It Would Be So Nice

We’re off on holiday so it’s going to be quiet around here for a few days.

You can expect plenty of pictures and notes on pints and pubs on our Twitter and Facebook pages so, if you’re not already, give us a follow, but you can read both without signing up for an account.

In lieu of our usual Saturday morning ‘News, Nuggets & Longreads‘, here are a couple of interesting links we’ve spotted so far this week:

You should also check out links round-ups from Stan Hieronymus (USA) and Glen Humphries (Australia), both posted on Monday.

And, finally, we’ve reached the shortlist in Saveur magazine’s annual blog awards, in the beer category — if you feel like voting for us, that’d be grand.

Malty

Unlike some (Melissa Cole, p6; Mark Dredge), we don’t object to the use of the terms ‘malty’ and ‘hoppy’ as over-arching descriptors, but one thing does bug us: ‘malty’ shouldn’t just mean ‘not hoppy’.

Malt flavour is a positive addition to the flavour of a beer, giving it another dimension. The best hoppy beers — that is, those with a pronounced flowery hop aroma and/or bitterness — also have malt flavour, usually sneaking up as a bonus in the finish.

These are the kind of things we think of (no doubt via Michael Jackson and others) when we spot that taste:

  • toasted nuts and seeds
  • fresh bread
  • crackers

It’s dry as in crisp, savoury but not salty, and just downright wholesome.

The best of the lagers we mentioned yesterday all have veritable maltiness, as do many of the pale-n-hoppy c.4% cask ales at which North of England breweries seem to excel. Our local equivalent, Potion 9 at the Star Inn, is defined by bright citrusy hops, but it’s that bread-crust and cream cracker snap that ultimately makes it so satisfying — the bun without which a burger wouldn’t be half as enjoyable.

A beer with fairly restrained hop character might allow the malt to take centre stage, and that can be good too.

But some beers aren’t hoppy or malty — they’re just sugary, gritty, vegetal or (worst of all) watery.

Don’t blame malt for that.

Choosing a Lager in the UK

The arrival of a new beer from Sweden on the UK market has made us wonder about the hierarchy of packaged lagers available in the UK.

The graphic below isn’t a league table, exactly. Rather, we imagined that someone was offering to buy us an entire case of lager, and then played the options of against one another, based on our most recent experiences of each beer.

So, if offered the choice between a case (or, rather, a slab) of Foster’s or one of Carling, we’d take the Carling. If we were then given the opportunity to trade up to a case of Camden Hells, we’d certainly take it.

This is based on our personal preferences and prejudices, of course — your table would likely look different because, for example, you might not have a soft spot for the curry house favourite Cobra like we do.

There’s a vague attempt at order — imports to the right; bigger UK breweries down the middle; those pitched as ‘craft’ towards the left. The wishy-washy colour coding is intended to hint at a scale from nasty to delicious, via bland (or neutral if you want a more, er, neutral term).

An attempt to rank lagers available in the UK with Schlenkerla Helles our top pick and Foster's at the bottom of the pile.

As it was samples of Fagerhult from Swedish cider-makers Kopparberg that kicked this off, we should say that we didn’t much like it — drunk on its own, it’s bland shading to nasty, with no discernible bitterness or malt flavour, just some sweet vegetal notes. It was OK with salty, spicy food (a tomato-based curry), seeming more bitter by contrast. We can’t imagine buying it over most other bog-standard brands, though, unless it was hugely discounted or, say, we were having a Swedish-themed Wallander watching party.

It’s also worth noting that we’ve heard worrying reports of a recent and sudden drop in quality of bottled Pilsner Urquell. When we last had it, it was as pungently weedy and bitter as ever but we will try a bottle or two in the new packaging when we get the chance and report back.

UPDATE: We might have been too generous to Fuller’s Frontier above, with the not-bad draught version in mind, rather than the bottles which we didn’t like at all last year.

March 2015: The Month That Was

Despite being all over the place running real-life errands, we managed to turn out a respectable number of posts in March, a couple of which were accidental epics.

→ There was a good batch of #BeeryLongReads from across the Blogoshire including insights into the politics of keg lines in bars and a profile of a South London brewery.

→ Ted Bruning’s short book Merrie England: the medieval roots of the great British pub got a thumbs-up from us.

→ Also on the subject of pub history, how is it that so many of them are allowed to get away with straight-up lying about their history?

Continue reading March 2015: The Month That Was

GALLERY: More Brewing Aristocrats

These pictures of British brewing bigwigs all come from the 1900 Licensed Victuallers’ Year Book and follow on from this post from last June.

Sampson_Hanbury
Mr Sampson Hanbury, business partner of Benjamin ‘Ben’ Truman from 1780. (To be played by Michael Douglas in the upcoming HBO feature film ‘Behind the Mash Tun’.)
Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton.  (Nephew of Sampson Hanbury, and the Buxton in Truman, Hanbury & Buxton.)
Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton. (Nephew of Sampson Hanbury, and the Buxton in Truman, Hanbury & Buxton; really did not want to pose for this portrait, or could smell gas at the time it was being drawn.)

Continue reading GALLERY: More Brewing Aristocrats

Over-thinking beer, pubs and the meaning of craft since 2007