Robert Cain & Co. “Finest Bitter”

January 28, 2014

British beer, while being arguably one of three distinct progenitors of modern American brewing, always seems to take a back seat to our own craft beer. How can American brewing turn its back on one of its “fathers?” England certainly does not give up on tradition, so much to the point that they fight tooth and nail to retain their brewing history.

As families wax and wane, fortunes rise and fall, breweries come and go. And come, and go. Lather, rinse, repeat. Englishmen just won’t let their beloved breweries completely disappear. If you were to examine any British brewery of note you’d see that multiple families, companies and conglomerations have all had a piece of it at one point in time or another. Could you imagine such a thing happening in America? Try and picture, say, Great Divide Brewing closing shop only to have New Belgium buy the brewery just to keep making Great Divide product. It just doesn’t happen here.

So why does this happen so often throughout British beer history? One: like much of Europe each little township and hamlet has their own local breweries. This beer rarely travels more than a kilometer or two from home base. With very few national brands and import craft beer a very new thing overseas, brand loyalty reigns supreme. Two: there’s a lot of money to be made if the establishment is run properly. These add up to identity self-perpetuation.

I’ve got a great example of a beer both largely ignored here in the states and made by a brewery that’s changed partners more times than a busy square dance. Cain’s was founded in Liverpool by Irish entrepreneur Robert Cain in 1858. The company quickly rose to prominence and had around 200 pubs in operation at its height of its empire. They merged with Walkers in 1921, sold to Higsons only two years later, purchased by Boddington’s in 1985, sold to Whitbread after five years, closed down for a year and snatched up by a Dutch brewing group until they sold out to the current owners. As of this writing, Cain’s is being contract brewed for minimal overseas export and to supply the three remaining pubs under their watch.

So sad to see such a solid session ale get traded around and ignored like a third-stringer’s baseball card. Cain’s Finest Bitter is a classic. Clear walnut brown, it offers up a tall, fluffy head. Caramel malt lords over fine scents of toasty nuts and some sweet dried fruit. A mild, earthy Golding hop presence rides along with buttery-sweet fresh bread and a grassy/herbal finish. The creamy texture and session beer strength – 4% abv – make for one clean-drinking beverage.

They’re fighting to stay alive in the modern beer universe. Embrace your beer roots and help their cause.