Burton Old Ale is like IPA's Neanderthal cousin, an alternate evolutionary path for beer that was wildly popular in the 19th century, when almost every British brewer made a Burton. It's now pretty much extinct aside from winter-warmer variants. It's sweeter, maltier and less hoppy than its cousin, and sticks closer to its British lineage in malt and yeast.
For the Portland Pro/Am beer festival Oct. 15, local homebrew legend Bill Schneller went all the way back to the ancient beer writs to resurrect the style for a batch called Trumpet Major with Culmination Brewing. He insisted on using an English grain from an English malthouse, which gave it a distinct flavor. Culmination mixed his batch with a bit of brett strong ale it already had aging in barrels—mimicking a practice common in England back in the day.
Among 30 beers in competition at the Pro/Am, Trumpet Major was the biggest surprise, and probably even my favorite: full-bodied and lightly bitter with very little brett character, malty but not oversweet. The oxidative toffee notes were likewise artfully restrained. It was a beautifully balanced English ale with just a hint of the unfamiliar—everything good about barleywine without the bad. They've tapped it at Culmination, and I'll be stopping by for more. Recommended.