Insulted by the Randall

Illustration: hops.

Is it an insult to a brewer to take steps at the point of sale which fundamentally change their product?

We’ve never had beer served through a ‘Randall’ or any similar device, but find the idea of infusing further hop flavour and aroma as the beer is served intriguing — a modern, hophead-friendly version of the old habit of mixing beers to achieve just the right flavour.

It had never occurred to us that some brewers might feel like this:

We were reminded of a 2012 campaign to get British film fans to adjust the settings on their TV to ensure that films were seen ‘as the director intended’, a similar attempt to exert control over the experience from production to consumption.

Brewers are, sadly, rather used to having their ‘artistic vision’ compromised: we’ve heard countless tales of beer handled and stored carelessly, served past its best, poorly presented, or even with the wrong pump-clip attached. Greater control is just one reason some, often reluctantly, have turned to kegs in recent years.

The Randall is interesting, though, because it is an attempt to improve the beer — to help it achieve its true potential, its supporters might argue.

We can see that, if you have spent months or even years perfecting a recipe, subtly tinkering with hop varieties and doses, it might be irritating to have some amateur say: ‘Meh, boring — let’s filter it through a load of Simcoe and see if that makes it taste of anything.’

But couldn’t it also help brewers achieve their ‘vision’, avoiding the Curse of the Disappearing Hop Aroma? It is, after all, the ultimate late hop addition.

At any rate, while we understand the sentiment, we’d defend the right of customers to screw up their beer any way they like, as long as they’re paying for it. We’ll leave the final word to someone who works in a bar:

17 thoughts on “Insulted by the Randall”

  1. Interesting idea. But I don’t think it’s one that can go mainstream (or not without breweries endorsing ) , bar staff id trust to recommend combination few and far between. As a novelty with chance to drink unaltered beer alongside id be well up for it though.

  2. I think it largely depends on what the desired outcome or reason and of course who is applying the additions.

    I’ve been to events where brewers or their representatives have taken to using such things. I’m pretty sure (don’t quote me) that I recall Magic Rock having one and definitely Brewdog.

    I suppose if it’s being done randomly by venues I assume the brewer could request they desist or stop being supplied if it is felt the beer is being disrespected or misrepresented?

    On the other hand at a Saison event I organised, one venue supplied French presses as a sort of DIY personal Randal, with hops, herbs & spices for anyone who bought a particular “classic” saison. It was a bit of fun and interaction for those who wanted it with no one thinking for sure that they were about to improve the original. No offence was meant to the brewer, or the brew and although some may shudder, beer should be fun right?

    Is that any worse than buying a quality beer or wine and sticking it in a stew or lobbing it over half a dozen chicken legs?

  3. There really is only a small portion of misguided brewers who believe themselves “artists” such that this should be a general concern.

  4. Alternative title “Is Randallism akin to vandalism?”

    I actually had my first ‘Randalilised’ beer at Brewdog in Camden (where it’s called the Hopinator I believe) about a fortnight ago. It was their Cocoa Psycho infused with Chinook Hops and Bourbon soaked cherries. I have to say it was rather good with the Bourbon and cherry notes combining with the Chinook and chocolate flavours adding an extra dimension to what I think is already a good Brewdog beer.
    As this was in a Brewdog establishment and it was one of their own beers that had been ‘mucked about’ with I don’t really see a problem, particularly as the original character was still present but with a slightly different twist.

    As I recall the original was available as well, so if you wanted to ‘maintain the purity of the original’ you could indeed do so.

    As a post script I would add that I was in Brewdog Camden again last week and the Hopinator was broken, and when I enquired I was told that it has a tendency to clog up quite quickly. It did, however, make a rather attractive vase.

  5. Well, I don’t think this is anything to get worked up about (much like the faux ‘controversy’ about what may or may not be the best beer in the world). It’s horses for courses isn’t it? I can see the point about brewers hearing their beer has been served through a Randall unbeknown to them and being a bit put out by it but how often does that happen? In most cases it’s an initiative of the brewers themselves in my experience (or at least done with their tacit or active approval).

    For example, last week at the PSBH third birthday event the specially brewed IPA (a collab between PSBH and Black Jack) was on cask and keg, with the keg version being randalled through clementines and Mosaic hops. Very nice it was too – and done with the full approval of Rob Hamilton (the brewer) who was there himself. Similarly this weekend I fully expect the Vliegende Paard brewers to be putting their No Hops No Glory through a randall at the Bruges Beer Festival (as they did last year).

    It’s just a bit of fun and certainly doesn’t merit any navel gazing I would have thought.

  6. As Justin has already metioned above, if you’re in a bar owned by the brewery then it’s ok and can be interesting. I’m not sure anyone else should really be altering the flavor of a beer that they didn’t brew themselves.
    I don’t think I have ever seen a guest beer, put through the hopinator in Brewdog Aberdeen, and I know they have a policy of not putting their own core range beers through it either.

  7. couldn’t it also help brewers achieve their ‘vision’

    Only if it’s the brewer doing it (which, by the sound of it, it usually is) – otherwise it’s, um, somebody else’s vision.

    If I were a brewer and I felt the urge to serve one of my beers mixed with Marmite and Benylin (hey, don’t knock it…*), I think I’d have every right to do it. On the other hand, if I heard that some clever-clogs barman was taking it on himself to ‘improve’ my beer by mixing it with Benylin and Marmite, I think I’d have every right to be p.ed off. And, er, that’s it, I think.

    1. Actually, we didn’t express that part very well: we hear a lot from brewers insisting that their beer is best served fresh when the hop character is most vibrant, and the ‘Randall’ seems like a good way for them to ensure vibrant hop character, with no chance for it to decay between despatch and dispense. So, yes, we were suggesting that perhaps they, brewers, should embrace it, and as more than a novelty.

      1. Gotcha. Difficult to do on any kind of scale, I’d have thought, but it certainly could be interesting in a boutique-y kind of way.

        1. I’m with those who say where the brewer does it, e.g. at a brewpub or festival event, that’s fine, since after all that is how he thinks the beer should be dispensed.

          It seems wrong to me for a publican to “Randallize” a beer without the brewer’s consent, at least.

          As to the treatment itself: I’ve only had it once, at a festival in Montreal and the result was disagreeable. Rather than a sharp, fresh hop note, a muddy grassy taste was imparted. But it probably depends on the hops and how it is being done in each case.

          As to a drinker tinkering with a beer, it’s been done for eons in England as English beer history shows, in town and country, and indeed is the start of porter as we all know (or as I consider anyway). I’ve done it for 30 years. Once the beer is in my hands, paid for in full, I can use it in the way I think best. Frequently I mix regular porter and IRS to even out the respective palates and get the ABV to where I want. A dash of APA (kind of a Randall approach) can do wonders to too many under-hopped porters and stouts. I make my own pumpkin stouts regularly – stout/porter and pumpkin beer mixed – to great effect, for me. And it goes on, tonight I plan to blend a milk stout that is rather wan and dry, an IRS that is opposite in character, and a couple of English pale ales for a great black and tan. It is a way to use beer to great effect you may not like on its own. The sum is – can be – greater than its parts.

          Gary

  8. “I’m not sure anyone else should really be altering the flavor of a beer that they didn’t brew themselves.”

    This only applies maybe if the brewer gives away the beer. I pay for the beer so I can pour it on cork flakes and consume it that way if it pleases me. Similarly, if the pub receives the beer on consignment and receives a cask placement fee from the brewery, then the brewer still has a say. If the brewery takes a wholesale fee they have released their interest in the beer.

    But Is the implied suggestion also that the beer should also not be blended with others (as was traditionally done) or served in a disapproved glass because, we are told usually for a fee, a beer only tastes as expected in the special branded 20$ glass? How far does this sort of brewer suppose the public will accept his or her bigging up of the self?

  9. I’m with Mr Clarke, it’s a fuss over nothing, really. How often is it really likely to happen? Having said that, I’m afraid the brewer doesn’t really have a say in the matter. If a pub wants to iuse a hopinator and the customer wants a beer ‘hopped’ up, then taht’s fair enough. Next they will be telling us we shouldn’t use sparklers. Oh, some already do…

  10. At the last two Great Welsh beer festivals in Cardiff the Tiny Rebel brewery have used a Randall, to great effect I thought the time I tried it, and have one at their new bar the Urban Tap House. I’ve only seen them put their own beers through it though so far.

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