Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Open day at the Scottish Brewing Archive

Every year the Scottish Brewing Archive has an open day. It’s something of a misnomer as you only have to make an appointment to get into the archive anyway, but it’s a good opportunity for the members of the Scottish Brewing Archive Association to get together and to meet people interested in the work of the Archive and/or the Association. This year it also attracted a few visitors from the European Brewery Convention that’s taking place in Glasgow this week.

I like these events because of the incredible amount of knowledge that’s locked in the heads of the SBAA members. Many are retired brewers and they know everyone in the trade. In researching some things, you could spend weeks poring over old documents. Or you could ask one of the SBAA. In a few minutes’ chat I learned about Fountainbridge beers of the 1970s, that Strong Ale and “Belgy” were different beers, and the danger that some brewery records are in due to the impending closure of Tetley’s. I’m convinced that with a little more talk I can also discover what G 5/a was.

The archive staff had laid out a nice display of some choice morsels from the archive. 1832 brewing logs! 1904 shipping records! And several chunky ring binders full of labels. Labels from famous and forgotten Scottish brewers. Beers like McEwan’s Blue Label that I remember drinking as a lad. Even one, Bass Light Ale, that I’m positive I have only ever seen once. 

Now I know they have these ring binders full of labels, I need to go in and take photographs of them all.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Pouring lager

Regular readers know that I love proper lager, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that I wholeheartedly welcome the increasing availability of decent British-made lager and quality imported brews.

But for God’s sake can people learn to pour it properly?

Time and again I see lager sloshed into brim-measure glasses with a bare few millimetres of unappetising, soapy foam that soon disappears.

One time I even watched dumbfounded as a barman poured a pint of a premium-priced German beer so gently down the side of a glass that it created no head whatsoever. I don’t understand how that's even possible, but he managed it somehow and the resulting pint resembled Strongbow in appearance. No head at all, but full of fizz.

Tandleman was pondering recently why the mostly-kegged lager in Germany doesn't seem as fizzy as it often is here.

What actually happens in the glass when a beer is poured? Watch this to see.

In this cheesy 1980s Bitburger ad, too, you can see the beer hitting the glass at some pressure:

It is pretty obvious that a fair bit of the CO2 in the beer is being knocked out and forming the big airy head. It's a crucial factor. You need to allow a head to form. If you don’t, the excess CO2 stays in the beer, producing endless bubbles surging energetically towards the surface.

So I'm not criticising bar staff alone. Chiefly to blame are cheapskate publicans who refuse to use lined glasses, which are absolutely necessary to leave space for a decent head.

If you won't accept that you need to use lined glasses, you shouldn't be selling lager. End of.

Just as guilty are pig-headed customers who bitch and moan if their glass is not filled to the brim with liquid (on occasion even when the glass is lined and they've actually already got more beer than they've paid for).

This rather didactic training video explains in tedious detail the basics, such as how to use a branded glass that matches the beer — I dream of the day, perhaps my great-grandchildren may experience it, when bars in this country will master this extremely difficult task.

The interesting bit starts at 4:25 (If you like, you can watch the first bit and learn how to hook up a keg). We see how the beer is poured and allowed to foam up to the top of the glass. Then it is allowed to settle. The foam becomes thicker and denser, then the glass is topped up with fresh beer. In this way you pour a beer that has a beautiful long-lasting head, and not too much fizz in the body.

A similar technique in this Austrian video:

Not practical in a busy British pub, you say? Don't sell the beer, then. Bars who are charging a premium price for this stuff should be able to afford to invest a little time and training in serving it properly.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Glasgow Beer Week: 27th May – 3rd June

Last year the closing event of Eric Steen's Glasgow Beer and Pub Project was Market Gallery Pub, at which around 20 different beers were served, for one night only, in a gallery space. On the evening, there was one moment where we just looked at each other and said “This is bloody brilliant. Let's do it again next year!”  

So a few of the people involved got together and started thinking what could be done to build on the success of the Project, and the idea of Glasgow Beer Week was born. The Beer Week format is well established in the US and it had the advantage, from our point of view, that it takes a lot less investment than putting on a beer festival does!

The response from brewers and people in the food and drink trade has been superb, and Beer Week will be taking place at the end of May. It's not just about drinking beer in pubs; there will be meet-the-brewer events, beery cooking and homebrewing events, as well as tastings and hopefully the odd specially brewed beer.

Drawing on the experience of using the #glasgowbeer hashtag on Twitter to share gen about which beer is on where, we're also supplying a feed built up of beer-related tweets and Untappd checkins to show what people are drinking around the city. For a bit of fun, the checkins are plotted on a map.

It should be a fun week. It's not on the scale of Philly or San Diego, but we do what we can. Glasgow could, and should, be a more important beer city than it currently is, and Glasgow Beer Week is a small step in that direction.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The impostor

This caught my attention. Gerhard Schoolman, who runs the well-regarded Café Abseits in the beer mecca of Bamberg, had a visitor, who was nice enough to bring him some beer. Samuel Smith's beer – Taddy Porter, Imperial Stout and so on. Very nice.

According to Gerhard's account, the visitor was Samuel Smith himself, owner and brewer at the brewery.

Now this sounds as fishy as a bucket of haddock, for several reasons.

The first, most obvious, is that Samuel Smith's is not owned by a man named Samuel Smith any more. It seemed to me at first that Gerhard has been taken in by a joker.

Sam's brewery, as I understand it (and I am no expert on the matter) is pretty much wholly owned by its chairman Humphrey Smith and his brother Oliver. The company is notoriously reticent and Humphrey himself has a reputation of being whimsical, to put it mildly.

Of course, since Humphrey Smith's private life is so unknown to us, it's possible that he does enjoy visiting Germany and sharing beer with beer-lovers there. And, er, claiming to be his great-grandfather.

Yet it doesn't seem to fit in with the little we do know about the man and his behaviour in this country.

One more avenue remains. Humph does have a son called Samuel, yet the lad is only 22 which seems a bit young to be head brewer, if he is involved in the brewery at all. Nevertheless that's the only reasonably plausible scenario. If it's actually Smith junior who was in Bamberg, it's an interesting development and a sign that Sam's might open up a bit in future, should Humphrey ever retire.

The alternative explanation is much more bizarre. It means that someone is going about pretending to be Samuel Smith, the putative owner of a brewery that almost nobody in Germany has ever heard of. Why? It's a mystery to me.