Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Why The USA Will Not Become An IPA Country

Over at Beervana there's an article asking optimistically (or rhetorically) if one day IPA could be the dominant style of beer in the USA. 

Jeff points out, correctly, that fashions in beer change, often quite dramatically when you look at it from a historical perspective. This shouldn't really surprise us — who would imagine trends in politics, clothing or music to stay the same decade after decade? — but most of us have been trained to think of beer as something traditional, reliable and unchanging, so it's important to keep pointing out that beer is dynamic, not just today but throughout its history.

He then goes on to argue that since public taste changes, it's possible to envisage a dramatic shift towards craft beer, and I have no quarrel with that idea. Where I think he gets it wrong is in the assumption that American IPA could become the everyday beer of the average American.

To demonstrate the historical volatility of beer consumption patterns, Jeff uses the example of Berliner Weisse, which declined from 700 breweries in the 19th century to virtual extinction today; but it actually shows the opposite of what he wants it to show. It means that most people, excluding a small number of aficionados, moved away from Weisse as soon as something less challenging became available.

I can't think of anywhere that very bitter beer has been to the taste of the majority for an extended period. Just look at the past and what the most popular beer was. When Porter went into decline in Britain, Mild, not India Pale Ale, took its place.

Jeff says, "A hundred years later, mild accounted for more than half of all draft sales--but it was on the wane. Bitter was already on the rise." Bitter did indeed supplant Mild – but not for long. It only took another fifteen years for Lager to decisively take the lead in the UK beer market.

And what happened to Bitter? It held on in the cask sector, but at what a price. Buy a big-name Bitter now and it's often a sweet, toffeeish exercise in blandness. I'd rather have a decent Mild. Most of the drinkers of such beers would probably like Mild better too; it's just that they won't actually buy it because it's too unfashionable — or brewers and pubs won't offer it because they think it's too unfashionable. So instead, Bitter adapted itself to the sweeter palate of those who should by rights be drinking Mild.

The same thing happened in Germany. When Export became unfashionable, drinkers switched to the seemingly more upmarket Pils. They liked the sophisticated image, but not the bitterness, and mass-market Pils have become less bitter as a result. More recently, German brewers have found success with so-called "Gold" beers, even less bitter than Export.

My conclusion: Really bitter beer is never the most popular kind for more than a few years. Most people actually want something a little sweeter and less challenging. That doesn't mean they won't go for a beer that's tastier and fuller in flavour than what they drink now; it just means the majority will choose wheat beers and amber ales rather than 80 IBU hop monsters.

So while I think Jeff is right that the craft beer sector is going to keep growing, more than any of us currently imagine, I don't believe IPA will ever be the most popular beer in America.

Unless they take the hops out of their IPA like we did with most of ours.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Deep brewed

Over at CannyScot they have galleries of Scottish beer cans, which is where I nicked this image. It’s little known that in addition to the lager lovelies, Tennent’s also had a counterpart beer brand that bore changing images of men on the back of the can — Piper Export. Each can had a hunky stunna in full Highland dress, usually playing the bagpipes (this is not a euphemism).

But that's not why I’m posting this. What I want to know is what does “deep brewed” even mean?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Roggenbier: Dornbusch gets it wrong, again

It’s bash Horst Dornbusch week over at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, and I’m joining in the fun.

Self-proclaimed beer “expert” Horst Dornbusch has got a detailed website with a long list of descriptions of German beer styles.

Each article is generally made up of some vague historical ramblings, some usually unobjectionable tasting notes and, if you’re really lucky, some populist Cold War politics incongruously shoehorned in. Then he goes over the article again and spikes it with choice gems of utter made-up garbage.

So with the article on Roggenbier. Lots of people in America appear to believe for some reason that Roggenbier — in its modern form, basically a Bavarian wheat beer made with rye instead of wheat — is a major German beer style. Still, at least they have heard of it, which is probably more than most Germans have. In fact it’s a novelty beer and I doubt the number of breweries who make it reaches double figures. It is not remotely comparable with the popularity of wheat beer.

Did I mention Dornbusch seems to specialise in putting the most ridiculous stuff right at the beginning? That’s handy at least. We are told:
Roggenbier is a medieval ale usually made from a grain bill of about half barley malt and equal portions of wheat and rye malts. Today, a Roggenbier may be either an ale or a lager. Modern renditions of the brew have about 5 to 5.5% alcohol by volume. Rye ales are mildly hopped, which allows the grain flavors to be dominant. Filtration appears to be optional in a rye ale and many, such as the Paulaner (depicted right) are "naturtrüb," meaning naturally turbid. A yeast-turbid Roggenbier is more authentic, considering that the style had been around long before beer filtration was invented in 1878.
Where shall we start? 

Well, for one thing, it’s not a medieval ale. There were medieval rye beers, but there is no connection between them and modern Roggenbier. Rye beer was extinct in Germany until Schierling/Thurn & Taxis started making it in the 1980s. It was such a novelty that they were able to get a patent on the modified mashing regime they used. And it certainly isn’t “a lager” because you’re not allowed to put rye in bottom-fermenting beer. You would think he’d know something as basic to modern German brewing as that.

According to Ludwig Narziß — a genuine expert — it’s also obligatory to have at least 50% rye malt in the grist in order to label the resulting beer Roggenbier, not the 25% Dornbusch claims.

Filtration optional? It’s more that the wort is so goopy that the beer remains cloudy even after filtration. Thurn & Taxis state in their patent application that the beer is filtered, as this improves head retention.

It would be more accurate if Dornbusch said “A turbid Roggenbier is more authentic, since it’s the only bloody way a 70% rye beer is ever going to turn out without the use of the most space-age filtration techniques and exogenous enzymes.”

To sum up: Horst Dornbusch doesn’t know the history of modern Roggenbier. He hasn’t read the very short section on brewing with rye in Narziß, one of the standard German brewing manuals. He hasn’t read the patent written by the people who invented the modern Roggenbier, and he apparently doesn’t even know what ingredients the Reinheitsgebot allows in top-fermenting beer.

There’s nothing useful any beer lover can learn from Horst Dornbusch, except perhaps how to pass yourself off as an “expert” to the credulous.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Whine time

You know what I hate most about old brewing books? It’s not reading stuff in eighteenth-century German or blackletter type. It’s the weird archaic weights and measures. Just trying to read stuff in Fahrenheit hurts my head most of the time. But look at this; this is just taking the mickey.
In Göttingen, for an entire brewing, that is, as much as is brewed when the Scheffel of barley costs 10 Mgr. and the Scheffel of wheat costs 20 Mgr., one takes: the malt of 18 Malter raw barley, and of 3 Malter 5 Himpten raw wheat, i.e. 22 1/2 Malter barley malt and 4 1/2 Malter wheat malt, making 27 Malter of malt, which must weigh 4840 Pfund. From this 26 to 27 1/2 Fass of beer are made, each Fass reckoned as 104 Stübchen, and 8 1/2 to 9 Fass of small beer, and 60 Zuder of draff is left.
Have you got that? There are five measures in there that I’ve never even heard of before, never mind know what they are in new money. I’ve seen Scheffel before, that’s a volume measure. Mgr. is obviously some sort of unit of currency — note that wheat is twice as expensive as barley. Suddenly we stop using Scheffel and start measuring grain in Malter. A Malter is divided into several Himpten. 27 Malter of malt weighs 4840 Pfund, but since 4840 isn't divisible by 27 I’m not sure how, or why, they worked this out. Fass is barrel, of course, but is divided into 104 Stübchen. Was there a standardised barrel? Maybe if we compare the number of Stübchen in other barrels we can get a clue. Finally, once grain has been mashed and is spent, it gets its own unit and is now measured in Zuder.

I suppose converting Himpten into Zuder must have been how people entertained themselves before the Internet.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Scottish pubs and English pubs

From Hansard, 27th February 1952, some observations on the differences between Scottish and English pubs:
Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire): I hesitate to come into this rather fluid argument about the qualities of beer, but that is not the main question of the Bill. I also apologise to those who belong to south of the Border if I introduce some elements which are rather strange to them and which belong to the north of the Border. For that reason, I say to the Secretary of State for Scotland that there should have been a separate Bill for Scotland. …

I see no reason why the right hon. and learned Gentleman should not have left Scotland out of the Bill altogether. All the arguments that have been given in support of introducing the Bill apply to English conditions, and not to Scottish conditions. We in Scotland would have been quite pleased had there been no Bill at all. I should be very surprised if the Secretary of State could show any instance where there has been the slightest demand from Scotland—even from the drink trade—for the Bill.

The Scottish attitude to drink and to the drink trade is quite different from the attitude south of the Border. One of 1202 the Joint Under-Secretaries of State for Scotland—the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith)—when making the case for the Opposition against the previous Bill, gave as his reason his nostalgia for the atmosphere of the old English inn. That may be understandable, but it was noticeable that he never mentioned the atmosphere of the Scottish public house. That atmosphere, as most people who have visited Scottish public houses know, consists of smoke, fumes, noise and sawdust. The English inn may have the smell of violets, but the conditions in a great many Scottish public houses may be said to reek of nothing but drink.

The Scottish houses afford an early example of time and motion study, so that drink can reach the customers' lips with the least passage of time and the least traversing of space, so that the maximum amount of drink can be consumed in the shortest possible time.

Mr. Maudling I am not sure of that, not being an expert on Scotland, but is it not a fact that most of the houses in Scotland are free houses, for which the right hon. Member's colleagues are pressing?

Mr. Woodburn I think that the hon. Member is quite wrong. There is quite a lot of control of the public houses in Scotland by the brewers also.

That does not alter the fact that the atmosphere in Scottish public houses is not a leisurely one, in which people sit and talk with their wives and friends. It is an atmosphere of people standing at the bar, drinking beer and whisky as fast as they can be served. Any respectable woman in Scotland would think twice, if not three or four times, before going into a public house, but I understand that that is not the case in England. At those places which I have visited in England, anybody could go in, whether they were drinking or not people sit around and talk, and men are there with their wives. That could not happen in most of the public houses in Scotland. It must he realised, therefore, that the attitude of people in Scotland to this whole question is quite different, and it would have been far better to have left us out of the Bill altogether.

The Home Secretary quoted the attitude of temperance people who sat on 1203 the various Commissions. I said on the Second Reading of the previous Bill that it was an extremely curious thing that some of our temperance friends took the view that it was wrong to make public houses such that people could go into them without feeling ashamed. In other words, they think that drinking is encouraged by houses which are reputable and into which people can take their friends. That, of course, leads to the perpetuation of the very kind of thing I have been dealing with, but if I were to choose I should say that the conditions I have described tend to degrade the self-respect of people. That does not occur when people go into hotels where people may be taking tea or drinking, where drink does not dominate the situation, and where people are entirely free to do as they like.

Therefore, the intention in new towns was not to establish places with a view to making a profit out of selling the maximum amount of drink. The purpose was to establish a social institution which people could use, which had for its purpose, not the pushing of drink but the providing of facilities where people could have drink if they wanted it and where they could have other services also. All people do not drink—some do, and some do not; and there is no reason why they should not be able to mix in a social atmosphere. Non-drinkers should not be made to feel they are forced to drink by going with their friends into a mere drinking place. Therefore, I differ from some of my temperance friends, and I think it right that we should develop a decent atmosphere.

I come from a constituency where, perhaps, there is centred a greater control over the drink trade than in any other place in the country. One of my constituents controls, I understand, about £65 million of capital in the drink trade. He invited me to go to Oxford to see what a respectable public house could be like. I have not been able to go, but he is heartily ashamed of the conditions which exist in Scotland and of some of the people who run public houses there, and who will not provide conditions where people can go with self-respect.

Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries) Surely in his capacity as a Member of Parliament, the right hon. Member must have had many cases brought to his attention where licence holders are trying to improve conditions but cannot do so because of building restriction.

Mr. Woodburn I am not condemning everyone who purveys drink. I recognise that many of these people would perhaps copy what is being done in England and there may be building restrictions, but what we are talking about is a century of the drink trade during which that has never been done, although they had the opportunity. We have to take conditions as they are in Scotland.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Beer range in Belgian railway station buffets, 1855

I thought you’d like to know what kind of beer you could expect to find in a Belgian railway station in the nineteenth century.

Here’s the price list reproduced from an 1855 travel guide.

Bottle of Faro 30 centimes
Glass of " 10 centimes
Bottle of Lambic 40 centimes
Bottle of Louvain beer 24 centimes
Glass of " 8 centimes
Bottle of Bavarian beer 75 centimes
Glass of brown beer 8 centimes

Quite a modern-looking selection, really. Most of these were still around when Michael Jackson wrote about Belgian beer 120 years later.

Lambic and Faro are easy. I bet the marketing people at InBev would like us to believe the Louvain beer was Stella Artois from the massive factory they still have there. It would actually have been something like this.  

I guess the brown beer must have been draught as there's no bottle price. And I'm presuming they got three glasses of beer out of each bottle of the Faro and Louvain. Must have been big bottles. Or small glasses.

Look at the price of Bavarian beer (that’s lager to you and me). Nearly twice the price of lambic and costs the same as a steak. Definitely a luxury, premium product.

I haven't been in a Belgian station for a while but this might be a better range than you get nowadays. On one occasion there was just a vending machine selling cans of Jupiler. It was four in the morning, mind. You wouldn't even have a vending machine in Britain. We are ruled by barbarians.

In case you're wondering how much 8 centimes is worth, 1 franc comprising 100 centimes was equal to 8 Prussian silver Groschen and a Dutch guilder was worth 2 francs 5 centimes. Is that clear? Good.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

BrewDog: masters of brown session beer

Last night I went along to the Bon Accord for a BrewDog launch party. It’s indicative of the way a Glasgow beer scene is slowly coming together (or perhaps that I spend too much time in pubs) that I walked into the bar and it was full of people I know.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the development of BrewDog’s cask offerings over the last couple of years, it’s that not even BrewDog can resist the demand of the market for low-gravity session beer.

This development became apparent with the appearance of Trashy Blonde, a decent beer in the bottle but that really shines in cask-conditioned form. Where once attention-grabbing Punk, Riptide and Chaos Theory stood outside the pub shouting and throwing bricks, the pale ale with a satisfying smack of hops put on a tweed jacket and sneaked into the bar: It fitted in to existing drinking habits, and subverted the system from within, taunting the cautiously-hopped, dumbed-down bitters: see, this is how you do 4.2%!

Then along came Edge: Sixty bob with American hops. And now, Alpha Dog — Eighty bob with American hops. I should point out that this isn’t an insult, as some people construed it the last time I said it — I actually think they’re very good beers. But instead of the in-your-face, wow-what-the-hell-is-this beer that made BrewDog’s name, they’re balanced and easy-drinking*.

A bit stronger at 6.2% is the new Alice Porter, but again it’s smooth and distinguished. Some porters are one-dimensionally roasty. This has more depth to it, sweetness, ending with liquorice and a slight acidity. Not so much punk as New Pop.

Did I say punk? Oh yeah, Punk IPA. It’s changing. Just as if to say, well actually, we haven’t grown up and gone boring! Look, we’ve substantially changed the recipe of our best-selling flagship product! Who else would dare do that?! 

The new version is supposedly less bitter and lower in alcohol. But disaster — by the time I’d tried Alice Porter and Alpha Dog and was ready for new, improved, less bitter Punk, there was none left! So I had to make do with a Danish ticker-size sip from someone else's glass. It had a heavy dry hop character, and a big gap where the bitterness used to be. I’d better wait and have a full pint (or maybe a schooner) before I decide whether or not I like it. We were told the reason for the reduction in ABV was so that people wouldn’t get Jaipured on it so easily, which was what many of us had suspected.

One of the features of these events is the raffling of tasters of the newest speciality beers. Tonight it was Bashah Highland Park Reserve, and what we think is the last remaining bottle of The End of History. I didn’t expect to win any, and wasn’t too bothered — I’d always thought of The End of History as an art project rather than anything that might actually be enjoyable to drink.

But by chance a friend had one of the winning tickets, so the glass of yellow liquid was duly passed around, and we all got our picture taken with Susan the Stoat. What did it taste like? Well, I got a whiff of Marmite on the nose. Other people thought Stilton. Then a massive oxidised sherry hit, and old, dry white wine. Then, just when you've started talking again, a sneaky bitter finish. Nobody liked it.

I had a great evening, and no-one mentioned “awesome craft beer” all night. Splendid. A night with everything that's good about BrewDog, without the nonsense. More of this sort of thing.

* That’s the insult. To people who consider it an insult, anyway.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The brewery under the station

There’s a legend in Glasgow that there is a lost street underground. Sometimes it is said to be underneath the shopping thoroughfare Argyle Street; more often it is claimed to be in the bowels of Central Station. To support the story, the mysterious padlocked staircases on the high level platforms are cited as evidence. Uncles, men in pubs, taxi drivers and other such reliable sources will recount delightedly how a former workmate or relative — never the tale-teller himself — was once taken down there and saw a street complete with intact shop-fronts.

It is rubbish of course. There is no street down there, just storage space and car parking.

The kernel of truth in the legend is that Central Station is built on the site of a street that no longer exists. Alston Street was the main street of a village called Grahamston which was obliterated to make way for the station. It ran north-south through where the concourse now is. But every trace of it was demolished when the railway station was built.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I've just found out that there was a brewer in Alston Street. James Haigh was his name, but he didn’t manage to make a success of his business. In February 1824 he went bust and his assets were seized, presumably to pay off his creditors.

Haigh’s next venture, if it was him, wasn’t any more fortunate. In 1828 a J. Haig, brewer in Glasgow, is once again being declared bankrupt.
And yet again in 1833, by which time he’d moved elsewhere:

The railway wouldn’t come to Grahamston for another fifty years or so. Did anyone take over Haigh’s brewery?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Deja vu

Last week I had a pint of this "craft keg" stuff that everyone's talking about.

I know the beer in question very well in its cask-conditioned form. It's very good. The keg version was dire.

To cut a long story short, the taste and aroma of an excellent beer was completely destroyed, it made me burp a lot and it was much more expensive than the real version.

Haven't we been here before?