Monday, 21 November 2011

Beer at Whole Foods

When it comes to beer, Whole Foods has a lot to live up to. The chain is well known in the United States for its beer selection and not a few beer lovers have been watching closely for clues about what would be stocked in the Giffnock store which opened last week.
A relatively small area is given over to beer — one large chiller and a couple of shelves. This is not as stingy as it sounds because only premium products are stocked. Peroni and other “world beers” are about as downmarket as it gets.

There is very little that you can't get elsewhere in Glasgow, which is a bit disappointing, but it’s a solid selection with the complete range of bottled beers from Fyne, Inveralmond, Black Isle, Colonsay etc. For imports there are a few Belgian specialities, the mighty Schlenkerla Märzen, a few dull wheat beers and sixpacks of Anchor and Flying Dog.

Whole Foods is also surely the first supermarket in Scotland to sell draught beer. I wondered whether they would transplant this practice over from the US, and they have. You can buy a 1 litre flagon and get it partly filled from one of three draught beers — two keg and one cask. Partly filled? Yes, because (and readers with a knowledge of UK licensing laws will know what’s coming) 1.5 pints is the largest legal amount of draught beer that can be filled into a litre bottle. Two pints is just a bit too much to fit. One and a half pints leaves you with a large amount of headspace, which is bad news for the beer. Agitate the bottle on your way home and you've got a lot of foam and flat beer.

I bought one anyway and got it partly filled with West St Mungo. Thinking of the potential problems I opened it immediately I got home to enjoy the beer at its freshest (theoretically the beer could also get badly oxidised from running down the side of the bottle and being shaken about in transit). St Mungo is often served too fizzy at the brewery, so was just right for having some of the CO2 shaken out of it on the way. I drank half and put the rest in the fridge. When I came back to it a few hours later it was too flat to be enjoyable.

This is a shame, as it means that the ultimate in ecological off-sales, cycling home with beer in a refillable flagon, is a complete non-starter. You have to drive it away in the boot of a car with good suspension, negating any environmental benefit. Whole Foods really need to re-think this flagon.

Good on them for trying to sell cask-conditioned beer too, but I wouldn't like to speculate what sort of shape your cask ale will be in by the time you get to drink it. If you’re thinking of indulging in one of these flagons, probably best to drink the contents as soon as possible, rather than wait out the three days they claim it’ll last. In view of the poor keeping quality and probability of wastage, a lot of mugs like me will probably get a fill once and then go back to buying packaged beer.

7 comments:

  1. What's the law on thirds, again? One and two thirds comes in just under a litre, I think.

    Crazy situation, though. (Heaven help anyone who proposes legalising the sale of beer in litres.) I wonder why they didn't source some imperial flagons?

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  2. An Australian says...huh?

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  3. It may actually be the case that it's impossible to source three or four pint flagons. I don't know.

    Although two-thirds of a pint is now a legal measure, you can't simply add up legal measures to suit yourself. The "or multiples thereof" stuff only applies to pints and half pints.

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  4. Presumably it's legal to dispense one third, though. So you can dispense a half, one and a half, three and a half or whatever, but when it comes to thirds it's one third, two thirds and that's it? I'm not arguing with you (despite appearances), just puzzling over the oddness of the law.

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  5. You could puzzle for a long time over the oddness of the law.
    That's why it was such a big thing in October for pubs to be allowed to sell 2/3 measures. Previously they could only sell 1/3, 1/2 and multiples of 1 pint.
    Weird.

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  6. I know this story is quite long in the tooth, but I've only just found it. I'm glad someone else agrees with me that Whole Foods in Giffnock needs to re-think this one. I've had some great tasting beers from their taps, but the pouring is woeful most of the time - even now the shop has a full year under its belt. They tend to pour like a rookie bar tender on their first day - the bottle straight and the beer falling the full distance to the bottom. They then keep pouring once the head reaches from the 1.5 pint line right to the top of the bottle, wasting quite a lot of beer and giving you the 'shaken and stirred' version right away. So by the time you get it home - even if you do get someone to hold it all the way, it's as flat as a pancake.

    I've complained once and got a free re-fill, but I couldn't help feeling that the staff either didn't care or were in denial about the whole thing.

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  7. In Canada the equivalent of a flagon is the growler, and this is filled in a particular way, with an attachment (tube) on the tap that sits at the bottom of the bottle and fills without frothing over, or else many breweries have special filling stations the are designed to fill growlers without frothing over

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