Brewster's Brewery is a small, independent brewery in the UK, founded by Sara Barton (who is also the head brewer - or, more correctly, brewster); they are one of a growing number of woman-powered microbreweries around the world. From their base in Grantham, Linconshire, their reputation for high-quality beers has continued to spread - it's not just for CAMRA anymore. Shelton Brothers distributes Brewster's beers in the US, although they can still be somewhat difficult to come by - but based on a taste of their Mata Hari - part of their 'Wicked Women' series - they are well worth seeking out.
Before getting on to the actual tasting notes, it is worth noting that Brewster's regular beers tend to be considerably lower in alcohol than those of most American craft brewers; while there is much to appreciate in many a high-gravity beer (there's absolutely nothing wrong with Pliny the Elder - thank you, Russian River!) it's nice to be able to have more than one or two in one sitting, especially if (like me) you tend to the smaller side of the height/weight scale - or if your city lacks decent public transit and you need to drive home from your favorite watering hole. Lew Bryson's Session Beer Project is helping to encourage US brewers to make a few more lower-alcohol-but-still-great beers, and we're lucky here in the Philadelphia area to have easy access to Yards Brawler (a Mild) and Philadelphia Brewing Company's Kenzinger (a KÃ¶lsch). Both are great go-to beers; beyond their lower alcohol, they are also useful recruitment tools - perfect for introducing a friend to craft beer.
But back to the Mata Hari (and apologies for the terrible photo - ChurchKey is many things, but well-lit is not one of them, although it's quite pleasant in that regard); it pours a coppery color, with a thinly-foaming head - both perfectly good things for a bitter. It has more of an earthy hop aroma than you tend to find in mass-produced bitters, and the taste is perfect - malty goodness without going overboard into some other style, and still a nice, subtle hop kick. I should point anyway that the hops used are Fuggles (which are growing better in our garden than in previous years, oddly, despite the extreme heat this summer), Northdown and Progress, but really, who needs an excuse to work the word 'Fuggles' into a sentence?
It's a great beer for just about any occasion - it was perfect with my meal on a hot day, but would be equally at home as a warm-up after a chilly day. It's a response in a bottle to those who might believe that a beer must be extremely hoppy and/or high in alcohol and/or brewed with coffee (or another nonstandard ingredient) to be worthy of special pursuit - it can just be really, really good. And supporting female brewers is also a very cool thing – it’s another reason you should go Like Brewster’s Brewery on Facebook now.