Friday, 27 April 2012

What does Paisley have to do with Brecht?

Thanks to the folks over at I became aware of this letter. Supposedly it was written by Bertolt Brecht in 1956, asking the Radeberger Brewery if he could be allocated some of their scarce and difficult-to-obtain beer.

To the
People’s Owned Enterprise
Radeberg Exportbierbrauerei, Radeberg

I am Bavarian and [therefore] used to drinking beer with my meals. Now the beer in the German Democratic Republic is really not good any more at the moment, with the exception of your RADEBERGER PILSNER (EXPORT). Could you make a special case and for a while deliver two crates a month to VLK Drinks, import and speciality beers department, Brunnenstr. 188, Berlin N.4.

With many thanks
Bertolt Brecht

Radeberger was one of the most sought after beers in the DDR, but supplies were limited and even Bertolt Brecht had to write to the brewery asking to be allowed to buy it.

One of the reasons for its scarcity was that most of it went for export to generate foreign currency. You can see the target market in this faintly ridiculous advert:

We've got bottles of chilled Radeberger at Paisley, and you don’t have to be a famous playwright or a member of the Central Committee to get some. You just need three pounds fifty pence in your pocket and a glass.

Thursday, 26 April 2012


As you might have noticed if you read my blog, I really like old pubs. There’s nothing odd about that, many people do. But I like basic, workaday boozers as well as the more immediately appealing Victorian gin palaces, and I’ve been to a lot of them.

In Scotland at least there are many such pubs where the ladies’ toilet is clearly something which has been added later and was not thought necessary originally. If you’re inclined to macho (or homoerotic) romanticism, you may enjoy imagining past times when men, and men only, would crowd into the pub en masse, drink pint after pint of beer and then stand in a row relieving themselves against a glistening white porcelain wall in the gents’ (Actually, keep quiet about the homoerotic bit, as it would probably have got you a thorough kicking).

Problems of gender and sexuality aside, what’s also disturbing about this image is that such toilets often have half a dozen or more urinals, but only one tiny little wash hand basin. Sometimes, as with the retroactive addition of a ladies’ toilet to a pub, the washbasin too is obviously much newer than the rest of the fittings. This suggests to me that washing your hands was, shall we say, not universally considered a necessary aspect of going for a pee in the old days.

This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise – some people today still don’t bother, the dirty bastards. But I for one am glad that we now live in prissier times and can make use of running water and soap on each visit.

Soap, though, is one item that vexes me; specifically, scented soap. I have nothing against scented soap in itself, but I don’t want it in pub toilets. There, I want plain soap please. The reason is that the scent lingers on your hands – and now that we enjoy a brave new world in which beers might well have aromas of citrus fruit, pine, coconut or vanilla, I want to be sure, once I’m back in the bar drinking my pint, that what I can smell is coming from the beer in my glass and not from my fingers.

This post is part of Boak and Bailey’s International Pub Bog Day, “a chance for the international beer blogging community to really focus on pub toilets.”

Paisley Beer Festival, day one

It’s that time of year again – the annual Paisley Beer Festival opened last night. It’s the biggest beer festival in Scotland and only ten minutes from Glasgow on the train.

I volunteer every year now and I went down in the evening to help out. Working at a festival is almost as much fun as visiting one. You notice the difference, though, when you meet up with your friends at the end of the night and they’re all rat-arsed whereas you’ve hardly had a chance to drink because you were so busy.

There have been a few changes this year. The festival is split into two halls because of the shape of the venue. In the past the Scottish Bar was in the smaller hall and the English Bar in the larger. This year for the first time the Scottish Bar is in the main hall. These days there are so many Scottish breweries that this move was long overdue; in previous years you could barely move in the packed Scottish Bar.

I was on the Foreign Bar last night. I’ve never worked on it before, but it makes sense, as I can read the labels on the German beers. Pouring the draught beers by air pressure takes a bit of getting used to. You have to be careful with it or there’s foam everywhere. It’s worth the time and effort though, to get some proper lager with a nice head on it.

Last night we had Jever Pils and Affligem Blonde on draught. When I arrived there was still some Boon Kriek left, but it didn’t last long. Neither did the Schumacher Alt we replaced it with.

Around eight we started pouring Andechser Spezial Hell. This mighty 5.8% lager is rarely seen on draught even in Bavaria, and proved so popular that I was busy for a solid half hour pouring glass after glass of it.

Near the end of the evening we put on St Georgen Kellerbier – there might be some left today if you’re lucky.

We also sold a ton of Girardin Framboise Kulmbacher Kapuziner Weißbier, but very little as yet of the lovely Tegernseer Spezial and Mühlen Kölsch. I have been encouraging people to try my favourite beer in the world, Schlenkerla Märzen, and nobody has spat it out yet.

I did manage to snatch a few sips of beer here and there. I was pleased to discover the beer from new Livingston-based start-up Alechemy was in good form. Their Five Sisters is a nicely bitter amber beer and a really good showing from an outfit that’s only been brewing commercially for a month; ironically it was in better nick than it had been at the brewery’s own launch event last week in Edinburgh.

The biggest surprise of the night was when I wandered over to the English Bar and had a taste of Theakston’s Best Bitter from the wooden cask. You could really taste the oak of the cask, which permeates the poor little 3.5% beer giving it all sorts of whisky-like flavours. I’m not having a laugh here; Theakston’s may be unfashionable among beer nerds but they should give this one a go – several Theakston beers are available from the wood (I haven’t yet tested the other casks for oakiness).

Note to self: don't work quite so hard tonight and leave time for a few scoops.

I am informed there will be draught Weihenstephaner Korbinian tonight.

The Paisley Beer Festival runs until Saturday and it’s £5 (£3 CAMRA members) to get in (includes re-admission on subsequent days). The hashtag is #pbf12.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Mixing strong beer with spirits

One of Ron’s latest posts about George Younger notes that consumers in the West Indies would mix some rum into the ale to increase its strength.

This reminded me of the story of the treacley Mather’s Black Beer being mixed with rum, and there’s another strong, syrupy drink I can think of – green ginger wine, sometimes mixed half and half with whisky to make the classic Whisky Mac.

It seems counter-intuitive to mix a beverage of 8% or 10% alcohol with something even stronger, but perhaps the spirit has the effect of drying out the sticky sweet drink and making it less cloying? As is well known, Belgian brewers use a similar trick when brewing their tripel beer by adding highly fermentable sugar to boost the gravity, while not making the finished product unpalatably sweet.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Southern hospitality

Pub operator Fuller Thomson are in expansion mode. After the opening of Bruadar in Glasgow’s trendy Partick, they’ve just opened another place in Edinburgh – The Southern on South Clerk Street, not that far from their existing bar The Holyrood 9A.

I went along for the opening night because I can’t resist an excuse to go drinking in Edinburgh – well, what else are you going to do on a Monday night?

Dark wood, light paint, bar with rows of taps along the back wall – the Fuller Thomson style is getting easier to recognise. Formulaic as it is, it wouldn’t be enough to tempt me here on its own, but beer consultant Chris Mair has put together a beer list worth travelling for. From the revered Kernel of Bermondsey there was Export Stout and from Luckie, a semi-hobby brewery even smaller than The Kernel, whose beers are even more rarely seen on draught even in Scotland, a strong mild. Making its Edinburgh debut, the experimental Fyne Davaar IPA in pale and black versions, which London got before we did (pah!). All from the cask as God intended. For kegophiles there was Summer Wine Maelstrom, Hardknott Vitesse Noir and Brooklyn Sorachi Ace and some others that I've forgotten.

For food there are burgers – lots of them, much the same as can be got in the Holyrood 9A and Bruadar. I don’t really get why people are so obsessed with eating burgers all the time, but they are good burgers. Being the first night, the staff aren't quite up to speed yet, but that will doubtless improve.

Luckie’s Mild was almost completely flat, but had a solidly old-fashioned, chewy flavour to it. Kernel’s Export Stout, good though it is, struggled to live up to the massive hype it’s received. It’s packed with roastiness, acidity and sweetness, but I can’t help thinking it might be more drinkable with all three rolled back a tad.

When Craig said that Fyne Ales’ Davarra had been too bitter for him, I knew I was in for a treat. Davarra is the first of a three-part IPA project, coming in both pale and dark versions. The dark one is the same beer coloured with malt extract. I had planned to try both, but after drinking the pale one I couldn’t imagine how the dark one could possibly be any better. Another terrific beer with satisfying, long-lasting bitterness, perhaps a little on the sweet side but then maybe it's nice to have something to chew on between sips.

People are always saying things like “You can’t make hoppy beers with soft water” – “You can’t make hoppy beers in cask” – Fyne disprove the dogma again and again.

I’d have liked to stay and work my way through the other beers, but the train timetable makes going-home-time two hours earlier for me than it usually is in Glasgow. The Southern looks set to be a worthwhile addition to the already rich tapestry of Edinburgh drinking establishments. If a little lacking in character, the many more traditional pubs on the way back to Waverley Station can supply plenty of that. I think my next Edinburgh pub crawl will see me back here.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Marketers make April Fools of CAMRA

I genuinely thought someone was having a laugh when I heard that CAMRA’s AGM had accepted a motion “recognising” that “craft beer is beer with a distinctive flavour brewed by artisans”.

Since writing “artisan” is essentially just using an Italianate word instead of a Germanic one, this basically says craft beer is beer made by craftsmen.

At one fell swoop CAMRA has not only fallen into the trap of legitimising this brewers’ marketing term, it’s lumbered itself with the dumbest and most useless definition of it. We might as well say that “craft beer is awesome beer made with passion” for all the use it is.

Perhaps next year we can also define “world beer” as “imported beer that appeals to adventurous drinkers seeking an authentic premium taste.”

Monday, 2 April 2012

A spring Sunday

A few weeks ago a friend saw something in a charity shop and thought of me – some old-fashioned Keferloher Maßkrüge, those grey stoneware beer mugs once ubiquitous in Bavaria, though these days they have been displaced by glass in all but the quietest backwaters of the state. I nipped down to see what was on offer. If genuine originals turn up in this country they tend to be very touristy and recent, so I wasn't expecting much, but it’s always worthwhile having a look. I found two interesting and bought them for the princely sum of £3 each – one from the town of Landshut near Munich, and one branded Paulaner Salvator.

The Landshut one is my favourite of the pair. It’s executed in the most basic blue-on-grey salt glaze technique that they used before full-colour screen printing came into vogue, and is pretty rough in texture. At a guess I’d say it dates from the 1960s or earlier. The Salvator mug is clearly much newer, as it’s in colour. The old Salvator logo is used though, so this can’t be any later than the 70s or 80s.

I’m a firm believer in using these things rather than having them on the shelf, so I took one out with me on the first sunny Sunday that came along.

The Clockwork Beer Co on the south side has recently acquired a new brewer, Declan McCaffrey who has previously been at BrewDog and Offbeat. I have wanted to like the Clockwork, as it’s not far from my flat and has a beer garden (a rarity in Glasgow), but the beer had been less than good there for several years, not bad in itself but far too often served oxidised and in poor condition. It was a matter of some disappointment to me because I remembered how good the intensely bitter Red Alt and the sulphury Lager had been when Robin and Gay Graham were in charge back in the day.

The difference in the beer is spectacular. Last time I was in and had a chewy, spicy Red Alt. Today I tried the Amber Ale, an uncomplicated beer. I am crap at guessing hops, but it seems to me like they've started putting Cascades in it. I'm looking forward to this summer and the Clockwork being a place one can wholeheartedly recommend once more.

Then it’s onto the Glasgow City Inter-Brewpub Link Route (or Cathcart Road as it’s also known), up and down the hills, across the bridge over the West Coast Main Line and the new motorway, and through the Gorbals.

If your idea of the Gorbals is something like this:

… this is what it looks like now:

Just a brief pootle across Glasgow Green now separates us from the second biggest lager brewery in the city, WEST.

In the grand scheme of things this is one of my favourite local haunts. The tap room is handsome and stylish and the beer garden is the finest in Glasgow. But there are two things I don’t like. Firstly, the staff insist on sloshing the beer into glasses as if it were Tennent’s, so you end up with an overcarbonated beer with a rubbish head. Second is the practice of serving beer only in plastic glasses if it’s to be taken outside. Whether this is forced on them by the licensing board, or to stop people nicking the branded glasses, I don’t know, but the Bavarians wouldn’t put up with it and we shouldn’t have to either.

The Keferloher solves both problems. Get a pint in a plastic beaker and pour it into the Keferloher. The excess carbonation gets knocked out of the beer, and you don’t have to drink out of plastic. The unfiltered version of St Mungo lager, Wild West, develops a splendid chewiness when treated like this. I always think beer tastes best in the open air drunk from one of these.

Someday I may bring this mug home to Landshut, but it will get a few outings in Scotland first.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Google helping beer geeks with hop identification

I don’t make many posts based on press releases, but this may be genuinely relevant and interesting. Well it is to me at any rate. A new service being launched this week by Google may help to spread beer knowledge among drinkers.

With a wider range of hop varieties being used than ever before, beer drinkers can often find themselves uncertain or unsure which hops are used in a particular beer.

Google Hops solves this problem by using smartphone technology to detect and identify the variety of hops used in any sample of beer.

A small sensor which plugs into any Android smartphone will feed sensory information back to Google’s servers which compare it with a database of over 600 known hop varieties. The sensor hardware will be available at low cost from Amazon and other vendors.

As well as identifying the hop variety used, Hops will also be able to measure the actual bitterness in the finished beer, something previously only possible by lab analysis.

Tests have shown an accuracy rate of over 90% in beers that use up to three different hops, with recognition becoming more difficult with beers containing blends of four or more varieties. Google hopes to improve recognition rates still further and is asking brewers to submit samples to help profile individual beers.

The technology is thought to work in a similar way to the existing Google Goggles, which is able to recognise famous landmarks and works of art using a smartphone’s camera.

Google Hops is a proof-of-concept app which may lead to more serious usages in the future, says Mark Harrison, Head of Research at Google UK. “App developers tend to be heavy drinkers of beer, so we thought Google Hops would be a good way to raise awareness of the possibilities being opened up by the ubiquity of smartphones and how easily they can be extended still further by the use of low-cost hardware.” Google hopes its own developers will be inspired to create apps building on the technology. Google Gas could detect gas leaks before they are noticeable to the human nose. Google Toast could tell you when your toast is burning and Google Poo could tell you when your baby has soiled its nappy, says Mark.