Saturday, 30 December 2017

Retro beers at the Golden Cabbage

Kölsch is a frustrating style to taste. I find it difficult to identify precise flavours in it, though I’ve drunk enough of it to be able to say “yeah, that tastes like Kölsch” (or not) when presented with an imitator from elsewhere.

When in Cologne, as I’ve mentioned before, I always like to call in at Früh am Dom, even though it is decried by some as a tourist trap with dreadful beer. There is not much hope for such people, and the beer hall is a classic of its kind, even if you do have to occasionally duck out of the path of tour groups traipsing through the place. 

At its best, Früh Kölsch has a fresh maltiness and elegant, very slightly citrussy hop aroma. Quite by chance we discover it like this in the pub Em Golde Kappes in Nippes in the north of the city (forcing us to stay for an extra couple of glasses). The Golden Cabbage has been a Nippes institution for decades. Früh took it over a couple of years ago and put some cash into it.

The number eleven has a special status in Cologne due to its role in the madness of Karneval, the pre-Lenten debauchery centered on cities along the Rhine. The Karneval season begins at 11.11 on the 11/11 – welcomed with oceans of Kölsch.

For that reason a couple of years ago the P.J. Früh brewery chose to celebrate its 111th anniversary with as much effort as its hundredth. The delightful retro glasses pictured here were part of it. Making it to that age is, after all, an impressive achievement in a city whose breweries were, like the rest of it, almost completely flattened in the war.

Many of Früh’s competitors, too, have long since been swallowed up by larger conglomerates, leaving only a handful of the 20+ Kölsch brands still actually produced by independent breweries: for example, Gilden, Sion, Sester and Küppers now all come from the same facility on the east side of the Rhine, owned by Radeberger/Dr Oetker. But once upon a time you could judge roughly where you were in the city by which local brand the local bars were advertising: Sester Kölsch in Ehrenfeld, Sünner Kölsch in Deutz, Gilden Kölsch in Mülheim, Reissdorf Kölsch in Sülz.

Ironically enough, the full-spectrum dominance enjoyed by Kölsch locally is itself a post-war phenomenon and not nearly as old as the people who write the copy on the back of beer labels would have you think. But there are signs this is beginning to crack at the edges.

In 2009 the Gaffel brewery brought out something they named “Kölsch classic”, less bitter than their standard Kölsch. That doesn’t appear to be made any more, but more recently they have also made an unfiltered golden beer called Sonnenhopfen with Citra hops.

Früh also had a go in its eleventhiversary year, and launched a new beer of its own. “Rude Pitter”, or Red Peter in the local dialect, was a malty bronze beer. It was a bit sweet for my liking – but the problem is that if it were more bitter, it would be dangerously close to a Düsseldorf-type Altbier. Imagine the shame! There are limits to experimentation, after all.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Golden Pints for 2017

For once I’m managing to post these before the end of the year. I hope everyone has had a good a year as I have – although looking through my grey, drizzly photos from 2017 I could have done with a bit better weather for most of it.

Best New Local Brewery: Out of Town

It would now be pretty easy to stock a pub purely with beers made in and around the city of Glasgow itself and still provide plenty of choice – something you couldn’t have said just a few years ago. Most of these new starts have occurred in the last couple of years. My choice for the best new local brewery is Out of Town – which as the name implies is based on an industrial estate in Cumbernauld (incidentally, the same one Lawman is on).

Many brewers produce beers which are impressive on the first sip; the Out of Town beers are distinguished by their massive drinkability too. They started up near the end of 2016 but it’s really been in 2017 that their beers have become ubiquitous in the city.

Even newer breweries have started up in the latter part of the year – Ride in Tradeston, Merchant City in Maryhill, and Late Night Hype in Clydebank. Too late for any of them to quite make it as best new local brewery, but what I have had the chance to sample from all of them has been promising.
(New award)

Best UK Cask Beer: Up Front Old Man Ahab

I’d usually make my beer of the year something I’d drunk regularly, but what with one thing and another my pub visiting has declined this year. So it’s the beer which stuck in my mind the most. Up Front Old Man Ahab (7.1%) managed to fool drinkers at the Paisley Beer Festival into thinking it was made with coconut – yet the brewer subsequently denied that there was any coconut in the beer. The power of imagination seemed enough to give the beer a delicious coconut aroma and flavour (more fresh coconut than Bounty bar, since you ask). It’s a great shame that Up Front can’t make their desired margin on cask beer, which is why there is so little of it.

Runners-up: A chance half of North Riding Single Hop Centennial in April had amazing lemon and resin aroma, light and clean in body with a long bitter finish. The best beer festivals are when you start googling a brewery you’ve never heard of because the beer is so good.
(Last year: Orkney Corncrake)

Best UK Keg Beer: Five Points Pils

The Five Points Pils I had at a tap takeover in Edinburgh was pretty impressive – “This is what a pils should be like!” say my notes – with fresh CO2 and herbal hops (Tettnanger is what’s used). A full, sweet malt character puts the over-attenuated hop extract water produced by some German breweries to shame. A worthy rival to a previous winner, Fourpure Pils. Yet the second glass of it – poured to the brim in a half-pint glass – was underwhelming, showing that a lot of the joy of pilsner is down to serving technique, something which is still neglected in the UK. Lager needs foam!

Runner-up: Until Loch Lomond arrived with their Out of Range IPA, the New England style locally had been the preserve of semi-hobby brewers, notably Gallus whose first beers made it something of a house speciality. Out of Range brought it closer to the mainstream, and nailed it in flavour. 
(Last year: Lost & Grounded Kellerpils.)

Best UK Small Pack Beer: Little Earth Organic East India Pale Ale

Organic East India Pale Ale by Little Earth Project is my bottled beer of the year. I discovered it while searching for authentic 19th-century style IPAs – there are fewer of these than you might think – back in July and already knew I had found this year’s winner. A gueuze-like aroma meets the nose, followed by faint oak and a bit of lemon with wild yeast esters. But take a sip, and it’s not sour – perhaps just on the border where bone dry tips into slightly tart. Maybe the slight lemony note encourages the association but the pithy bitterness immediately brings marmalade to mind. It’s a dry beer with only a ghost of malt sweetness remaining. You have to get used to the overall flavour profile of it (well, I did) before it’s possibly to discern the sweetness below with notes of leather and tobacco. This really shows it’s worth doing things the old-fashioned way. Recommended by me, Captain Tightwad himself, as genuinely worth the £5 for a 330ml bottle.

Runner-up: The Pale Armadillo by Tempest, on the other hand, is cheap as chips and is one beer which manages to be amazing both on draught or packaged. Ridiculously quaffable dank pale ale.
(Last year: Up Front Ahab)

Best Overseas Draught: Schlenkerla Märzen

Still Schlenkerla Märzen I think. Though the quick Schumacher Alt I had while changing trains in Düsseldorf in May was pretty good too.
(Last year: Ulrich Martin Pilsner)

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label: First Chop

The letterpress-on-beermats style chosen by Salford’s First Chop is simple but striking and effective. Their bottles and cans aren’t half bad either – I love the use of a bold but subdued colour palette.

(Last year: Cloudwater/Boundary/Gallus)

Under-Hyped Brewery Of The Year

There are so many breweries now, with attention focussed on a tiny number of them, that it’s impossible to pick out just one that doesn’t get its due. I’ve very much enjoyed beers from Wylam, Bear Claw, Top Out, Holdens, Lacons, Ossett this year. If you see them, try them too.
(Last year: Fell)

Pub/Bar of the Year: The Curfew, Berwick

I’ve gone a bit further afield for my pub of the year. It’s the Curfew Micropub in Berwick-on-Tweed. It is a delight to drink there, even if it is often impossible to find a seat. Bonuses are their championship of local breweries and beer festival in the spring, for which a second bar is opened up in the storeroom. I also had my best pork pie of the year here, although this might have been part of the beer festival and not permanently on offer.
(Last year: The State, Glasgow (it is still brilliant, having just won Glasgow CAMRA’s Pub of the Year for the fourth year in a row))

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2017: Grunting Growler

This year Grunting Growler in Glasgow’s Yorkhill finally got its on-sales license – which was apparently needed so they could offer tasters – and took the opportunity to add some seats too for tastings or just to sit and have a beer. I’m not sure whether owner Jehad Hatu really meant to end up running a bar but it’s essentially what he’s now got. He is also the only person I know who can get away with greeting you with the words “Hey, y’all down to clown?” and still be cool.
Runner-up: Koelschip Yard. Definitely a worthwhile addition to the south side, but they should have done it five years ago when I lived there.
(Last year: Hippo Taproom (which sadly did not make it to the end of this year))

Beer Festival of the Year: West End Beer Festival

Conor Steven of Cafe Source Too is one of the unsung heroes of Glasgow’s beer scene. As well as helping save the day when Hippo’s beer festival was cancelled, he somehow found time to organise his own, the West End Beer Festival. It featured the cutting edge of the local breweries, as well as some from further away, such as Brass Castle, who came up specially and brought their beer-dispensing piano. It also featured a dramatic unintended plastic keg explosion, which I’m not allowed to tell you about.
Runners-up: I enjoyed the Edinburgh Craft Beer festival much more than I expected to. But I still came home drunkest from the Paisley Beer Festival.
(No award last year as I barely went to any festivals)

Ugliest Beer which is nonetheless wonderful: Dead End Brew Machine Decay IPA

As regular readers may have noticed, I am sceptical of most murky beers. I still try them. Most are harshly bitter and unpleasant (whether the harshness comes from yeast or incompetent hopping I care not). Others are sweetish and reminiscent of turbid mango juice, in which case I’d rather just have the mango juice, which would be easier on my wallet and my liver. The stand-out exception this year, however, has been Dead End Brew Machine’s spectacular canned Decay IPA. It looks hellish, like muddy khaki soup (possibly broccoli) with soapy scum on top, but it tastes fantastic with a perfect balance of dank hop flavour and tropical juiciness. It’s good to see Chris Lewis’ commercial beers – still basically a hobby – now matching the quality of his remarkable homebrew.
(New award)

Supermarket of the Year: Waitrose

Waitrose and Marks & Spencer have both stepped up their beer game in the last couple of years – but I think that Waitrose have perhaps come further in a shorter time. Waitrose it is, then. Where else can you get Fuller’s imperial stout in a supermarket?
(Last year: Booths)

Independent Retailer of the Year: Good Spirits Wine & Beer

With the sad collapse of the Hippo Beers empire it’s down to a four-way dance-off between Valhalla’s Goat, The Cave, Grunting Growler and Good Spirits Wine & Beer. There’s not much in it, they are all good. I guess I have bought more from Good Spirits than any of the others. The Wee Beer Shop is too new for this year’s award but I expect it to be in the running next year.
(Last year: Grunting Growler)

Most Cringey Attempt To Be Down With The Kids: Wadworth 6X

Please step up Wadworth’s with your ridiculous “Old Cool Is The New Cool” campaign, which alienates traditionalists but is scoffed at by crafties. From the inapub story:
“Whilst drinking 6X, this cool generation were wearing Adidas and playing vinyls way before their children and grandchildren,” said head of marketing and communication, Elaine Beckett. 
I don’t know how you get to be cool but I do know that you don’t do it by announcing how cool you are. Also, they’re called records.

(Last year: Marstons and their distressed type that was briefly fashionable ten years ago)

Weirdest Own Tasting Note Of The Year:

“Rose petals & Golden Nuggets”