Adapted from Bulbs by Ignas Kukenys, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.

Watney’s on Objective Tasting

The Watney’s Quality Control manual we’re currently digesting not only contain instructions for brewing but also sets out how to manage a beer tasting session.

“You want me to take advice on tasting beer from Watney’s!?” our older readers might cry at this point. The fact is, it’s hard to read the QC tome without gaining a certain respect for the care and attention the Big Red Giant put into process, even if the products weren’t, er… universally adored.

The purpose of this test was to check that Red Barrel brewed in the regions was as near as possibly identical to that brewed at the mothership at Mortlake in London.

1. The Room

(a) should be quiet

(b) should be moderate in temperature (58-62°F) [14-16°C]

(c) and should be low in light intensity (twilight conditions)

The Accessories

(d) The light should be red in colour (to obscure difference in haze and colour)

(e) Seats should be provided for the taster to sit in a relaxed position.

(f) A glass of water and a sink should be provided for each taster.

(g) A form of recording the results should be provided for each taster.

2. The Beers

These should have been stood overnight at a temperature of 58-62°F. They should be of equal C02 content and should be poured so that all three glasses show equal amounts of head.

The instructions go on to suggest how results should be recorded and the role of the organiser in policing the process. There is also advice on testing the ‘skill and interest’ of the tasters:

Take some distilled or tap water which is free from unpleasant flavour, cool and bubble carbon dioxide through it to remove air and introduce carbon dioxide… This water is then added to a portion of beer to dilute it by 10%. This diluted beer and a control portion of the undiluted beer… are then used in a three-glass test [where two glasses contain the same beer]… The tasters are told beforehand only that one of the two beers is more dilute.

A sweetness test, run in exactly the same way, used a sample dosed with 4 grams of sucrose per litre.

It is possible to score 33% correct answers by mere “guessing”. Members taking part with average scores of 50% or more may be regarded as suitable tasters for a permanent panel. This eliminates people with low discriminating powers where beer tasting is concerned but, at the same time, the panel selected will not be too severe in its judgments.

We hadn’t considered it before but, yes, we can see that finicky super-tasters probably are as useless as total numb-tongues for this kind of task.

As it happens, we’re currently conducting what amounts to an extended experiment in total, carefree subjectivity. Both approaches, we think, have their place, but perhaps we’ll try extreme objectivity next. The only worry is what might happen if one of us gets deselected from the blog after the dilution test.

Illustration adapted from Bulbs by Ignas Kukenys, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.

Adapted from SYR by Robert S. Donovan, from Flickr, under Creative Commons.

Best of Beerylongreads & Next Time

Starting last September, we’ve prompted four rounds of ‘beerylongreads’ in which we and others aim to produce something longer and more in-depth than usual.

The next is scheduled for Saturday 29 November (details below).

In the meantime, of the 50-odd posts that have emerged, these are some of our favourites, in no particular order.

  1. Leigh Linley on Wells’s Banana Bread Beer (March 2014) — a fresh, sincere, enthusiastic look at a quirky beer that’s far from trendy, but certainly not dull.
  2. Chris Hall on hipster-bashing in British beer (March 2014) — “You won’t see any of them bloody hipsters in my pub trying the real ales, though. They’re all in them bloody BrewDog bars, forking out a fiver a pint for that murky rubbish.
  3. Ron Pattinson on Porter between 1815-1850 (September 2013) — an epic post of near-book-length which gives a taste of the author’s still-gestating master-work on the history of British brewing.
  4. Stan Hieronymus on how getting it right takes time (November 2013)  — “Not long after Geoff Larson dumped the thirteenth batch of what would eventually be the first brand Alaskan Brewing sold he poured out the fourteenth. Then the fifteenth, and the sixteenth.”
  5. David Bishop on the state of British homebrewing (March 2014) — based on correspondence with other key players, this offers insights into a booming scene with ever-closer ties to ‘proper’ brewing.
  6. Drunken Speculation on a cult Australian beer brand (August 2014) — the story of Bulimba Gold Top, brewed in Brisbane’s suburbs in the late 19th century, using English malt and hops from New Zealand, Kent and Bohemia.
  7. And, of our own four contributions, by far the most-read is this piece on the fondly-remembered Newquay Steam Beer.

Here’s the deal if you want to join in on 29/11/2014:

  • Write something longer than usual. (Our standard posts are 300-700 words long, so we aim for at least 1500 before we consider it a ‘long read’.)
  • You could just stretch a normal post out by adding lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of unnecessary words, phrases, sentences, and indeed paragraphs. But that’s not quite the point. Instead, choose a subject which requires more words.
  • We’re not in charge and there are no ‘rules’; you can write what you like, post when you like; and you don’t have to mention us or link to this blog in your post. (Though of course it would be nice.)
  • If you want us to include your contribution in our round-up, let us know. The simplest way is by Tweeting a link with the hashtag #beerylongreads.
  • TIP: think of something you want to read but that doesn’t seem to exist — an interview with a particular brewer, the history of beer in a specific town, the story of a famous pub — and then write it.
  • Drop us a line if you want advice or just to run your idea past someone.

Illustration adapted from SYR by Robert S. Donovan, from Flickr, under Creative Commons.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 27/09/2014

Adapted from Adnams, Southwold, by Martin Pettitt, via Flickr, under a Creative Commons licence.
Adapted from Adnams, Southwold, by Martin Pettitt, via Flickr, under a Creative Commons licence.

We’re off on our holidays this afternoon but have a few posts scheduled to pop up during next week. Though we’re determined not to do any work, we’ll probably have a beer or two and visit the odd pub, so expect Tweets and Facebook updates.

In the meantime, here’s our usual round-up of interesting things to read around the beerier corners of the the internet.

→ Saved to Pocket this week: recollections of the 1940s from a former employee of Adnams, on their rather superior corporate blog.

→ Also saved to read later, an account of a visit to the Baird’s Malt plant in Witham Essex from It Comes in Pints.

→ The Cask Report 2014 has landed and here’s the author’s handy digest.  Pete Brown’s findings echoes one of the underlying arguments of Brew Britannia: ‘Cask ale and craft beer are not the same thing, but neither are they entirely separate — there is a pretty big overlap.’

Richard Taylor at the Beercast continues to prod at Brewmeister as the Advertising Standards Agency censures the Scottish brewer over marketing for Snake Venom. There’s good stuff in comments, too, including more measured responses than we’ve previously seen from Brewmeister’s Lewis Shand.

→ Sabina Llewellyn-Davies’s article on Lebanese craft beer for All About Beer is worth a read: ‘Lebanon does not boast a huge beer drinking community; the total yearly consumption of beer is about equal to the amount of beer consumed during the month long Oktoberfest in Munich.’

→ The Gentle Author at Spitalfields Life has put together a list of the language of beer, including some phrases new to us — a noggin of Merry-Goe-Down, anyone?

→ We shared this on Twitter but it’s too good not to flag here as well: ‘Rick Wakeman Consumer Guide to the Beers of the World, by Chris Salewicz, from 1974 (enlargeable scan of a page from the NME about halfway down).

→ There’s a lot of information about beer and British culture packed into this one family photo.

→ And this is nice, isn’t it?

Beer bottle caps: Five Points, BBNO, BrewDog.

Porter Tasting: Batch 2

UPDATE 12:35 26/09/2014: the purpose of this exercise, for those who missed the previous posts, is to find a beer that suits us, with a view to selecting finalists for a ‘taste-off’ before buying a case to see us through the winter. It’s not ‘the best’ but something much more floaty and subjective. And that’s probably not the cap from the Brew by Numbers beer in the pic above.

This week, we tasted three porters from the trendier end of the spectrum, all in 330ml bottles, and purchased from Ales by Mail.

  1. BrewDog Brixton, 5%, £2.40.
  2. Five Points Railway, 4.8%, £2.52.
  3. Brew by Numbers 03/01 Original, 6.1%, £2.80.

(We gave these three 30 minutes in the fridge before pouring and drank them from the same stemmed half-pint glasses as last time, for those who are interested in such matters.)

How do self-consciously ‘craft’ breweries approach porter? As a gap in the market, perhaps, or as a novelty — there aren’t many mainstream breweries producing beer in this style. Via American home brewing literature and its guidelines for multiple types of porter, we suspect. And maybe inspired directly by Anchor Porter, which has a quiet cult following in the UK and has done for years. It does not seem to be subjected to quite the same experiments in flavouring or hybridising as other styles — it’s usually kept fairly straight, often even with a nod to tradition.

In fact, the main difference between a ‘craft’ porter and any other seems to be the size of the servings which defied attempts at quaffing.

Five Points poured with a perfect, tight, off-white head, and had what we can only describe as a crazy (pleasant) aroma which brought to mind Angel Delight and Bailey’s Irish Cream. The first sip took us by surprise — it was subtly but distinctly yoghurt-sour, which added a pleasing complexity. Was it deliberate, or a happy mistake? Either way, it turned a bog-standard porter into something rather moreish and enjoyable. Ultimately, it’s not something we’d want to drink every day, so it isn’t a contender for the purchase of an entire case, but we’d happily buy it again.

BrewDog Brixton is a beer we’ve had before and enjoyed without being bowled over. It poured suitably oily-black. The overwhelming character is a dry ashiness, like eating a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, but, beyond that, it’s perhaps too thin for sipping, while being too much hard work to just drink. It was certainly perfectly clean and the condition was spot on. But… we were rather enjoying it by the end, and it turns out to have a kind of delayed wow factor. It’s an outside contender.

Brew by Numbers (aka BBNo) 03/01 prompted one of our fairly frequent disagreements: Boak’s immediate reaction to the aroma was, ‘Eugh! Booze and antiseptic!’ while Bailey got a pleasant whiff of vanilla. Its body was unctuous, fairly well-balanced, with a touch of acidity suggesting berries or cherries. Ultimately, though, it was rather heavy going and rough. We would not drink this again and it’s definitely not a contender. (Another of their beers, a saison with cucumber, was one of the hits of our summer.)

Next time: those Guinness porters, and some pondering on to what extent they can be considered British. (Don’t start arguing with us about this now… you’ll get your chance.) Here’s what we made of the last batch and this post explains what we’re up to. See also: The Beer o’ Clock Show’s imminent stout/porter poll.

Detail from the cover of Beer in Britain, 1960.

Glum About Beer Writing

Jeff Alworth’s post about the state of beer writing, and Alan Mcleod’s response, come at a fortuitous time for us.

We’re preparing a talk on ‘The birth of modern beer writing – 1960 to the present day’ for delivery at a seminar being jointly run by the British Guild of Beer Writers and the Brewery History Society. We’ve been collecting material on this for a couple of years now — references to beer writing in odd places, newspaper articles we’ve stumbled across — and it’s good to have an opportunity to pull it all together into something coherent.

It is, however, making us feel a little glum, because what is emerging is a story of lurching after trends in publishing; struggling for material; and, even more so, struggling for an audience. It seems to us that most people, even if they like beer, don’t want to read about it as much as we and others want to write about it.

(When we were signing books at a food festival recently, we heard several variations on, “A book? About beer!? Ha ha ha ha ha! I like drinking it but I don’t want to read about it!”)

And when Jeff asserts that, ‘The extended world of beer has a nearly infinite number of subjects to discuss’, we find ourselves, reluctantly, disagreeing.

There’s certainly more-or-less fresh territory to be explored, and even new angles to be found on familiar subjects, but beer is not as rich a seam as food, or music, or film. (Maybe Tom Fort had a point.)

To some extent, perhaps that’s why beer writing and ‘craft beer’ have, over the years, become somewhat symbiotic — the former needs the drama, complexity and variety of the latter to justify its existence, and the great hope for the future of beer writing is that everyone becomes the kind of geek who wants to think, talk and read about what they’re drinking.

Writing about beer and pubs since 2007