Monday, 30 August 2010

The strength of export beer in the 1860s

People might not like paying taxes, but where would historical research be without the obnoxiously detailed records kept by tax collectors, eh?

Over on TickBeer Barm’s Law has taken effect on a random thread and once again people argue that IPA was “traditionally” a strong beer (and in consequence that the likes of Greene King IPA and Deuchars IPA aren’t real IPAs at all).

Here is a table from the Eleventh Report to Parliament of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Inland Revenue on the Inland Revenue (1867). It details over five thousand samples of beer examined by the authorities in order to determine whether the exported beer was eligible for a duty refund.

We can see quite clearly that in two consecutive years by far the greater part of beer sampled was declared — and confirmed — to be between 1.055 and 1.070. Not strong compared to other 19th century beers.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Och aye P. A.

The Ingram Bar in Glasgow is an okay pub and if you’re arriving at Queen Street Station, as so many backpackers do at this time of year, it might be the first pub you encounter. So I suppose it’s understandable that they tartan up their offer a bit like this:

Inside, though, they have English beer — Greene King IPA.


Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The most incompetent pub in London?

While in London for the Great British Beer Festival I headed to the Bree Louise for a pint before before boarding my train home. I'd heard various stories about the place, that it was unpleasant, dirty, etc, but popular with the local real ale enthusiasts for the excellent standard of its beer.

This didn't put me off, because I've drunk in some pretty grotty places in my time, and know what to expect when the Good Beer Guide describes some back-street shebeen euphemistically as "a genuine local". In a way, I sort of admire the determined, grimly single-minded attitude that nothing else matters except the quality of the beer.

So I was expecting a spectacular pint, while accepting that the surroundings might be a bit dingy. They were indeed dingy, somewhat reminiscent of a Soviet-era works canteen, but it seemed clean enough and the smell was of disinfectant rather than piss and confined only to certain areas.

Brodies Citra, among other things, was on offer so I ordered a pint. Imagine my surprise to see that the beer drawn from the cask was flat.

Completely flat.

At the Bree Louise, they claim Brodie's Citra should be served like this.

Not not-as-fizzy-as-Carling flat, not only-a-loose-head-we're-not-in-Yorkshire-now flat, not past-its-best-and-losing-condition flat — totally, utterly, absolutely flat.

Zero volumes, 0 grams of CO2 per litre, however else you wish to express the absence of any carbon dioxide at all from the beer.

I smiled at the barman and brought it to his attention that the beer was flat. "Yes," he agreed happily, and explained that beer served by gravity was always flat. I looked around the pub and other people's pints, too, resembled still cider more than beer.
I could barely believe what I was hearing, bearing in mind that the Bree Louise has won awards, although to me it was already obvious that they don't understand the first thing about keeping and serving real ale.

I wished I had had my just-purchased copy of the CAMRA cellarmanship guide; I would gladly have made a present of it to the landlord at that moment. Alas, the book was locked away in the left luggage office at Euston station.

Although I'd wasted £3 on an undrinkable pint, I was more incredulous than angry. I didn't bother to complain; I was already laughing in the barman's face because the whole situation was so surreal and ridiculous.

Some people have previously suggested the local CAMRAnauts are so tight-fisted that they patronise the Bree Louise due to its practice of granting a substantial discount to CAMRA members. But this can't be the reason, because it's still not undercutting Wetherspoons, and at least Wetherspoons know how to replace a spile so the beer keeps its condition.

So can someone explain to me how this place wins awards?
Have I stumbled upon a secret cult, a microfaction I wasn't previously aware of who enjoy their beer with no CO2 whatsoever? Can beer be cask conditioned if it, well, doesn't have any condition at all? 

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Thanks for nothing

Oh shit. Now the fucking BJCP is having competitions over here as well. The cancer is spreading.

Thanks for nothing, London Amateur Brewers. The last thing we need is the BJCP madness infecting the beer scene in Europe.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Hunting beer in Falkirk

Falkirk is a wee town in the middle of Scotland, with more going for it than a lot of places. I was passing through and, as I usually do, sizing up the local pubs and trying to guess from the outside whether they were worth a visit.

Although it is called Firkins, there are guaranteed to be no firkins on the premises.
Would you expect a pub called Firkins to sell real ale? Yes? More fool you! More experienced beer-hunters know that pubs called Firkins, The Drayman, The Shive and Spile, etc. never sell real ale despite the cutesy usage of its terminology. It's the type of weird logical disconnect that is a completely normal part of the pastiche pub industry. Pete Brown had an interesting insight into this sort of thing in Man Walks Into A Pub:
An example is a pub in North London which has had a succession of different trendy bar and theme pub concepts inflicted on it over the years, and recently relaunched itself as a 'real ale emporium', styled in glass and tile to look like the Victorian drinking palace it may well once have been. The relaunch coincided with the decision to discontinue selling ale or even bitter, and focus solely on wines, spirits and lager. And yet, approaching the pub, if you were the kind of drinker they were seeking to attract you would pick up the subtle cues that this was a pub pastiche, not meant to be taken at face value. You would not expect it to sell real ales, nor would you be disappointed that it didn't, despite the clear signage outside claiming that it did. It's quite bizarre really. 
The pub that is now Firkins is a bit shabbier that the North London one, and at least the interior is original. It's a pretty unspoilt old man's pub inside, old wood and tiles, and probably did once sell real ale, but not since the 1960s. And when it did, it definitely wasn't called Firkins.

The place across the road proclaims loudly that it's a brewery. Never heard of them before. Let's see what they brew.

Nothing, it turns out. They haven't brewed for a couple of years, but they do still have real ale, says the barman, and reels off a selection of tedious real ales that they currently have on. I make my excuses and leave.

I retreat to the Wheatsheaf. It is a lovely pub with a rural feel. They are selling Houston Killellan Bitter as well as the very similar Deuchars IPA. Remarkably, there is wi-fi, which most pubs of this type still don't offer, and it actually works. The third beer on offer is Broughton Exciseman's 80/–, and is as pale as the other two, but tastes of grain and honey rather than hops. Old mirrors advertise McEwan's Pale India Ale and Wm Younger's India Pale Ale.

On the way back to the station, I pass the Woodside Inn. The old Campbell, Hope & King stained glass window attracts my attention. Inside, the beer is grim — McEwan's Export and Belhaven Best — but the barmaid has a rapport with the regulars and the atmosphere is that of a classic afternoon session. Here, the handsome mirrors advertise George Younger's Pale Ale.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Great British Beer Festival 2010

Last year I went to the Great British Beer Festival for the first time. This year, therefore, I made my way to Earls Court on Tuesday morning, thinking naïvely I knew my way about, only to have my self-assurance deflated by my inability to find the way out of the tube station. Oh well.

I didn't just use last year's picture of Earls Court
I always start with a pint of something weak. I had toyed with the idea of just drinking dark mild all afternoon, preferably something called XX. I change my mind after tossing down the treacley, farty Holts Mild. Not great, but to me it's exotic. On to something else. Braustelle Helios Kölsch. This is a brewery I've heard about repeatedly and I'd put their IPA and Alt on my tick list. Sadly, only the Kölsch was on and it's yeasty, spicy, kölschy, malty; decent but not great either.

Bernard nefiltrovaný ležák was next on my list. Lots of butter, which isn't as nice as it sounds; I do like a slight butteriness in my lager, but not this much. Bitterness noticeable in the finish, very malty indeed. My fingers are stuck to the glass.

Jeff Pickthall knows how to make a good first impression. When I met him at the Bieres San Frontieres bar he reached into his bag and gave me a bottle of beer. More people should do this. If you haven't met me before, take note. The beer was Croglin Vampire, while I shall review once I've drunk it.

The reason I was at the bar was that I was staring at the signs above the German beer bar, deciding which to have next, when it caught my eye that Beck-Bräu Affumicator was on. Immediately I have to go and get some. This is one I've wanted to try for over a year. Smokey ham, fresh-baked bread aromas, beautifully sweet, the bittering just right, perfect. The only problem is it's 9.5% and you can't drink it by the litre. A stunning beer and the best I had all day.

Time for one of the American beers. Lagunitas IPA to be exact. It's just a little flat and warm. Then again, perhaps it was the low condition that got it safely to Earls Court, where some other US beers sadly blew their shives en route. It has plenty of hop aroma, but it seems too sweet for my liking and not bitter enough. I go for an old favourite from Yorkshire to balance it out, Elland Beyond The Pale, and it's so much better — satisfyingly bitter, still sweetish, slightly sulphury.

Beck-Bräu’s Zoigl was also splendid. Grainy, husky, sweet. When I wrote these words down it rather irritated me, because the night before I'd been in a pub and tried Cotswold Lager, which was also grainy and sweet, but not in a nice way.

Another treacley dark mild found its way down my throat while chatting. Can't remember which one, and I didn't write it down because it's rude to cram out your scoops book while talking to someone.

Revelation Cat's dry-hopped lambic with Pacific Gem was one that people either loved or hated. To me it was like stomach acid. The hops mask the sourness until the beer is in your mouth, so it's a sudden shock, like when you wake up in the middle of the night and vomit. Almost everyone else I offered a sip to thought it was foul too, so when The Beer Nut said he liked it, I made him finish it. I don't want to rip on Revelation Cat, the beer was what it was intended to be … I just understand better now why brewers don't generally dry-hop their lambic.

About the complete opposite, gooey and unctuous rather than dry and sour, was Saltaire Triple Chocoholic, which does what it says on the tin. The chocolate flavour seemed a little artificial but it's a nice drop, if rather reminiscent of drinking Hershey syrup. Marble Manchester Bitter made a good foil to a reasonably decent chana masala with rice from one of the food vendors.

Finally, another old favourite, Keesmann Herren-Pils, wasn't really itself; it tasted mostly of sweetcorn. Pity because it's generally spectacular.

I'd cunningly arranged an evening appointment elsewhere, so I chose the perfect time to stop: Drunk enough to go to the bookstall and buy books, yet sober enough to navigate the Tube. And most importantly, not yet drunk enough to start buying pork scratchings.