Saturday, 26 December 2009

Dry stout

Did you think that Michael Jackson had made up the term Dry Stout in the 1970s to distinguish Sweet Stout from, well, Stout? Yes, so did I.

I've just been looking at the beer can collector's site (geddit? geddit? You see, the site is about Scottish beer cans, and, oh never mind), well worth a look, and this press cutting from 1956 caught my eye:

Tennent's also have a large stout trade. In export markets the company features three stouts to suit the palate of customers in different parts of the globe—XXX stout, dry stout and milk stout. In the home trade their sweet stout is one of the most popular bottled products of the day.

One bit of inconclusive, circumstantial evidence. I wonder if this terminology was actually used in the trade back when breweries made several different kinds of stout? They must have had the same problem of differentiation that Michael Jackson faced.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Serious drinking

[If Christmas means anything at all, it means repeats of old classics. This is a column by the great feuilletonist Flann O’Brien/Myles na gCopaleen, probably best known to beer enthusiasts for his poem "The Workman's Friend" featuring the line "A pint of plain is your only man". Though first published in the Irish Times over half a century ago, I am inclined to think that his suggestion is more reasonable than many currently circulating — Barm]

Do not for that singular interval, one moment, think that I have been overlooking this new Intoxicating Liquor Bill. I am arranging to have an amendment tabled because it appears that there is absolutely nothing else you can do with an amendment.

My idea is to have the hours altered so that public houses will be permitted to open only between two and five in the morning. This means that if you are a drinking man you'll have to be in earnest about it.

Picture the result. A rustle is heard in the the warm dark bedroom that has been lulled for hours with gentle breathing. Two naked feet are tenderly lowered to the flower and a shaky hand starts foraging blindly for matches. Then there is a further sleepy noise as another person half-wakens and rolls round.

'John! What's the matter?'


'But where are you going?'

'Out for a pint.'

'But John! It's half past two.'

'Don't care what time it is.'

'But it's pouring rain. You'll get your death of cold.'

'I tell you I'm going out for a pint. Don't be trying to make a ridiculous scene. All over Dublin thousands of men are getting up just now. I haven't had a drink for twenty-four hours.'

'But John, there are four stouts in the scullery. Beside the oat-meal bag.'

'Don't care what's in the scullery behind the oat-meal bag.'

'Oh, John'.

And then dirty theatrical snivelling sobbing begins as the piqued and perished pint-lover draws dressing gowns and coats over his shivering body and passes out gingerly to the stairs.

Then the scene in the pub. Visibility is poor because a large quantity of poisonous fog has been let in by somebody and is lying on the air like layers of brawn. Standing at the counter is a row of dishevelled and shivering customers, drawn of face, quaking with the cold. Into their unlaced shoes is draped, concertina-wise, pyjama in all its striped variety. Here and there you can discern the raw wind-whipped shanks of the inveterate night-shirt wearer. And the curate behind the bar has opened his face into so enormous a yawn that the tears can be heard dripping into the pint he is pulling. Not a word is heard, nothing but chilly savage silence. The sullen clock ticks on. Then 'Time, please, time. Time for bed, gentlemen.' And as you well know, by five in the morning, the heavy rain of two-thirty has managed to grow into a roaring downpour.

The Plain People of Ireland:
Is all this serious?

Certainly it's serious, why wouldn't it be serious, you don't make jokes about anything so funny as the licensing laws, why would I bring turf to Newcastlewest?

The Plain People of Ireland:
If you're serious so, it's only a trick to get more drink for newspapermen.

Nonsense. Newspapermen couldn't hold any more than they have at present.

The Plain People of Ireland:
Oh faith now, that's enough. That's enough about that crowd. Remember well, many's a county council meeting, fluther-eyed note-takers couldn't get the half of it, stuff that days was spent thinkin' out.


The Plain People of Ireland: Faith indeed that was loud enough, well you may talk about putting down drink. Putting down is right.

Ut's only mey undajaschin, d'yeh ondherstawnd.

I can see even another domestic aspect of this new order. It is after midnight. The man of the house is crouched miserably over the dying fire.

'John! Look at the time! Are you not coming to bed?'

'No. I'm waiting for the pubs to open.'

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Beer Swap: what I sent

I thought it would be fun to post my own notes on the beers that I sent for Beer Swap. And now that Alan from realalereviews has posted his own opinions of them, I can post mine. (This is Alan's photo of the beers too – I did take some photos before sending them, but later realised I'd photographed the preliminary selection rather than the final one!)

As it's made just down the road from me, it stands to reason that I just have to include the famous Glasgow-brewed lager with the big red logo. Of course I'm talking about West St Mungo Lager. It's my local brewery and it's the only beer that they bottle, so it's a must. An initial slight whiff of DMS gives way to a nice, pale proper Reinheitsgebot-konform lager with a respectably bitter finish. I must say it's better on draught though.

Colonsay 80/– : Grainy aroma, then chewy malt. It's full in body, slightly creamy compared with other 80/– beers and (I suspect) all malt, without getting sticky. Unobtrusive hops give it a subtly dry finish. Colonsay is a very small operation indeed, I understand — you won't even see their draught beer on the mainland because the ferry only goes three times a week.

Arran Ale: Dark gold with a crisp, foresty aroma almost reminiscent of elderflowers, light-bodied, woody and dry. I think this is a much more characterful beer than the more widely distributed Arran Dark and Arran Blonde, but I do worry that at just 3.8% it might be too light for these chilly December evenings.

Houston Crystal: Paler than the dark chocolate label would suggest, with a florally hoppy aroma and foretaste, pleasantly bitter on the palate and with slight black pepper finish. Malt is just enough to balance the hops.

The strange thing about this selection is that they're things I almost never buy in bottles myself. I drink at West regularly, but the Scottish beers I buy the most (other than BrewDog and Williams Bros, which I didn't include because they're so widely distributed that I assumed Alan would already have tasted them) — are the ones I see on cask in my locals. For instance, I would have loved to send some Fyne Ales beer, but it's not available in bottles anywhere in Glasgow, and I think a couple of Houston's other beers are better than Crystal.

I haven't read Alan's review yet. Compare and contrast.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Kölsch brewer breaking the Kölsch-Konvention?

The Kölsch-Konvention is a formal agreement signed in 1986 by the 24 then existing Kölsch brewers. It defines what Kölsch is: a pale, highly attenuated, hoppy, clear, top-fermenting beer with an original gravity of between 11 and 16 degrees Plato.

It also regulates the glasses used in Cologne to serve Kölsch and some of the language Kölsch brewers are allowed to use. While reading this to double-check that I'm not mad, I was reminded of the equally strict restrictions on how Kölsch brands can be named. Basically you can only call your beer Kölsch, without any additional descriptions — this is to prevent all the "Premium-Pils" and "Ur-Weizen" nonsense that you see with other kinds of beer.

It does have one side-effect. It effectively stops a brewery having more than one kind of Kölsch in its line-up. There's no way to differentiate them.

This didn't seem to be a problem until recently when the German mass market was overcome by a wave of bland, flabby so-called "Gold" beers, less bitter than Pils, which appear to have found plenty of buyers.

Now the Gaffel brewery has a new beer in its lineup called "Kölsch classic" in addition to the regular Kölsch, aimed squarely at this market. It's 15% less bitter than the standard Gaffel Kölsch.

The only problem there is that its chosen name appears to violate the Kölsch-Konvention.

The relevant paragraph is in §2 (my emphasis):
In particular the term "Kölsch" may not be used together with any further additions which tend to water down the geographical designation of origin (for example, but not exclusively, "Genuine Kölsch", "Original Kölsch", "Original Kölsch", "Cologne's Kölsch") or with other geographical additions (for example, but not exclusively, Rhine Kölsch, Mountain Kölsch) or in connection with other descriptors, brand names, trade marks, designs, design elements, companies, subsidiaries, company slogans, company abbreviations, beer descriptions, beer types or any other additions which are directly or indirectly misleading apropos the geographical origin, or which could lead to confusion or to a watering-down of the term (for example, but not exclusively, Special-Kölsch, Super-Kölsch, Top-Kölsch, Premium-Kölsch) or to any other violations of the law against unfair competition. Insofar as it be necessary for legal reasons to state on the label the location of a brewery of origin outside the city boundaries of Cologne which bears rights of precedence in the sense of §1 paragraph 2 sentence 3, the statement of the location of the brewery must not mislead or lead to any kind of watering-down of the geographical designation of origin "Kölsch".
Ironically the boss of Gaffel is the current head of the Cologne Brewery Association which got all the Kölsch breweries to sign up to the thing in the first place.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

It shouldn't happen to a dog

Here's a little titbit about the famous McEwan's Cavalier brand. Its heyday is long past but the moustachioed swaggerer with a foaming mug of ale is still to be seen on old pub signs all over Scotland, and recognisable to almost everyone.

But McEwan's earlier efforts at branding weren't so successful.

A memoir of a former employee notes delicately, "The old advert of a hand holding up a globe with the British Empire being shown in red and on which the sun never set was not in favour with the Irish."

There was then apparently a short-lived run of ads with a dog motif, but McEwan's competitors made fun of the beer as not being fit for a dog.

This was then the impetus for the management to call a halt to the dog adverts and come up with a new character which became the Cavalier – some say to directly compete against Younger's "Old Father William".

With the brewery long since closed, the marketing of the beer sold under its name is now in the hands of a sales and marketing company with a passion for brands of distinction, cherished by consumers, who say things like "Regarded by its drinkers as a local hero, it inspires patriotism, delivers choice and consumer passion in droves."

Friday, 11 December 2009

More rubbish from the BA

Where do you start with something like this?

This is from the new site from the US "Brewers' Association" homebrew club.

We learn in the introduction:

"Rhine Valley Ales: This pair of crisp, everyday session beers attests to the diversity and ancient brewing traditions of Northern Germany. They are fermented warm, then cold-conditioned, instilling qualities of both ales and lagers. Kölsch is the traditional golden ale from Cologne, Germany (Köln). It's a well-balanced beer with delicate, fruity aromas, clean, soft maltiness and subtle hoppinness. Düsseldorfer Altbier translates to, "the old beer from Düsseldorf," and is the oldest beer style still brewed in Germany. Alt is a copper–colored beer with an assertive hop nose and just enough malt to provide balance. It's fermented with ale yeast which contributes a subtle fruitiness."

Of course, Kölsch and Alt are not ales as they have nothing to do with the British ale tradition. It's a bit odd to pay tribute to "the diversity and ancient brewing traditions of Northern Germany" and then refer to them by the name of a different tradition. I'll call Charlie by the name of Sam in future and see how he likes that. Moreover, Kölsch certainly isn't ancient, having been introduced by the Sünner brewery in Kalk in the twentieth century.

But the real howler are the suggested glasses pictured above. Alt in a nonic pint glass? Kölsch in a flute? Kölsch is quite possibly the only kind of beer in the world where the shape of the glass is explicitly defined – it's set out in the Kölsch-Konvention, the agreement between most of the Kölsch brewers — and it's not a flute. It is always, always served in a Kölner Stange, a tall, elegant and fragile 20cl cylindrical glass. Similarly, Alt is served in an Altbier glass, also cylindrical but shorter and wider. Oh, I forgot, they think it's an ale, so it must be fine to drink it from the same glass as English bitter, yeah?

Where do they get this stuff?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Beer floats

Shortly after getting my first reliable internet connection back in nineteen mumble mumble, I discovered, the Usenet newsgroup about beer. It was my first glimpse of an unfamiliar world of American beer geeks with their odd jargon of "growlers", "craft beer", and writing "barleywine" without a space.

One of the more bizarre notions I encountered there was the concept of a beer float. It didn't sound very nice. At the time chocolate ice cream with stout was being recommended. So I tried it with Guinness.

It didn't work. The smooth creaminess of the ice-cream just made the Guinness seem watery and acidic. Since then I have not attempted another beer float.

Years later, Boak and Bailey, followed by Mark Dredge, pioneered beer floats in this country, to a mixed reception. "Load of shite" and "plain wrong" were among the expressions used.

It's received wisdom that beer floats need a rich, dark stout-type beer, possibly one involving smoke, coffee, or chocolate. I can see where this idea comes from. You don't want a very dry beer as the sugary ice-cream will make it appear acidic and thin. Nor will a maltier pale beer like a Bavarian Helles do the job. Even what's sweet in beer terms won't stand up to something really sweet like ice-cream.

What could we use instead of stout? Only something sweet and syrupy that can hold its own ... what about barley wine? But where's the contrast in that? Even the sweetest barley wine would be better replaced by real syrup, if its only purpose is to be even sweeter than the ice cream.

Hops are a no-no, says Mark in his post.

But hang on.

One of the simplest classic Italian desserts is a scoop of ice cream with an espresso poured over it. Coffee is bitter and aromatic ... hops are bitter and aromatic ... it's worth a try. Strong and hoppy should go just as well as strong and roasty.

I topped a small glass of BrewDog Hardcore IPA with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Drinking it is ... well, at first it's like drinking Hardcore IPA through a collar of ice cream. But: what I like about this combination is that the ice cream doesn't melt into the beer, making it cloudy ... it melts into the foam, giving you a wonderful shaving-foam textured head that tastes of ice-cream and hops!

Better, though, is the scoop of ice-cream in a bowl with a spoon, with some IPA poured over it. There the malt flavours of the beer disappear and you're left with just the hops and the sharp tang of alcohol, as if you'd poured spirits in the bowl.

I wasn't expecting this to be so good, but there you are. Forget your stouts. The kind of beer that goes with ice cream is double IPA.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Oy Santa, on your bike — Christmas isn't for another fortnight

It's been a while since I posted a good old-fashioned description of what and where I've been drinking. On Saturday I met a friend in The Doublet where we started off with a pint each of Belhaven 80/–. The Doublet is a curious case — it has excellent cellarmanship, yet I dread going there because the two most common ales on offer are Greene King Abbot Ale, which I detest, and Belhaven St Andrews Ale, which I find too sweet. Occasionally there's something great on, which makes it all worthwhile. One time there was the most perfect Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted that I have ever had, and we just sat in the upstairs lounge, drinking pint after pint of it until closing time came and we stumbled out into the summer night. But anyway, the Belhaven was in fine condition, though I can't help feeling it's lost the character it once had, or perhaps I've ruined my palate with hoppy bitters.

Since it was a cold day, we cycled around to another legendary Hillhead pub, Tennent's on Byres Road. We were there specifically because we knew that they always have Broughton Old Jock as a house beer. The bar staff are used to warning people before pouring pints of Old Jock that it's 6.7%. Actually, the warning should be that it tastes as if it's off when it actually isn't. Among the rich sweetness, there's a distinct vinegary tang to it, not enough to be unpleasant but just enough to be slightly disturbing. As you get half-way down the pint you realise the "vinegar" is actually the alcohol.

As is inevitable when up the west end, we ended up in The Three Judges. Spire Twist & Stout came with a loose, sudsy head, smelt of farts and tasted of bacon. Big Lamp Keelman Brown Ale was much more pleasant. Kelham Island Best Bitter was decent, but disappointing because we expect much more from Kelham Island. Harviestoun Schiehallion restored my faith. When people started coming in in Yuletide dress, we decided it was time to leave.

Friday, 4 December 2009

New beer nonsense site: caveat emptor

The "Brewers Association", the US homebrew club headed by beer fiction writer Charlie Papazian, has a new, poorly researched site at Looks like Roger Protz isn't the only "beer authority" who can't be bothered to check his facts.

I've only looked at a few pages, but on nearly every one there's some jaw-dropping howler. Whoever is writing this stuff, whether Papazian himself or someone else, please just stop writing about British and European beer. Stop misrepresenting things you clearly don't understand. And don't fill the gaps in your knowledge by just making stuff up.

On the page about beer glassware, we learn:

The Imperial pint was adopted as an official measure by British Parliament in 1824. Shortly thereafter, the "nonick" version of the Imperial pint glass was produced for use in pubs.

The nonik glass was introduced in the 1960s.

Maybe "shortly" means "140 years later" in American English, I can't be absolutely sure.

Or maybe Charlie Papazian just pulls this nonsense out of his arse.

Beer Swap: the beers have arrived!

Well, actually they arrived weeks ago, but things have got in the way of me unpacking them – primarily that I wanted to send out my own parcel first!

There's nothing really like opening up a mystery box of beer. One of the nicest bits is finding beers that you never knew even existed.

Two of these breweries, Westerham and Rother Valley, I've never heard of before. The third, Gadd's, I've only heard of because Mark goes on about them all the time. It goes to show that the brewing scene is becoming more localised, after a generation or more of consolidation. Could we really be returning to every town having its own brewery? I don't know, but it's a nice thought.

Here's what @beermerchants was kind enough to send me:
  1. Rother Valley Hoppers Ale
  2. Rother Valley Boadicea
  3. Westerham Little Scotney Pale Ale
  4. Westerham Little Scotney Best Bitter
  5. Gadd's Reserved Barrel Aged Barley Wine
Very much look forward to trying these.