Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Paisley Beer Festival opens today

Scotland’s biggest beer festival opens today at 3pm, featuring over 160 beers. I am knackered just thinking about it.

For the tickers among you here is the foreign beer bar list, i.e. what has actually been delivered rather than what is in the programme. There is a pretty small amount of some beers, so you should probably come early if you want to be able to take your pick of these.

Follow @PaisleyBeerFest and/or #pbf24 for updates throughout the festival.

For the benefit of those who still think CAMRA is anti-lager, I should point out that festival volunteers have had to be ordered to stop supping the Bernard nefiltrovany lager from the Czech Republic, so that there would be some left for the punters.

Monday, 25 April 2011

It’s that time of year again

In three days time this needs to be a beer festival. No pressure

The first beer arrives

Freshly delivered casks for the Scottish Bar

Casks for the English Bar

The first cask is raised into place on the stillage

Cooling equipment awaiting the call to action

The most important cask!

Aw bless the wee 36 pint pin.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Ashamed of British Beer

The sad, toady breweries who bowed and scraped and made a special beer to celebrate the marriage of William Windsor and Kate Middleton got a slap in the face as thanks for their pathetic grovelling this week, if this story in the Daily Mirror is to be believed. Supposedly no beer of any kind will be served at the wedding reception at Buckingham Palace.

“There won't be any beer. Let’s face it, it isn't really an appropriate drink to be serving in the Queen’s presence at such an occasion.” a source from the palace is alleged to have told the Mirror.

While beer is deemed far too proletarian to be allowed, I notice in the article that sausage rolls aren’t too declassé for the Windsors, nor are the Hello!-class celebrities they appear to be pals with. Not that I have anything against the parvenu in principle, but personally I wouldn’t have the Beckhams in my house, never mind invite them to my wedding.

I may be naïve; I did think that we were making some progress in getting beer the social status it deserves as one of the great native drinks of this country. Apparently I was wrong.

One would have thought that in this day and age such pathetic snobbery would be unacceptable, but it seems the cultural cringe goes right to the top of our society.

Just one more reason why the only commemorative beer worthy of anyone’s money is Brodie’s Republic Revolution Red.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Beer scooping in Berlin, 1858

The environmental health officers of Berlin took their work seriously. I haven't seen another 19th century source with such extensive tasting notes.

We can see that the trendy new Bavarian beer was making inroads into the Berlin market and being imitated by local brewers, though they don't seem to have been very good at it. Also surprising is how heavily hopped the genuine Bavarian beers are — or perhaps they only seem so to a palate used to Weisse?

Brewery (or source, where brewery unknown)Beer typeCarbonic acid in parts per thousand"Weingeist" in parts per thousandAlcohol in parts per thousandExtract in parts per thousandWater in parts per thousand
? (Deike)Ale1.7142.076.362.6859.4
AuerbachAuerbach’sches Bier5.441.022.024.0948.6
LeyBayrisches Bier1.961.034.026.2937.9
? (Klein*)Doppel-Weissbier5.736.520.049.6924.7
? (Schmidt*)Doppel-Weissbier5.230.019.746.3928.8
? (Klitschning*)Doppel-Weissbier5.229.519.543.2932.1
JostyJosty’sches Bier5.247.025.926.0942.9
? (Waga)Porter3.785.046.958.9890.5
MünchnerUntergäriges Bier1.959.733.234.2930.7
HopfUntergäriges Bier2.060.033.435.5929.1
WaldschlösschenUntergäriges Bier2.770.039.145.5912.7
LipsUntergäriges Bier1.860.033.438.9925.9
SchwendyUntergäriges Bier1.960.033.435.7929.0
Wagner (Café Assmann*)Untergäriges Bier1.152.028.724.3945.9
Lips (Cafe Schaefer)Untergäriges Bier0.946.025.429.8943.9
SchultheißUntergäriges Bier1.558.032.231.3935.0
? (Beyer)Ächt Bayrisches Bier1.982.945.455.7897.0
? (Café Wagner)Ächt Bayrisches Bier2.067.037.651.9908.5
? (Flügge)Ächt Bayrisches Bier2.758.033.250.0915.1

One thing that puzzles me is that there are separate figures given for "Alcohol" and "Weingeist". I thought Weingeist (literally wine spirit) was a synonym for alcohol. Most of the beers are described as "braun-gelb", which is literally "brown-yellow" and sounds rather unappetising in English. I have rendered it as "tan" rather than "amber"; this is because I am unsure why the author didn't use the equivalent to amber, "bernsteinfarbig" in the first place if that's what he meant.

Report of the examination of 24 beers brewed and sold in Berlin
by O. A. Ziurek
Archiv der deutschen Medicinalgesetzgebung und öffentlichen Gesundheitspflege für Aerzte, Apotheke und Beamte, Nr. 14–16, II. Jahrgang (1858)

[We start off with an introduction detailing reasons and methodology of the analysis]
... the offical inspection of beer is particularly significant in Prussia, where beer plays such an important role as a substitute for spirits, due to the [prevalence of] poor-quality beer. —

The supervision of the brewing process and the official inspection of beer distribution in the way that it is done in Bavaria is not permitted in Prussia. … the official inspection of beer is only necessary and possible in order to protect the public from fraud and danger to public health.

[There follows a description of what adulterations the inspection is looking for. There is a great thing made of forbidden bittering agents. They are not forbidden as such, the Reinheitsgebot not having reached Berlin yet, but it is, of course, fraud to sell such beer as "hop beer".

The second class are beers containing bittering agents which are toxic, such as strychnine.

The third class of fault is a too high level of acetic acid in the beer, in which case it is classed as rotten and injurious to health. If only some of our real ale pubs were subject to such strict supervision!]

Where the beer is made from malt … the stability of the beer can only be achieved by the most complete separation possible from all nitrogen-containing components … This is the basis of the Bavarian and the English methods. By bottom-fermenting for Bavarian beers and by vatting [Ablagerung] in monstrous quantities for the English beers, the gluten [Kleber] is removed with the yeast.
The fine protein particles that do not sediment out must be removed before fermentation. With the exception of bitter hops there is as yet no known substance that through its astringent components effects the removal of these protein particles and at the same time contributes a health-promoting bitterness.
1) A bottle of Ale from the grocer and wine merchant Deike, Königsstr. 11.
The beer was pale yellow in colour, clear, low in carbonation, almost completely free from yeast traces, with low hop content, a pure, winey taste, free from acid.

An excellent, strong beer … There was no adulteration.
[I have omitted some comments about the phosphoric acid content of the beer because my chemistry isn't up to translating them.]
2) A bottle of porter beer from the wine merchant Waga, of the company Waga and Jürgenssen, Burgstr. 29.
The beer was dark brown, in thin layers clear [I can't figure out what this means], very brisk, not free of yeast, with a medium hop taste and the peculiar taste of the strongly fired, half-charred colouring malt, not free of acid. The beer was not injurious to health.
A highly attenuated [stark vergährtes] beer of only mediocre quality.

3) A bottle of genuine Bavarian beer from Flügge, Leipzigerstr. 30.
The beer was tan-coloured, clear, free of yeast traces, as Bavarian beer quite strongly foaming, with a strong, pure hop content dominating the taste, not wholly free of acid.
It was the most highly attenuated of the genuine Bavarian beers examined. The beer was neither adulterated nor injurious to health.

4) Genuine Bavarian beer from Beyer, Friedrichsstr. 83
The beer was of tan colour, free of traces of yeast, of low but sufficient carbonation, of a strong pure hop content dominating the taste, free of acid. A hearty, nutritious lager beer, free of all adulteration.

5) A bottle of genuine Bavarian beer from Café Wagner, Charlottenstr. 36.
The beer was dark tan, clear, free of yeast traces, low in carbonation, strong pure hop content dominating the taste, free of acid. A medium-bodied beer, unadulterated.

6) Bottom-fermented so-called Bavarian beer, brewed here, from the Ley brewery, Neue Schönhauserstr. 12.
The beer was light tan, only semi-adequately cleared of yeast traces, sufficiently foaming, of medium hop content not dominating the taste.
The bottom-fermenting so-called Bavarian beers brewed here are, like the genuine Bavarian beers, brewed by the bottom-fermenting method. They — especially the ones I have examined, which are lighter autumn-brewed beers made for consumption in winter — differ from the genuine Bavarian beers in their lower hop content and in the lower quality of the hops used. The next corollary is also the greater presence of yeast in the local bottom-fermenting beers. The differences with regard to their dietary value, their content of nutritious and flavoursome substance are not significant, so that a comparison between the Bavarian beers sold here, and the locally brewed bottom-fermenting beers sold by the brewers themselves comes out in favour of the latter due to their price advantage.

The beer had the highest alcohol content of the local bottom-fermenting beers. It was a perfectly normally brewed, good beer, free from acid or any health-damaging or other kind of adulteration.

7) A bottle of bottom-fermenting beer from the Hopf brewery on Tempelhof hill.
The beer presented itself tan in colour, was clear, only moderately free from yeast, sufficiently foamy, moderate, not dominant hop character, free of acid. The beer was unadulterated.

8) A bottle of bottom-fermenting beer from the Lips brewery, Neue Friedrichsstr. 23.
The beer was dark yellow to brown, pretty much free of yeast, not strongly but sufficiently foamy, quite strongly hopped (without the essential-oil resiny aroma) but not quite so much as to fully dominate the taste; free from acid.

The beer was the richest in nutritive and flavoursome elements, it had the greatest diatetic value of the locally brewed bottom-fermenting beers. The phosphoric acid content was 0.63g per litre. It was unadulterated.

9) A bottle of bottom-fermenting beer from the Münchner brewery, Johannisstrasse.
The beer was a dark brown-yellow, sufficiently foaming, pretty free from yeast, extremely bitter yet without aroma and without dominating the taste, clear, free from acid.

This beer was the bitterest among the local bottom-fermenting beer. No adulteration with toxic bittering agents could be established. I am convinced that no use was made of bitter gourds, Marsh Labrador tea, strychnine, spruce tips, sassafras, bogbean, gentian or wormwood; but believe I can confirm that the strongly bitter taste, without resiny aroma, is solely due to the use of Brandenburg hops.

10) A bottle of bottom-fermenting beer from the Schwendy brewery, Weinmeisterstr. 9
In colour the beer was yellow-brown, pretty free from yeast, hop character was medium and not dominant, clear and free from acid.

In respect of its content of nutrition and flavour this beer was almost identical with the Hopf beer and differed only in being more lightly hopped. It was not adulterated.

Apropos the nutritive value and the content in flavour and energy, compared to the prices charged for locally brewed and sold bottom-fermented so-called Bavarian beers, there is no reason to complain of bad or dear beer.

If nonetheless in Berlin much bad, flat or even sour, unhealthy bottom-fermented beer is drunk, this is caused by the following factors. Bottom-fermenting beer requires to be cleansed from yeast as far as possible. There should only ever be as much remaining as is necessary for secondary fermentation. Is this completed, so is the beer also complete and may not be interfered with further until drunk.
If water is added to the beer after the completion of secondary fermentation, it has no technical justification and does not only reduce the quality of the beer, but leads indirectly to spoilage of the beer. The addition of water to Bavarian beer, or to bottom-fermenting beer in general, is not only fraud against the beer as sold by the brewer, but is the herald of the so often encountered bad, unhealthy, rotten beer. In Berlin, both the necessity of fraudulent watering (and other so-called restoratives, tartaric acid, potash, soda etc.) and the spoilage of beer are increased by the large number of tap-rooms (out of all proportion to the consumption of beer) and the low sales of each individual publican.

11) A bottle of bottom-fermenting beer (from the Lips brewery), obtained at the Café Schaefer, Albrechtstr. 20.
The beer is of tan colour, clear, lightly foaming, bitter-tasting, not free from acid. The beer was not mixed with any substances damaging to health, but showed, compared to the beer from the brewery, a fraudulent water addition of 20%.

12) A bottle of bottom-fermenting beer (from the Schultheis [sic] brewery), from the Café Grober, Königsstr. 34
The beer was of a rather dark tan colour, clear, sufficiently foaming, medium hopped, free of acid.

A beer of average quality, compared to the sample I obtained from the brewery showing a 4% higher water content, which can be ascribed to secondary fermentation, thus without the fraudulent addition of water.

13) A bottle of bottom-fermenting beer (from the Wagner brewery), obtained at Café Assmann, Münzstr. 22.
The beer was of yellow-brown colour, clear, sufficiently foaming, with medium hop taste and free from acid.

The beer displayed, in comparison with a sample taken from the brewery, a fraudulent water admixture of 15%.

14) A bottle of bottom-fermenting beer (Waldschlösschen brewery near Dresden), from the wine merchant in Markgrafenstr. 48.
The beer was yellow-brown in colour, free from traces of yeast, sufficiently foaming, strong, pure hop content and free of acid.

The analysis shows the beer to be somewhat between the genuine Bavarian beer and the local bottom-fermented beers in quality, but apropos the price in comparison to the quality, is not better value for money than the beer tapped in the local breweries. It was free from adulteration.

15) A bottle of fresh Brown Beer from the Schwendy brewery, Weinmeisterstr. 9.
In colour the beer was dark brown, transparent in thin layers, not clear, not free from traces of yeast, peculiar sweetish burnt taste, very low hop content, free of acid.

A beer of very low nutritional value, very low hop and malt content, of which the latter has lost even more of its soluble sugar by the deliberately strong smoke-drying to produce the brown colour. Adulteration was not evident.

16) A bottle of Brown Beer (from the brewery in Werder), so-called Werder Beer from the Café Niquet, corner of Jägerstr. and Wallstr.
The beer was dark brown in colour, clear in thin layers, not bright, not free of acid, with a bitter-sweet taste and low hop content, very highly carbonated.

A top-fermenting, thin-bodied, mildly hopped beer. The brown colour and peculiar burnt taste come from the strongly fired malt. It was not adulterated.

17) A bottle of Josty’sches Bier from the Josty brewery, Prenzlauerstr. 59.
The beer was light brown, clear, very foamy, with a clean bitter taste, and with the exception of carbonic acid, almost free of any other acid.

The Josty’sches beer is a weak-bodied beer. It is top-fermented, contains more hops and less sugar than the Werder beer, in addition to which the colour is lighter, and does not have a burnt taste. Adulteration was not evident.

18) A bottle of Auerbach beer from the Auerbach brewery, Neue Königsstr. 42.
The beer was light brown in colour, clear, very foamy, with a clean bitter taste and almost free from acid.

The Auerbach beer is similar to the Josty beer, with more hops than the brown beer, but of a lower gravity that the Josty. It was unadulterated.

19) A bottle of Weissbier from the Bier brewery, Strahlauerstr. 4.
The beer was light yellow in colour, not clear, very strongly foaming, with low hop content and not free from acid.

It was free of adulteration, a rich (though of the lowest gravity of the Weissbier examined), nutritious beer.

20) A bottle of Weissbier from the Richter brewery, Rosenthalerstr. 51.
The beer was of pale yellow colour, not clear, very foamy, not free of acid, not free of yeast and with a low hop content.

It was the richest of the Weissbier examined, with no adulteration.

21) A bottle of Weissbier from the Tietz brewery, Friedrichsstr. 128.
The beer was yellow in colour, not overly foamy, not free from yeast or acid and with a low hop content.

It was medium-bodied, and not adulterated.

The beer brewed here in Berlin under the name of Weissbier, top-fermenting, chiefly from wheat malt, are differentiated usually by their high carbonation and high level of malt extract. Their alcohol [Weingeist] content is relatively low. This is due to the brewing method and the materials used. Their nutritional value is not affected by the low alcohol [Weingeist] content … Only the poor keeping qualities of Weissbier prevent it being just as perfect and valuable a beer as the genuine Bavarian beers. The constant development of carbonic acid which is demanded of the Weissbier is, however, not compatible with good keeping qualities. The Weissbier is only Weissbier so long as it still contains the ingredients necessary to continue fermentation and also those responsible for carrying on the fermentation. These are sugar on the one hand, and yeast on the other. For this reason the Weissbier is brewed rich in malt and delivered by the breweries to the tap-rooms before fermentation is complete.

The process that the fresh Weissbier has to go through at the tap consists of the completion of fermentation. The small amount of alcohol, the large content of yeast, the thus inevitable continuation of fermentation mean that the "winey" flavour very easily becomes acidic and the beer turns into vinegar. The reason this happens so often in practice, is not solely to be found in the peculiar composition of Weissbier, but mainly in its treatment at the tap-room. If the publicans would bottle the beer just as they receive it from the breweries and allow it to ferment out, it would keep a good deal longer. This, however, happens only in two or three tap-rooms in Berlin. In all others the beer is watered down in the interests of profit, and this water sold as beer.

This is not only fraud, but is also the cause of the rapid spoilage of Weissbier. From a tun (which as commonly practised by the Berlin Weissbier breweries contains a little over 100 Quart) the publican makes 115—120 Quart of "whole beer" or "double beer", and 130—140 Quart of "half beer". Nowhere else is fraud so openly and endemically practised. By the lowest estimate, 280,000 Quart of water are annually sold as beer. Only by this industrial fraud can the disproportionately high number of tap-rooms (1379 or about 1 for every 320 inhabitants) in Berlin be understood.

22) A bottle of Weissbier (double) from publican Schmidt, Auguststr. 26.
A fraudulent water addition of 15–16% was evident.

23) A bottle of Weissbier (double) from publican Klein, Louisenstr. 50.
A fraudulent water addition of 10–11% was evident.

24) A bottle of Weissbier (double) from publican Klitschning, Weinmeisterstr. 10
A fraudulent water addition of 18–19% was evident.
Six of the beers were found to have been watered down, or a quarter. Not sure that makes it quite as endemic as the writer makes out. I don't think I fancy the Schwendy Braunbier. Flat brown barely alcoholic water it must have been.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Larbert Beer Festival

It's always nice to get out into the countryside, even if you only see it from the window of a train. Larbert is not too far away from Glasgow — 25 minutes or so from Queen St station, and for two days each year CAMRA make it a place worth visiting for beer. The Larbert beer festival is the first of the year near me, and I've started to see it as an indication that spring has come, despite the fact that this is only its third year.

It may now be unfair to say Larbert isn't worth drinking in the rest of the year, for there is a notice in the festival programme stating that the Station Tavern is now selling real ale — but we didn't have the drinking capacity or critical facility to pop in and check the place out on our way home, so this will remain a task for another day.

Last year I complained about the festival banner in Comic Sans, and the organisers have done it again this year, just to spite me. Probably. Never mind that, into the hall, where a stern notice warns patrons that tap dancing is not permitted in the foyer. Pay in, get your festival glass, the usual; then finally into the main hall where you are faced with the dilemma of how many tickets to buy. Yes, it's one of those beer token festivals, where you have to estimate in advance how much you're going to sup. I always buy conservatively, even if it means having to queue up again later for more tickets. It makes me look less of a lush and there's less risk of them asking "Are they all for you?"

My usual beer festival practice is first of all to get a pint of something weak and refreshing, to wash the travel dust out of my throat and give me a breathing space to persue the programme and decide which beers I want to try in halves. Usually this first beer ends up being a light or a mild, but Larbert is showing a distinct tendency to pale'n'hoppy this year (a welcome change from last year's toffee-tinged beer list). This is no great surprise as Larbert is the home of pale'n'hoppy specialist Tryst, and it's their Transatlantic Hop Trials #1 that I go for. It's just right, tastier than the last time I had it, in perfect condition and only 3.8%.

The chap pulling my pint turns out to be Davie Whyte, a leading light in the Scottish Craft Brewers. You'll be hearing his name more often in future as he's also just taken over brewing chores at the Gothenburg in Prestonpans following the sad death of Roddy Beveridge last year.

My friend Ed arrives and, after having the esoteric ticket-purchasing system explained to him, manages to get a pint of Tryst Raj IPA. Our pints gradually disappear as we catch up. On the list of beers to try is one from Barney’s. This comes from the Behind the Wall brewbar in Falkirk, which I’m pleased to see is brewing again, and from what I've heard is also selling more exciting beer than the last time I visited it. Unfortunately the Lager Beer is awful, full of off flavours — taste this to find out why big mass-market lager producers prefer to filter the flavour out of their beer. I hope that these are teething troubles and will look out for Barney’s beers again.

There are two beers on sale from Bridge of Allan’s TinPot nanobrewery, one of the most experimental brewers in Scotland and best known for a notorious beetroot and black pepper beer. Unfortunately Thai Pot is already finished, but there is still some Marmalade Pot left. Marmalade beer sounds ace, I guess the inspiration comes from the yeast and hop flavours that are sometimes described as orangey – but it doesn’t really work. All the sugar has fermented out and just a pithy bitterness is left, otherwise for some reason it tastes more minty than marmaladey.

I’m determined not to miss Harviestoun Ola Dubh so order that next, despite its 8% alcohol and likely effect on my palate. It is tremendous. I am normally not keen on whisky barrel-aged beers because the results are often quite crude; I’d generally rather have my beer and whisky in separate glasses. I am glad that people are doing it, but I live in dread that all the third and fourth-rate micros are going to jump on the bandwagon and I’ll have to taste their horrible beers. Happily Harviestoun don’t fall into that category. Ola Dubh is as apparently effortlessly stylish as all their beers and it’s superb. Whisky and oak are subtly apparent, but don’t overpower the stout. Lovely.

More Tryst please. I’m always suspicious of beers named ‘Gold’. I think they’re going to be parsimoniously hopped and flabby. Gold XL is neither, it’s just brilliant, but I am too busy chatting to people to write down why, beyond “lovely and floral”. Blue Monkey BG Sips is next, which tastes of washing-up liquid, in a good, citrussy rather than soapy, way. Glencoe Wild Oat Stout from Traditional Scottish Ales is next. All their beers are quite sweet and it doesn’t work in all of them, but it does here.

It’s time to get the train back to Glasgow. Thank you Forth Valley CAMRA, see you next year.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Pierre Celis

I never met Pierre Celis, I never tasted Hoegaarden before Interbrew bought it, and I can't tell the story of how he revived Hoegaarden white beer as well as Michael Jackson did. All I can do is tell you to go and read this splendid blog post: Pierre Celis Remembered.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

You do realise that passion is not an ingredient?

Eric Steen of Colorado's Focus on the Beer blog posted this hilarious video. I love it. It's like reading Beer Advocate out loud.

I was going to offer a prize to whoever could be bothered to find the actual thread the video is based on, but there's no point; it's most of them.

Friday, 1 April 2011

New direction for Tennent's

I've been itching to post about this since I found out about it a couple of weeks ago, but I haven't been allowed until now. But now the cat is out of the bag and I can mention what's happening.

I haven't mentioned before the goings-on at Tennent's since they became independent of InBev eighteen months ago. At first the message was pretty much that it was going to be business as usual; and I recall being at a Scottish Brewing Archive Association event where the Tennent's rep said, in not quite so many words, that the strategy was basically Tennent's Lager for the boys and Magners for the lassies.

Evidently thinking is changing, for it is becoming increasingly clear that the Glasgow lager brewer is a big fish in a declining market. The solution was clearly to find a partner that complemented the existing strengths of Tennents — and they have now found it in Derbyshire brewery Thornbridge. The Jaipur brewer has an excellent reputation among beer drinkers and its brands have been much sought after up and down the country.

C&C, the parent company of Tennent's and makers of Magners cider, has agreed to take a "substantial" stake in Thornbridge and its beer operations will henceforth be grouped together under the Tennent Thornbridge badge.

"Both Tennent's and Thornbridge are staffed by highly trained people dedicated to making beer to a high standard of technical excellence," said Dominic Driscoll of Thornbridge this morning. "We expect there will be a great deal of sharing of expertise and it'll be great for both breweries."

"Under the name of Tennent Thornbridge we will be able to supply both the mass and niche markets," said a Tennent's spokesman. "Our brewers love the Thornbridge IPA beers. We were making East India Beer 120 years ago and Thornbridge has shown that there is a market for these beers today. Perhaps we'll dig out some old recipes and see how they compare!"

The unique brewery set-up gives the combined company flexibility to produce beer over a range of brew-lengths, from the small plant at Thornbridge Hall to the 1.3 million bbl per year output at Wellpark Brewery.

With immediate effect a limited amount of Tennent's Lager will be produced at Thornbridge's Riverside facility for the English market and there will be another interesting development: Riverside-brewed Sweetheart Stout will be introduced to the free trade on an experimental basis as a draught product, both cask-conditioned and in KeyKegs. "If we can put Magners on tap with Magner's Golden Draught, we can do the same thing with Sweetheart Stout," confided an inside source.