Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Beer Swap

When I heard about this, I thought it was a crazy idea. Now I think it's a great idea. Pencil and Spoon and Beer Reviews have got together and organised a pre-winter beer swap. Now that the days are gloomier and shorter we could all do with the odd bit of cheering up. That could include coming home to find someone has sent you a parcel of beer.

In the past I've carried heavy bottles of beer home from trips way too often, and in the end I decided that only the very finest beers are worth the pain of carrying them, or the expense of posting them. But what the heck, it's a bit of fun.

Now to think about what to send. I have bought one bottle already, and have decided on a further two. This is quite easy actually. If I can be bothered, I shall document the acquisition of each beer.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Theses on lager

  1. Lager shouldn't be fizzy.
  2. Most of the lager in the world is complete crap.
  3. Most drinkers have no bloody idea what a good lager is.
  4. This includes Germans.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Question for lager experts

Go to any German or Czech brewpub and one of their chief offerings will almost certainly be one or more unfiltered lagers. They are often quite murky. I don't mind that if it tastes good and you can still see through it. I do draw the line at thick yeasty soup.

Something I have been wondering for a while is why lager apparently needs to be filtered to get it clear. Real ale usually drops bright after just a few weeks, so why does lager still have to be filtered after weeks or months of cold conditioning?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Tadcaster Brown Ale

I haven't drunk Newcastle Brown Ale for years. This is because it's minging.

So it's probably my fault that S&N are closing the Federation Brewery in Gateshead, due to it allegedly operating at only 60% of capacity, and moving production to Tadcaster.

I'm not terribly bothered where Newcastle DunstonTadcaster Brown is brewed really — if S&N don't care, why should I? But it would be a shame to overlook the end of the long story of the Federation Brewery, which had a fascinating history in its own right before S&N bought it in 2004.

With less than six weeks to go until the takeover of S&N by Heineken is completed with the company formally changing its name to Heineken UK, you inevitably get people blaming Heineken. But this is naive.

S&N didn't need any help from Heineken to close the McEwan's brewery in Edinburgh that had made it one of the biggest brewers in the UK in the first place.

This is just S&N doing what it does best: pissing all over its own heritage.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Fur coat, no knickers

Here is a well regarded restaurant in Glasgow's swish Merchant City.

It offers its guests Perrier-Jouet champagne, or if you prefer beer, there is ... Corona.

That is an insult.

Monday, 12 October 2009

West Oktoberfest

Caramel, peaches and vanilla. Nice hops, refreshingly bitter. It gets rather chewy once it loses its chill, but even so might not suffer by being a bit fuller-bodied. But then I think that about a lot of beers.

This is a very short post, isn't it?

Undescriptive beer names

Once upon a time (so I am told), beer names were simple. You had a local brewery which made two or three kinds of beer. They would have dull, descriptive names like Bloggs' XX and Bloggs' Bitter. You might also have another local brewery which made the same beers, Ocklethorpe's Mild and Ocklethorpe's Bitter. You might have occasion to go to another town and drink Foxton's Mild or Foxton's Bitter there.

As you had so little choice, you drank them all and learned that XX meant the same as Mild and that Bloggs' Bitter was better than Ocklethorpe's Bitter, but Ocklethorpe's Mild was nicer than Blogg's XX. You had to learn a few basic terms like Mild, Bitter and Stout, but after that it was easy to know what you were looking at.

How different things are today. Plenty of people have complained about the predeliction of small breweries to give their beers lewd seaside-postcard type names, often with an embarrassingly vulgar pump clip. But that's not what I'm complaining about here.

One of the things that annoy me is that so many small breweries insist on giving their beers undescriptive names. When I say undescriptive names, I don't mean to insist that every brewery should have a line up of Brewery X's Mild, Bitter, Porter and Stout. I mean they shouldn't choose names that have no relevance to the beer whatsoever.

It doesn't have to be called Dark Mild or Best Bitter. Some sort of bloody clue is all I ask for. If I go to a pub or a festival, and I see a beer called Beyond the Pale or Golden Sunrise, I can assume it's going to be pale. If it's called Station Porter, Gail Porter or The Water In Majorca Don't Taste Like Porter Orter, I know, once I've finished cringing, that it's porter. Beers called Black Cat, Dark Side, Dark Island and Dark Matter are also fairly unambiguous.

But what am I to make when I approach the bar and I see beers named:

Little Weed
Wayland Smithy

... to name just a few out of hundreds or thousands?

This is not so much of a problem at beer festivals, because there is always a programme with further information on the beer, which is just as well, because all you get on the cask is a piece of paper baldly stating the brewery, the name of the beer and its alcohol content.

It's also fine if the pump clip elaborates on what the beer actually is (although you have to get atypically slow service to actually have a chance to read them all).

But some don't even do that!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Notice for readers in Glasgow

A quick reminder that there's another beer event coming up at Peckham's in Glasgow (Glassford St branch). I hope to actually make it to this one, as I had a cold last time and had lost my sense of taste. It's on October 17th, 2pm–6pm, £10 to get in, Oktoberfest-themed and there will be a large range of hopefully interesting beer to try.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

All hail the Nanny State

Those annoyingly industrious chaps at BrewDog have been busy again and have created this 1.1% beer to wind up the prohibitionists and others who seem to believe that brewers are responsible for how much alcohol other people deliberately pour down their own necks.

It pours beautifully, creating a fine, foamy head. It looks and smells very much like the earlier How To Disappear Completely. It's a beautiful autumn-leaves brown. The scent is of hops. Tons of them. I can't tell the variety and I don't want to embarrass myself by speculating.

It's surprisingly un-bitter considering the alleged theoretical bitterness units of 225 (ten times as much as standard mass market beer). Or it's just way past the limit of what I can actually taste.

Barely any body, but what do you expect at 1.1% abv? Just a ghost of caramelly malt with the slight metallic tinge you sometimes get in very weak beer. Then again, it's tastier than many beers five times its strength. People call the dry hop flavour "grassy", but it isn't really like grass, it's more herbal than that.

Would make a tremendous appetiser, possibly, if you don't think it would wreck your palate. It's a beer brewed as a gimmick and I think it works for that. Yet ultimately, it's fascinating but unsatisfying, like listening to a rock band with no bass player. It's the best low-alcohol beer I've ever had, though. But I'd rather they brewed How To Disappear Completely again because that was fantastic in its own right, not just as a one-dimensional joke.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Lager, ale, who cares?

Time and again I read some article along the lines of "There are two basic families of beer, ale and lager ..." followed by a simplified explanation of yeast behaviour at different temperatures.

I shall ignore for the moment the many beers which don't even fit into this categorisation ... and the related argument about whether it makes any sense whatsoever to call e.g. Weißbier "an ale", just because it is made with top-fermenting yeast (answer: no it doesn't).

This seems to be one of the first things people learn when getting into beer, even though it's actually quite an esoteric subject to confront people with.

Is this distinction so important? It seems to me to be only one of a multiplicity of factors affecting the final beer.

There are all manner of achses that you could choose to use to divide up the world of beer, along essentially arbitrary lines.

You do get people occasionally saying they think the main difference is between pale beers and dark beers, but they tend to be considered naive. But are they so wrong? Doesn't the kind of malt used contribute as much to the character of the beer as the kind of yeast and the type of conditioning?

Why do we have this obsession with lager versus ale? It's only one of many differences between different kinds of beer.

You never hear anyone say:

"There are two basic kinds of beer: bitter ones and sweet ones"

"There are two basic kinds of beer: those made with hard water and those made with soft water"

"There are two basic kinds of beer: those with high attenuation and those with low"

"There are two basic kinds of beer: the ones made with funky yeast and the ones with more neutral yeast"

"There are two basic kinds of beer: those made mostly from barley malt and those made mostly from wheat"

I am going to try an experiment. I will no longer pay attention to whether something is top- or bottom-fermented. I'm far more interested in whether it tastes of toffee, lemon, banana, mint, chocolate, coffee, mouldy brie, cowpats, vinegar, smoke, grass or wine.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


One of my new favourite breweries is Beck-Bräu Trabelsdorf. I first came across them at the Great British Beer Festival where their Lisberger Lager was on draft, and very nice it was too. Unfortunately I don't have any more details; by the time I tried it I was at the stage of making, ahem, abbreviated tasting notes, i.e. marking them either as GOOD or SHITE.

Last week I got the chance to try Feinherbes Pils too: it has a big, sugary, malty aroma, yet is almost harshly bitter on the palate with a dry finish. Oddly, there is little hop aroma, but it's really very bitter indeed. It's the kind of beer you just want to keep drinking.

The dunkles Jahrhundertbier I had a day or so later from the Magical German Beer Fridge in the Allison Arms wasn't quite as good, being a bit cardboardy and lacking in body. Pity.

They seem to be pretty on the ball. I wouldn't mind trying their strong Rauch-Bock "Affumicator", either. I have put them on my list of places to visit next time I have the good fortune to visit Franconia.

If more German breweries were like this, beer sales there might not be plummeting the way they are.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Ayrshire Beer Festival, Troon

Yesterday I headed down to Troon for the Ayrshire Beer Festival, having finally managed to convince my pals that there was no point waiting till the evening as there would be nothing left.

It's a nice scenic train ride down the Ayrshire coast, once you've passed through the chunk of Renfrewshire where it always seems to rain, and Troon isn't big. Once I'd passed the high school and the church, there was only one large building left to try.

Belhaven 60/– seems to be the beer I always go for first at Scottish beer festivals. This is mainly because I have never seen it anywhere else than at beer festivals for at least ten years, though a friend claims to have drunk it in a pub once. Its days may well be numbered, seeing as the brewery apparently couldn't even find a pump clip to send along with it and resorted to bunging a sticky label on the front of an 80/– clip (see picture). It's light and watery in body, with slight fruity aromas of berries and apple. Slight treacly aftertaste with a bit of yeast and just a little sulphur.

Next up was Thornbridge Lord Marples. It's got fruit and sugar, just enough malty backbone to support the hops. It's chewy and tongue-suckingly bitter which is what I like most about it. The chap serving me said Thornbridge was his favourite brewery. I hope that their recent expansion will enable them to send a bit more beer up north in future.

Someone behind me ordered Deuchars IPA. I glanced round and it was a chap from the Caledonian Brewery pipe band (soon to be the Heineken Pipe Band), so I suppose it's excusable.

I went for Acorn Barnsley Bitter. I've been wanting to try this for some time, but for some reason I imagined it would be a pale, hoppy beer in the same vein as Pale Rider or Beyond the Pale. It isn't — it's brown, but a perfect ordinary bitter. Almost no body, but an incredible amount of flavour comes from the hard water and the bittering hops. Not much aroma but intensely bitter. Yum.

Hop Back Entire Stout had a nose of chocolate, coffee and acid. It might have been good had it been in decent condition, but unfortunately it just tasted of apples and had to be poured away. Milton Minotaur Mild to replace it had a strong farmyard aroma and tasted of caramel, sugar and camembert rind.

About this time I bumped into Hopjuice and his lovely companion, home for a holiday from Japan, and spent a while trying to convince him that we still don't really do extremely hoppy beers in the UK. He then proved me wrong by fetching the hoppiest beer at the festival, Brewster's Rutterkin, while I sipped a Fuller's Chiswick Bitter. This is a rare sight up here, yet much nicer than London Pride.

Highgate Davenport's IPA was another hard-water, reasonably hoppy weak-IPA. Slightly appley, it could have done with more body. Bath Ales Gem Bitter, on the other hand, was a fine example of the popular style Boring Brown Bitter: treacle and yeast on the nose, lots of esters, and hops contribute less bitterness than the hard water does. A shame because I've enjoyed Bath's bottled beer in the past.

There wasn't much else left by this time and I had an evening engagement, so I called it a day after that. I wouldn't always take a 45 minute train journey for a festival this size, but Troon is a nice wee place and it's good to see there's enough local interest to support a beer festival.

Indoor bagpiping

It sounds like a terrible idea, but it's not as bad as it sounds.

At least they were considerate and only played for five minutes at a time.