Friday, 4 January 2013

Three of a kind

This poster is preserved in the
Bridge of Allan Brewhouse.
Harviestoun from Alva in deepest Clackmannanshire have been one of the most successful breweries to come out of the 1970s real-ale revival, having survived and grown while contemporaries fell by the wayside. They’ve been around as long as I’ve been drinking beer, although as you can see from the poster reproduced on the right, their range today has changed quite a bit from the beers they started off with.

Back then you rarely saw their beer in Glasgow, while nowadays it is ubiquitous to the point that you start taking it a little for granted. 
The past decimation of the Scottish brewing industry by consolidation and closure means that Harviestoun is, rather ridiculously, something like the sixth oldest still operational brewery in the country, despite being established less than forty years ago (I usually forget one when I try to count them up but I think only Belhaven, Broughton, Tennent’s, Caledonian and Traquair House are older). 

Old Engine Oil, 6% in the bottle, is a reliable supermarket purchase — it’s remarkably good value for money and tastes good without being chilled (two preconditions for drinking-on-trains beer). It’s a versatile beer which occasionally also appears in a 4.5% cask-conditioned version (I actually encountered this just a few days ago and thought it, though pleasant, a bit thin with little of the magic of the stronger versions). Ola Dubh, a stronger barrel-aged version of the same thing, is probably Harviestoun’s best known product in America, though in Scotland their main business is pale and hoppy session beers.

These are all basically the same beer, but, unfortunately, every time the brewers are kind enough to explain the exact method of production to me, I have forgotten by the time I come to write it down.

Ola Dubh is one of the very few whisky-barrel-aged beers I don’t give a wide berth, because for me it strikes just the right balance without the whisky character becoming overpowering. Sometimes breweries do their whisky beers in cask as a special for CAMRA festivals, and sometimes it’s a horrible mess, but in the case of Ola Dubh it has been spectacular every time I’ve had it.

I know the picture is crap. It was dark and I was drunk

To be honest, though, I’d almost always rather have my whisky and beer in separate glasses. So I was intrigued to discover that there is a special edition – Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve — produced for America and not sold in Scotland. Just my cup of tea, Ola Dubh without the whisky. I urged the brewery to sell the damn stuff here too. No luck with that, but they were nice enough to slip me a couple of sample bottles.

I paired them with a standard Old Engine Oil and Ola Dubh to compare. Old Engine Oil has the familar chocolate and roast coffee flavours as well as a slight tinniness. Engineer’s Reserve is sweeter, recognisably related, slightly smoky with tar and malt, richer and more satisfying, with a splendidly soft carbonation and smooth mouthfeel. Finally the Ola Dubh itself, very similar to Engineer’s Reserve, with the addition of sweet spirit (only just noticeable), soy sauce, vanilla, caramel and charred oak – all the flavours you’d, indeed, expect to get from a whisky cask. It was really interesting to compare the three.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Glasgow according to Untappd users

Untappd is a social media app that is most easily described as “Foursquare for beer”. If that doesn’t mean anything to you either, Untappd involves using a smartphone to check in whenever you drink a beer at a particular location. Fun? Maybe. Useful? Possibly not very much, unless you use it to stalk your friends. Or you’re already a ticker and use it to track your drinking instead of your old notebook.

This is the sort of data that is just fun on an individual level, but starts to become interesting as it accumulates. And there’s now enough data that we can start playing with it.

When we started plotting these checkins on a Google Map for Glasgow Beer Week in 2011, Untappd was still very new and there weren’t many users in the city, but we were confident that the number would grow. And it has. In 2012, the first full year of mapping the checkins, there were just over 10,000 checkins in and around Glasgow from a total of 326 unique users. The most dedicated were:

Glasgow’s top Untappd users
UserNumber of checkins

From over 10,000 checkins there were 1959 unique beers. Now there are of course some massive caveats meaning that analysis of this data cannot mean very much. It is representative of Untappd users and not beer drinkers as a whole. And the dataset of 10,000 is not that huge in the grand scheme of things. It would be nice to know how many beers in total are downed yearly in Glasgow, just to point out how insignificant we are. Let’s take individual beers first of all.

Most popular beers
BeerNumber of checkins
Tennent's Lager126
Fyne Ales Jarl119
Guinness Draught115
West St Mungo101
BrewDog 5 A.M. Saint94
Williams Bros Scottish Joker I.P.A.75
BrewDog Punk IPA75
West Munich Red73
Harviestoun Brewery Bitter & Twisted59
Fyne Ales Avalanche57
Caledonian Brewery Deuchars IPA55
West Hefeweizen51
Belhaven IPA46
Belhaven Best46
BrewDog Tokyo*45
Cobra Beer Partnership Cobra Premium44
BrewDog Dead Pony Club43
Black Isle Brewery Blonde41
Thornbridge Jaipur41
BrewDog / Mikkeller I Hardcore You38
Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack38
BrewDog Libertine Black Ale37
Williams Bros Caesar Augustus36
BrewDog Paradox Jura35
Harviestoun Brewery Natural Blonde33
The Kelburn Brewing Company Goldihops33
Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn Lager32
Orkney Brewery Dark Island32
The Kelburn Brewing Company Cart Noir31
Nøgne Ø Pale Ale31
Fyne Ales Zombier31
BrewDog Jack Hammer31
Stewart Brewing (Scotland) Edinburgh No.330
BrewDog Hardcore IPA29
Cromarty Brewing Co Red Rocker28
BrewDog Zeitgeist28
Williams Bros Blackball28
Fyne Ales Rune28
Cromarty Brewing Co Happy Chappy27
Williams Bros Double Joker DIPA27
Coors Brewing Company Blue Moon Belgian White27
The Kelburn Brewing Company Jaguar27
Williams Bros Draught27
Fyne Ales Vital Spark27
Hawkshead Windermere Pale26
Williams Brothers Brewing Company Birds and Bees26
Harviestoun Brewery Schiehallion26
Tempest Brewing Co A Face With No Name25
Budweiser Budvar Premium Dark Lager25
Williams Bros Profanity Stout25

What’s immediately noticeable here is that, despite the Untappd demographic being weighted against it, Tennent’s Lager still manages to come top, showing how heavily it dominates Glasgow drinking. A strong showing for Fyne Jarl too, and there’s a lot of Guinness being consumed. But I don’t see any other mass-market beers on the list, no Fosters or Carlsberg. For the breweries themselves, adding up all their checkins, these were the most popular from a total of 665 unique breweries:

Most popular breweries
BreweryNumber of checkins
Fyne Ales565
Williams Bros527
WEST Brewery295
The Kelburn Brewing Company210
Tempest Brewing Co191
Tennent Caledonian Brewery163
Harviestoun Brewery161
Magic Rock Brewing126
Orkney Brewery (Sinclair Breweries)112
The Kernel Brewery101
Stone Brewing Co.99
Cairngorm Brewery Co.96
Dark Star Brewing Co88
Summer Wine Brewery80
Evil Twin Brewing73
Isle of Arran Brewery Co.71
Stewart Brewing 70
Belhaven Brewery (Greene King)69
Strathaven Ales69
Cromarty Brewing Co.66
Flying Dog Brewery66
Caledonian Brewery (Heineken UK)65
Inveralmond Brewery59

Look at that! Mikkeller ahead of Tennent’s! Tennent’s clearly benefits in the first table from having one flagship product, whereas Mikkeller’s checkins are spread over a selection of different beers. This is also true of Guinness and, to an extent, WEST.

And, now, the most popular places to drink the beers – here are the top scorers out of 530 unique venues.

Most popular venues
VenueNumber of checkins
Brewdog Bar1693
The State Bar811
Inn Deep495
The Three Judges486
The Bon Accord280
The Laurieston Bar226
The Counting House (Wetherspoon)225
Drum & Monkey159
The Hengler's Circus (Wetherspoon)143
WEST Bar, Brewery & Restaurant141
The Curler's Rest130
The Society Room (Wetherspoon)103
The Sir John Moore (Wetherspoon)99
Clockwork Beer Co?92
The Pot Still91
Sir John Stirling Maxwell (Wetherspoon)84
The 7880
The Good Spirits Co.67
The Camperdown Place (Wetherspoon)64
Tennents Bar63
Jackson's Doghouse54
The Esquire House (Wetherspoon)52
The Three Craws52
The Lab49
The Edward Wylie (Wetherspoon)48

The extreme lead achieved by the Brewdog bar is due to a combination of it being attractive to the same demographic as are using Untappd, and it being a very ticky place where one visit might lead to checkins on half a dozen beers or more. But look at the strong showing for Inn Deep. The place has only been open for four months and it’s number four on the list. Extrapolate the figures over a whole year and it would be a clear second, with around 200 checkins between it and Brewdog.

The State Bar is ahead of both the Bon Accord and the Three Judges, which surprised me until I remembered it’s a regular haunt of two of the most active users.

That the most popular beers only reach the low hundreds out of 10,000 checkins shows that there is a massive “long tail”, with hundreds of beers having one solitary checkin:

Least popular beers
BeerNumber of checkins
Rudgate Brewery Brewdolf1
Bear Republic Brewing Co. Big Bear Black Stout1
Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace1
Cairngorm Brewery Co. White Lady1
AleSmith Brewing Company Old Numbskull1
Tiny Rebel Brewing Co Baby's Got A Temper1
Coopers Brewery Limited Original Pale Ale1
The Kernel Brewery Imperial Brown Stout London 18581
Harbour Brewing Co Double IPA No. 31
Nick Stafford's Hambleton Ales Blame A Lost Hen1
The Potton Brewery Co The Village Bike1
John Crabbie & Co Black Reserve1
Pictish Brewing Company Siren1
Familienbrauerei Jacob Dunkles Weissbier1
Mikkeller Dim Sum Beer1
Mikkeller Black Hole Barrel Aged Peat Whiskey1
Evil Twin Brewing Sønderho Hipster Ale1
JW Lees and Co Coronation Street1
Gaymers Cider Company (C&C Group plc) Blackthorn Cider1
Brauerei Schlenkerla Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche1
WEST Brewery Winterfest1
Kiuchi Brewery Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout1
Houston Houston Killellan Bitter1
Grupo Cruzcampo Cruzcampo Pilsener1
Batemans Victory Ale1
Privatbrauerei Nordbräu Eisbock1
Brooklyn Brewery Brown Ale1
Burton Bridge Brewery Golden Flame1
Goose Island Beer Co. (AB-InBev) Christmas Ale (2012)1
Green Jack Brewing Company Trawlerboys1
WEST Brewery Weihnachtsbier 20121
Shepherd Neame Rudolph's reward1
Fuller, Smith & Turner 18451
Robinsons Elbow1
Bend Brewing Co. Outback X1
Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus Radler Zäpfle1
Salopian Brewery Conundrum1
Belhaven Brewery (Greene King) Scottish Lager1
The Potton Brewery Co Fallen Angel1
BrewDog Scotch Ale1
Old Bear Brewery Estivator1
Black Hole Brewery Starry Night1
Bruadar House Lager1
Burton Bridge Brewery Santi-Freeze1
Cotleigh Brewery Ltd. Red Nose Reinbeer1
Lake Placid Pub & Brewery Highlander Scottish Ale1
Orchard Pig Mint And Lime1
Dark Star Brewing Co Espresso1
Hoppin Frog Brewery Silk Porter1
Greene King Ruddles Best1
Snoqualmie Falls Brewing Company Wildcat IPA1
Mikkeller Vikings Revenge1
Stewart Brewing Three Wise Men1
Lancaster Brewery Decathlon Gold1
Jennings Brewery Cocker Hoop1
Whittingtons A Winters Tail1
Traquair House Brewery Jacobite Ale1
Shepherd Neame Master Brew Kentish Ale1
Titanic Brewery Advent Ale1
Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus Eis Zapfle1
Brouwerij Lindemans Faro1
Leeds Brewery Monsoon1
Habeco (Hanoi Alcohol Beer and Beverage Company) Bia Ha Noi1
To Øl Black Ball1
Clockwork Beer Co. Thunder & Lightning1
Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn Schneider Weisse Mein Grünes (TAP4)1
Redwillow Brewery Fathomless1
Ayr Brewing Company Doctor Hornbook1
The Coach House Brewing Co Ostlers Summer Pale1
Bavaricum Wiehenstephaner1
Itchen Valley Brewery Dana1
Harbour Brewing Co Porter No. 61
Nethergate Brewery Frank Incensed1
RCH Brewery Pitchfork Rebellious Bitter1
Oakleaf Reindeer's Delight1
Burton Bridge Brewery Thomas Sykes Barleywine1
Tryst Double Chocolate Stout1
Brouwerij van Hoegaarden (ABInBev) Verboden Vrucht / Fruit Defendu (Forbidden Fruit)1
Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn Georg Schneider's Wiesen Edel-Weisse1
Gaymers Cider Company (C&C Group plc) Addlestones1
Black Isle Brewery Chilli Porter 1
Stone Brewing Co. Old Guardian1
The Kernel Brewery India Pale Ale Citra Chinook1
Bowman Brewery Swift One1
Grupo Modelo S.A. de C.V. Pacifico Clara1
kralovsky pivovar Krusovice Imperial1
Pictish Brewing Company Pictish Porter1
Brasserie Cantillon Classic Gueuze (2012)1
Joseph Holt Maplemoon1
Sheppy's Raspberry Cider1
Dark Star Brewing Co. Critical Mass1
Brodie's Brewery Citra For Breakfast1
sachsische braukunst Vollbier1
Hydes Racey Rudolph1
Brouwerij Lindemans Pêche (Pêcheresse)1
Brauhaus Faust Schwarzviertler Dunkel1
The Kernel Brewery Pale Ale CSCS1
Blue Monkey Brewery Fat Ape1
Box Steam Brewery Tunnel Vision1
Adnams Southwold Gunhill1

And the least popular breweries:
Least popular breweries
BreweryNumber of checkins
Brauerei Aying 1
Brouwerij De Koninck (Duvel Moortgat)1
Bavaria Brouwerij1
York Brewery Company Limited 1
Otley Brewery1
Staatliches Hofbräuhaus München1
Boon Rawd Brewery1
Kona Brewing Company 1
Brauerei Veltins1
Trent Navigation Brewery1
Orchard Pig1
Grupo Cruzcampo1
Lancaster Brewery1
The Coach House Brewing Co1
Privatbrauerei Nordbräu1
Lake Placid Pub & Brewery1
sachsische braukunst1
Snoqualmie Falls Brewing Company1
Traquair House Brewery1
Habeco (Hanoi Alcohol Beer and Beverage Company)1
Brauhaus Faust1
Bend Brewing Co.1
Thistly Cross1

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A responsible Christmas and a responsible New Year

For a long time, many people have sought to informally compensate for excessive drinking at Christmas and New Year by abstaining from alcohol during the month of January. I have never been one of these people. I like to support my favourite pubs at the time of year they need it most.

This year the idea has become a trend, with columnists in national newspapers announcing their plan to go “dry” – and a couple of deeply misguided media initiatives which have met with an eager response.

Cancer Research UK is encouraging people to take part in a “Dryathlon”, donating the money they would have spent on drinks – a nice way to thank all the pubs who raise money for charity throughout the year. And prohibitionist outfit Alcohol Concern is running a similar project with the less catchy name “Dry January” (though it does have a more amusing logo showing a cup of tea adorned with a cocktail umbrella).

Both campaigns sell themselves heavily with the idea of freedom from hangovers. Quite frankly, if you regularly have a hangover you are probably drinking too much too often, and need to cut down across the board, rather than giving up entirely for a month.

The insidious message is that total abstinence is presented as the only alternative to getting drunk off your face every weekend and risking permanent damage to your health. It effectively accepts the notion that having a good time equates to drinking to oblivion, and that not drinking is a sacrifice.

This suggests to me that the prohibitionists do not dare to actually take on the binge drinking culture. The dry January becomes penance for getting drunk over Christmas. Instead of asking people to moderate their intake over the festive season, which seems to be beyond the pale, this campaign encourages “sinners” to “repent”. In true religious tradition, dryathletes can purchase an indulgence, in the form of a “Golden Pass”, an extra donation giving them “permission” to booze on one night during the dry month.

This is not serious. The binge drinking culture is dangerous and disgusting and provokes repression against all drinkers. If we want to combat it we need to promote realistic scenarios of responsible drinking – unfortunately all the current anti-alcohol measures of the Scottish Government undermine this aim, by cementing “pub” and “in front of TV” as the only legitimate occasions for consuming alcohol.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I don’t have a hangover because I wasn’t mashed last night, and the prospect of a crisp glass of refreshing beer is starting to appeal. I’m off to try and find a pub that’s open.