Three British ales

Starr's, 1135 South Big Bend Boulevard, Richmond Heights; 314-781-2345

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You gotta give the British some credit. Americans prefer "lite," pale, bubble-water beer, yet still they manage to sprout bulbous bellies and grow triple-chins. The Brits, on the other hand, pound pints of full-flavor ales but manage to carry their flab quite well. How do the blokes pull it off?

We think it might be the beer they make, so delicious that they're in a constant state of bliss. Bliss, of course, is a fat-burner. With each swig, their serotonin levels leap, their blood pumps with glee, their liver is giddy to be filtering such sweet nectar. With each glug, they do a bicep curl. With each stumble to the loo, they burn more. And then, at the end of the night, what they haven't burned they simply puke away. Ingenious!

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: The English make the best beer in the world. And Starr's on Big Bend is one of the better places to buy bottles of said ales. The shop features dozens of English -- and just as many Scottish -- ales, and you can mix and match them. We recently went on a spree and found three particularly intriguing.

Brewed by the Coniston Brewing Company near the Scottish border, Bluebird Bitter is an amber-colored ale. Like most bitters, it's reasonably mild, at least after the initial flavor-kick of, oddly, fish. After the fish whiff passes, the beer relaxes into a sour apricot, then heads south with a tang. Fun fact: The key ingredient in most English ales is a malting barley called Maris Otter, which gives the brew its signature accent, that subtle sweetness at the heart of the best ales.

Riggwelter Ale is made by the Black Sheep Brewery in northern England, also near the Scottish border. It's a provincial world up there; we once walked into a crowded village pub in these parts. Immediately the place went stone quiet, and everyone stared. Outsiders! Americans! One of the Brits in our group whispered, "We should go somewhere else," and we promptly exited. No doubt, the locals were protecting their beer. "Riggwelter" is an old Nordic descriptive for a sheep on its back, unable to right itself. The ale, brewed in Masham, is strong and hearty. Three pints of this beautiful beer will riggwelt even the sturdiest day laborer.

British beer fans won't be surprised to discover that the best of our sample was made by Fuller's Brewing Company. Specifically, Fuller's 2004 Bottle-Conditioned Vintage Ale, a limited-edition batch of 95,000 bottles (we got near the bottom of the barrel, number 90,562). Fuller's makes some mean ales, found on draught at several of our city's better bars. Starr's sells four or five different varieties. This ruby-colored specimen, a steal at $6.95 for a little more than a pint, is hearty and slightly sweet. It greets you like a French kiss from sherry-sipping lips, then proceeds to explode in the mouth with a sweet Jim Beam accent, exiting with a hint of a perfectly roasted potato (red). Great beer that will only getter better with age: Make a beeline.

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