Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Prestonpans Beer

Will you look at this. The Fowler's brewery in Prestonpans, a few minutes' train journey to the east of Edinburgh, was once famous. In more recent times it is only remembered for Fowler's Wee Heavy, which carried on as a popular bottled beer until InBev finally discontinued it in 2005, forty years after its home brewery had closed.

But I had no idea that Prestonpans beer was so famous that other brewers borrowed the name to sell their own stuff. Here's a Liverpool brewer in 1859 with Preston Pans Beer in his line-up. It's the same price as X Ale and slightly cheaper than his weakest IPA. I wonder what the difference was, and what it was like.

In 1862 the Lancet described Fowler's own version as "a very light, nice beverage, as pale as India ale, and suitable particularly for use in summer; its specific gravity was 1010, and it contained 3.80 per cent of anhydrous alcohol."

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Would it be really annoying…

…if I sent loads of very short blog posts like this? Is that better left to Twitter?

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Now it's El Bullshit beer

In a town not far from me there is a rather ridiculous restaurant whose windows are not-all-that-discreetly etched with what the menu has to offer: Steak ... Champagne ... Oysters ... Seafood. Get the picture? You come here to show off how much money you've got.

It's the kind of place I suspect must be the target market for Inedit. That's the "innovative" *cough* beer made by Barcelona brewery Damm which has as its main selling point its association with celebrated food technologist Ferran Adrià.

It's being pushed as a beer to go with food, innovative and unique, as if people hadn't been consuming beer with food for thousands of years. The marketing concept has hence, reasonably enough, already been roundly trashed on the beer blogs over a year ago – see here and here and here.

But now the apparently imminent launch in the UK gives the Guardian's commissioning editors an excuse to indulge their schoolgirlish crush on Adrià once more, and we get this article the other day from Melissa Cole. I appreciate that journalists don't always get to write the precise article they would like to. But that's not going to stop me saying articles like this are bad for beer. This piece diminishes Melissa's reputation, and the Grauniad's, and Ferran Adrià's for that matter, and gives credibility to a product that's created with unsustainable hype on a fraudulent premise.

Essentially, the marketers behind it appear to believe that to make beer as prestigious (in the minds of snobs) as wine, you spend long years educating consumers about beer and you give talented brewers free rein to produce a truly outstanding beer. No, only joking. What you do is put a mediocre beer in a fancy bottle and jack up the price.

So we get the gimmicky black bottle, which Melissa calls elegant and minimalist and I call tacky and 1983-ish; the champagne-aping ice-bucket nonsense, the ridiculous price-tag, all suggesting that the point of this beer is to sell it to cash-rich, clue-poor consumers.

Only the ignorant would order this beer in a restaurant in preference to the other splendid beers that go well with food; only the ignorant would stock it in a restaurant, and I don't want to go to a restaurant run by the ignorant.

Fundamentally, I don't believe such a product deserves any coverage, except that ridiculing it, and it actually makes me quite angry. Even angrier than having to repeat the same points that Beer Nut and Pivní Filosof have already made a year ago.

If you were a restaurateur with a serious reputation and the boss of a large poultry processor approached you with a new range of frozen turkey twizzlers endorsed by a celebrity chef, and suggested that you could flog them to punters for four times the usual price, you'd tell him to fuck off, because you'd have more respect for food, for your customers, for your reputation and for yourself as a human being.

Why should we accept the same trash where the product is a, by all accounts, average-to-fair beer where the bottle is more important than the contents?

Isn't this insulting to the chefs and restaurateurs who do understand beer, and have made an effort to create a decent beer list to complement their menus? Shouldn't we be writing about them instead of buying into marketing-agency hype?

Sunday, 11 July 2010

World Cup Beer Sweepstake: Holland

I left the sourcing of my beers for World Cup Beer Sweepstake until the last minute, in the assumption that my local stores have a greater selection of Dutch beer than they actually do. That was a mistake. Alas, no De Molen or Koenigshoven for me. I apologise greatly to all the brewers of more interesting Dutch beer and expect to be rightly castigated in the comments for not showcasing them.

I found myself, purely through my own fault, with several different brands of, well, mass-market supermarket beer to choose from. What's Dutch for cooking lager?

Instead of tasting just one of them, I decided to try several and see how they stack up against each other; both out of curiosity, and of respect for other bloggers who made more of an effort at obtaining rare beers.

The beers I bought were Heineken Lager Beer, Grolsch Premium Lager, Bavaria Pilsener and Lindeboom Pilsener. These fall into the category known in Holland simply as "pils", which is scientifically classed by the Arbitrary Beer Classification Project (ABCP) as style 12F, Crappy Dutch Pils.

I poured them into identical glasses, marked on the base so I couldn't see which was which, and placed them in random order on the table.

Beer A: Smells sweetish, a little malt, not much in the way of hops. Take a sip, still not much in the way of hops.Very pale straw colour, as bland as a Dutch pils can get. Tiny bit of spiciness.
I guessed this to be Bavaria. It was actually Bavaria.

Beer B: Flowery in aroma. Quite fruity taste. Bitterness is low but discernible. Do you know, I wouldn't mind drinking this while waiting for a train or something. Sweet malt; much more body than Beer A. The more you drink this the more watery it seems, but it definitely has the strongest aroma. I guessed this to be Heineken. It was actually: Grolsch.

Beer C: Sweet malt aroma, reminiscent of sweeties. Flowery hops, slight touch of acid and plastic. Slight dryness but not enough to counteract the sweetness, although I'm surprised there is sweetness at all. I mean they are light but you can taste the malt. Rather watery in finish. The sweet-sour flavour of these is getting to me. I want to stop drinking this now. I guessed this to be Grolsch. It was actually Heineken.

Beer D: Dry, biscuity, grainy aroma. It's ironic the Dutch are said to have brought hops to England; there must not have been any left for this beer. Smells like lager-flavoured water, but tastes worse. This is really awful, actively unpleasant. Unfortunately I knew this was Lindeboom because I'd taken it out of the fridge last, so it was colder than the others and hence too easy to guess.

What's the verdict? Well, none of the beers are really to my taste; they're too sweet and I'd find it difficult to drink more than one.

Grolsch is far and away the best of the bunch due to actually having some hop aroma. After the tasting I looked at the bottle and discovered it was brewed and natuurlijk gerijpt in the UK. Oh well.

Heineken is just blah. I last drank Heineken about nine years ago when I was passing through Amsterdam and I remember I wasn't impressed by it then either.

I know now why Bavaria have those girls in orange dresses; it's because they fucking need them to flog their terribly bland beer.

Lindeboom is just awful; I was really disappointed by it as I was hoping it would be more exciting than the macro-brews, but in fact it's much worse.

I hear that the Netherlands have made it to the final and I hope that they get lots and lots of wickets, or whatever it is you do to win at this footy thing. And I hope they get something better than this muck after the game.

Friday, 9 July 2010

McEwan's grists and colours in 1947/48

Disaster in the archive the other day. I accidentally switched on timestamping on my camera so all my photographs have a timestamp. How embarrassing. Never mind.

Here are details of McEwan's beers in the late 1940s. You know what's interesting about these grists? No speciality malts. It all seems to just be pale malt, adjuncts, and sugar or roast barley for colour. McEwan's had weird names for their beers too — P.A. and P.70/– look vaguely recognisable as typical beer names, but what are 4/C or E5/B?

I dunno what 5/a was. Possibly some sort of Mild? Look at them making a darker version for Glasgow. 

BreweryBeerTypeOGCleansing gravityColour in LovibondYear
Wm. McEwanBL?1027
Wm. McEwanPAPale Ale10281011251947
Wm. McEwan5/a?10321012251947
Wm. McEwanB 5/a?10321012371947
Wm. McEwanG 5/a?10321012461947
Wm. McEwanP.70/–Pale Ale10371013251947
Wm. McEwan4/C?10401010461947
Wm. McEwanB4/C?1040
Wm. McEwanP.80/–Pale Ale1043101320.51947
Wm. McEwan5/B?10471010
Wm. McEwanE5/B?10501008201947
Wm. McEwan2/BStrong Ale1076
Wm. McEwanE2/BScotch Ale1088
Wm. McEwan4/BRegal11051025561947

A word of caution; this is not a primary source, but notes made by someone who's been through the primary sources. Very handy, they've done a better job than I would have done. Someone who knows what they're dealing with too; a layman would have explained what the hell "CM" or "Husks" are.

There are three very strong beers: 2/B, 4/B and E2/B. I know what E2/B was — Scotch Ale. A memoir of retired employees states: "Prior to Gordons Scotch Ales being made for Belgium after the relationship with Clark Doull McEwans had exported E/2B of 1088 gravity as Scotch Ale." The same memoir also tells us what 4/B was: Regal, McEwan's second attempt at a lager. Legend has it that the name was "Lager" backwards. It was brewed to 1105 and watered down to about 1050. High gravity brewing back then, who'd have thought that? That only leaves 2/B which must have been the regular Strong Ale.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Collaboration beer, Munich style

What do collaboration beers make you think of? Brooklyn and Schneider? BrewDog and Stone? Well, there are some brewers newly jumping on the bandwagon—from Munich.

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Oktoberfest, a couple of breweries you might have heard of are getting together to knock up a brew. Well, not just a couple. How about Augustiner and Löwenbräu and Spaten and Hacker-Pschorr and Hofbräu and Paulaner?

All six big Munich breweries are collaborating on a special beer to be sold exclusively in the "historical tent" at this year's festival. It's a darker than normal Festbier of about 6% abv. Not a single drop will be available anywhere else.

I wonder if there will be golden tickets.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Colours of Scottish Brewers beers

That's Scottish Brewers the company, not Scottish brewers in general. What later became Scottish & Newcastle. Rather an arrogant choice of name, don't you think? As if they were planning to exterminate their rivals and be the only brewers left.

This looks a fair bit older than Friday's document about cask beer in the 1980s. The only clue I have is that Bernard beer is listed. T&J Bernard was bought over by Scottish Brewers in 1960 and stopped brewing. How long Scottish Brewers continued selling beer under the Bernard's name, however, I have no idea.It could be as early as 1961-ish, or much later.

I can't make head nor tail of this. Seems people in Inverness liked their beer particularly dark.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Stewart Pilsen and Dopplebock

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the launch of Stewart Brewing's new speciality bottled beers the other night. Known until now for cask beer rather closely modeled on famous Edinburgh beers of the past such as No. 3 and 80/–, the brewers have made an unexpected (to me) move by trying their hand at German styles, brewing a Pilsner and Dopplebock (sic, but if the Dutch can have their own spelling, so can the Scots).

The evening started off poorly as I mistakenly got on the slow train from Glasgow to Edinburgh which pootles through the scenic countryside, but takes twice as long as the express, then got hopelessly lost while looking for Cornelius the beer and wine shop. But my luck changed, and I discovered a magnificently jakey pub:

View Larger Map

The beer is dire and there isn't even any Light, but they have a splendid old Drybrough's mirror praising their Pale and Mild Ales. But I was thirsty so the Tennent's Lager was just about bearable.

Things improved further when I stopped at an off-licence to ask directions to the pub where the launch was. The manager twigged why I was going there, raved about how good the Dopplebock was and expressed regret he couldn't leave the shop to attend the launch too. That's what I call a town with a close-knit beer scene.

Anyway, on to the lager! What are they like? Well, they are proper lagers that get 76 days of maturation. They also contain a bit of wheat. Some people say wheat shouldn't be in lager. I overheard poor Steve Stewart, the brewery boss, having to endure being lectured on this subject by a fat bloke with a plastic bag who smelt of piss. If that's not a reason not to do it, I don't know what is.

The Dopplebock is 7%, sweet and malty, as you might expect. Pilsen is 5.6% and is very, very dry indeed with grassy hops and a respectable bitterness. It was quite hot and sweaty in the pub (who decided to launch a 7% beer on the hottest day of the year?) so I'm reluctant to give a final judgement on these two until I've had a second, calmer taste. I can, however, say they are damn good beers, better than a lot of the muck you get served up in Germany these days, and definitely worth a try.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Scottish cask-conditioned beer in the 1980s

This document is a bit mysterious.

I don't know who compiled it, or why, and there is no date. But we can place it in the mid 1980s because the Alice Brewery is listed, which lasted for only five years between 1983 and 1988. Strathalbyn is also there, which closed in 1987, and Devanha, which closed in 1986; so 1983–86, which is close enough for me.

It's a list of the cask beers available in Scotland at that time, and interesting because it coincides with a time when old-established brewers were still making real ale, but the first micros were beginning to appear.

Alloa, Drybrough, McEwan's, Younger's and Maclay's are all gone. Well, Maclay's pub company still own the Clockwork brewpub in Glasgow, so I guess you can technically say they're still involved in brewing.

Lorimer & Clark are still with us under the Caledonian name. Broughton, Traquair House and Belhaven are the only other survivors.

Look at the gravities. Some brewers had 1.040 as their strongest beer.

BrewerBeerOriginal gravity
Inde Coope Alloa (sic)Arrols (70/– Ale)1037
Younger'sXXPS (Scotch Bitter)1036.2
Younger'sNo. 3 (Ale)1042
Younger'sIPA (India Pale Ale)1042.2
Drybrough'sPentland (70/–)1036
Belhaven60/– (Light)1031
Belhaven70/– (Heavy)1036
Belhaven80/– (Export Ale)1042
BelhavenStrong Ale1070
BroughtonGreenmantle Ale1038
DevanhaTriple X1040
LeithLeith Heavy1039
Lorimer & Clark70/– (Ale)1036
Lorimer & Clark80/– (Ale)1043
Lorimer & ClarkCaledonian Strong Ale1077
Maclay's60/– (Light)1030
Maclay's70/– (Heavy)1035
Maclay's80/– (Export)1040
StrathalbynStrathalbyn Ale1039
Traquair HouseTraquair House Beer1050
Traquair HouseTraquair House Ale1075
AliceAlice Ale?