bass Brewers" company got out of the brewing industry, sold it's business to what was then "Interbrew", which then had to sell the Bass Burton brewery, in period between 2000-2001. (Coors is now the owner of the brewery itself and it appears they're about to export the bottle conditioned Worthington White Shield, one of the brands they also got from Bass/Interbrew).

                    In the UK the Draught Bass is brewed under contract by Marston's (in Burton, and still using Burton Unions which Bass itself had long abandoned), but the "export" version bottles, cans and pasteurized "keg" sent to the US had been brewed at an AB-InBev brewery in the UK - the same company that runs the Baldwinsville, NY brewery.

                    That does not mean that they might not have further "tweaked" the recipe in the US, of course, (beer recipes are constantly changing) but "Bland, tasteless and brown" is how the US bottled and kegged Bass has tasted to me for the last couple of decades. It's notable that Jackson did not even "review" the bottled Bass in his multiple editions of his "Pocket Guide to Beer" published through the '80's and 90's.

                    1. re: JessKidden

                      Hi Jess, your points are well taken, I am sure Bass in the UK was superior to the Bass we were getting here in the US but at least it was still a reasonably good drink and a fine alternative to American lagers. Now it basically tastes like Killian's Red which is a travesty.

                      1. re: DocHolliday

                        > " least it was still a reasonably good drink and a fine alternative to American lagers."

                        But it's not 1975 anymore- there are literally 100's of alternatives to both American adjunct lagers and dumbed down (psuedo-)Euro imports from M-C and AB-I in most US markets. This further dumbing down of Bass Ale seems a minor concern- heck, even AB-InBev has little faith in the brand- they tried to sell the international rights to the Bass brand (keeping the UK market) and got no takers. The move to brewing in the US was probably a cost-cutting measure, since the brand is still popular here but continues to shrink.

                        I notice that in Canada, their keg Bass is brewed domestically by Labatt (another AB-I brewery).

                      2. re: JessKidden

                        What concerns me about this idea that Bass has utterly changed since they started brewing it in New York is a post like yours that claims it's been horrible for decades. Maybe it has been for all I know given I wasn't legal to drink until the mid '90s. But what I do know is that Bass was the one beer at a place like Buffalo Wild Wings (then BW3s) that I could count on to taste good (especially when mixed with Guinness).

                        The problem I find now is not this crazy idea that Bass Ale made in New York tastes so very different (I can't taste ANY noticeable difference in that regard), but rather that the RUMOR that it's now horrible that seems to be making it harder and harder to find locally at stores even. I've got dozens of beers I'd rather drink straight up than Bass these days at home, but I STILL *LOVE* Black & Tans made with Bass & Guinness (only Fullers' London Pride even comes close as a substitute) and while Guinness is at every drive-through even, Bass is getting harder and harder to find this year. In fact, the one place I knew I could count on getting it, just got Bass India Pale Ale instead (it does work pretty well seeing as it tastes like Bass, only more hoppy and bitter, but leaves a bitter after-taste I'm not crazy about as some IPAs are known to do; my favorites do not linger so long).

                        But frankly, I simply do not buy this notion that Bass tastes incredibly different since brewing it in New York. MAYBE if I had two to try side-by-side I MIGHT find some minor difference, but people comparing it to MILLER are fracking CRAZY. It tastes NOTHING like Miller and I'd question anyone's taste buds that says it does (like BigLou58 below). I never noticed any change between Bass from Ireland, UK or New York. I think people let the power of suggestion (knowing that InBev bought it and make it in New York at a Bud brewery) has incredible power over people's perception.

                        1. re: VonMagnum

                          I note you have been a drinker since mid 90' !
                          I found my way to the back door of the brewery sample room in 1946 when I started work there at the age of 14.
                          That means I have been drinking cask Bass or Worthington E for 68 years! At one time I was responsible for the quality of beers in trade outlets, maybe you would live that job visiting them any day and sampling all the ales on sale. And not be over the limit for driving! Shame now the Bass brewery is no more, unbelievable. CHEERs --Peter

                        2. re: JessKidden

                          Danger! Danger! Warning Will Robinson -- Thread Drift Approaching . . .


                          Worthington's White Shield was my "go to" bottled beer at my college (Pembroke) pub while at Cambridge. My local pub, The Granta, had Abbot Ale on a hand-pump . . .

                          Sadly, neither is what they once were.

                    2. DocHoliday! WOW! I thought I was the only one that realized this. From 2000 until last summer, Bass Ale was my favorite beer. So much, in fact, that I would either drink coke or walk out of a bar if they didn't carry it. At some point in 2011, I too bought a 12 pack.When I started to drink it, I told my partner, "this batch of beer is skunked, it's awful" Being a loyalist, I still kept buying it, knowing the taste had somehow changed. Last winter, I was sitting here drinking a bass and started reading the label. WTF? It is NOW BREWED IN NEW YORK! No wonder it tastes like every other americanized piss. I started to learn how to brew my own beer at that point. Last week, I ran out of my home brew and bought another 6pak of Bass. Give 'em another chance. I couldn't make it thru my 2nd beer and tossed it out. This is horrible. It's not even a true pale ale anymore. Side by side, in a glass it looks exactly like a Miller. What a shame! What a shame!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: BigLou58

                        If you can't tell Bass from (god awful) Miller, you shouldn't be drinking beer, IMO (and yes I've had Bass brewed from Ireland, UK, Canada and New York and it's all the same recipe). The power of suggestion buzzing around InBev and their purchase of Budweiser seems to mess with people's minds or taste buds or something. I couldn't drink Bass if it tasted like Miller. Miller is a freaking riced-lager for goodness sake. I could pick a rice beer out hanging upside down with a clothespin over my nose. Bass is a pale ale (a mild one, but still an ale, although they do now have a Bass India Pale Ale and yes, it still tastes like Bass, only hoppier/more bitter).

                        1. re: VonMagnum

                          > I've had Bass brewed from Ireland, UK, Canada and
                          > New York and it's all the same recipe

                          How do you explain the fact that the Labatt-brewed Bass in Canada and the AB-brewed Bass in the US are both 5% abv and in the UK the draught Bass (brewed by Marston) is 4.4%?

                          There's also a 20+ year history of beer literature noting that the hop schedule/strains were different for the export Bass shipped to the US.

                          "Export" versions of a beer with a different recipe/abv, etc., are not uncommon - Diageo's Smithwick's being a current example- 3.8% in Ireland, 4.5% in the US according to Guinness brewmaster Fergal Murray.

                          1. re: VonMagnum

                            Hi' VonMagnum,
                            Sounds like you like to drink the best ale? Come to my home town, Burton on Trent UK and visit the brewery museum. The have cask ales on sale they brew themselves, Bass was on last week and great, also regular ales are Worthington White label and Red label and Worthington E, Worthington was part of the Bass Group I think they brewed the better beers. I started work at Worthingtons in 1946, I'm sure it has helped to keep me going and healthy at 82 years. Let me know if you make it over here. Shame the Bass breweries are now owned by Coors.

                            1. re: Xbassbreweryworker

                              Sounds like you had a fantastic job. And I would love to visit the brewery museum for its historical value if nothing else. So the Bass they sell at the museum is substantially different from the regular stuff? Ive been told to try the "E" which is supposed to be similar to the original recipe. But still technically all brewerd by Coors? Sounds like a similar set up to the Sandlot brewpub at Coors field in Colorado. Some interesting variations on Blue Moon that you cant find anywhere else.

                        2. I suggest you research the burton ale system...One can't expect Bass style beer without being brewed on a Burton system. Very few breweries today utilize the technique because modern yeast management is much more efficient and less risky for delivering a consistent product.

                          If you enjoy Bass type ales then you should seek out english mild bitters or ESB style beers. There really is a much greater quality of other brands.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: DillMuncher

                            Bass abandoned the Burton Union fermentation system back in the 1980's and, of course, the Bass company itself no longer exists - the brewery owned by MolsonCoors UK and the brand owned by AB-InBev., after Interbrew bought the company in 2001 and was forced by the UK anti-trust regulators to spin off some brands and breweries.

                            In the UK, the cask Bass is brewed by Marston's in Burton using the BU system, but the exported Bass Ale, bottles and kegs (a very different beer- recipe, abv, etc), we got in the US was eventually brewed elsewhere in UK by AB-InBev (the labels listed only "Luton" which is ABInBev UK's headquarters) - the same company that owns the Baldwinsville, NY brewery where US's Bass Ale now originates.

                            Brewing beers under license or at a multinational's other breweries outside it's home region is not unusual and, in ABInBev's favor, I can't think of another label that revealed it's "new" source more obviously that the new US-brewed Bass Ale - saying both "PRODUCT OF THE USA" and "BALDWINSVILLE, NY" quite prominently.

                            1. re: DillMuncher

                              Like JessKidden said, Bass hasn't used the Burton Union system since the 1980s and that's before I ever drank it so whatever I liked about Bass Ale in the 2000+ period isn't due to that. I understand people claimed it was much better decades ago, but what I've been talking about is whether the flavor has significantly changed since they started brewing it in New York and for me, the answer is definitely no. It tastes basically the same to me (which is very good, but not great by itself; it's something I would get in bars when they had nothing more than domestic and Sam Adams products. I always prefer ales to lager, for example and Fullers ESB isn't in most US bars; I do get it and things like Hobgoblin on draft when I'm in Canada, though. On the other hand, I've always thought Fullers London Pride tastes very similar to Bass and in Canada I typically use that in a Black & Tan when Bass isn't available at a given pub). Certainly when used with Guinness in a Black & Tan, Bass is still what I'm looking for, which is a GREAT Black & Tan (I have yet to find a better one, although Fullers is probably a close second).

                              But when people tell me New York brewed Bass tastes like Miller, for example, I have to respond because that's ludicrous. It's a fairly mild tasting pale ale that's not very bitter (although the new Bass IPA is considerably more bitter, but still tastes like Bass). There might be some minor difference between the UK brewed Bass and the US one, but it's not one I'd spot without a direct comparison. Certainly my flavor memory doesn't pick it up. I still think many people hate the new Bass just because InBev bought it and they believe they screw with everything they buy and even more so since they bought Bud (the conspiracy theory that they're turning all their beers into something resembling Bud somehow). I find that ridiculous. People want their favorite beers made in the original brewery and I understand that, but I just want a good Black & Tan sometimes.