Someone finally answered our prayer and brewed an accurate clone of Watney’s Red Barrel, pasteurisation and all, and we’ve just finished drinking our two bottles.
The brewer in question, who’s a bit shy, is professionally qualified but also brews at home. They brewed a small batch using a 1960s recipe from the Kegronomicon, fermented it with Hop Back’s yeast strain (supposedly sourced from Watney’s), and then used professional pasteurising equipment to finish it off as per the process set out by Watney’s. We met them briefly at Paddington station last week to take possession of two 330ml bottles, one pasteurised, one not.
This seemed like the right occasion to enter the Black Museum of Big Six Tat to retrieve our Watney’s branded half-pint semi-dimple mug — a glass we’ve had for ages but never actually used.
We finally found time to sit down and enjoy the final batch of beers suggested to us by Joe Stange, all three of which are from Bavaria, and two of which we’ve had before in one form or another.
We bought them from Beers of Europe and they were all in 500ml bottles:
Keesman Herren Pils, Bamberg, 4.8% ABV, £2.09
Ayinger Jahrhundertbier, Aying, 5.5%, £2.39
Weltenburger Asam Bock, Weltenburg, 6.9%, £2.69
Of Herren Pils Joe says:
Repeat visitors to Bamberg typically go through their Rauchbier and Ungespundet phases before they emerge from their pupas as beautiful Herren-swilling butterflies. (And then, weirdly, the phases start over again.) There are times when I drink this and decide it’s my favorite beer in Germany.
We poured it into one of our favourite Pilsner Urquell mugs (Boak’s proudest moment is mangling Polish into Czech to negotiate the purchase in a pub in Prague) where it looked very pretty and very pale. The head, as you can see from the picture above, was very well behaved.
The third of six lagers recommended to us by Berlin-based American beer writer Joe Stange is from Belgium, but bears little resemblance to Jupiler or Stella Artois.
This time, instead of using us as guinea pigs, he’s directed us to a beer he personally knows and enjoys:
I have always liked this one, another fine Proefbrouwerij product. The Beersel Lager for the Drie Fonteinen restaurant is similar and also dry-hopped, and I like it enough that sometimes I have one there instead of a gueuze. Which is deranged.
It has 5.3% alcohol by volume, comes in a 330ml bottle, and we got ours from Beers of Europe for a not unreasonable £2.39.
Our expectations, based on the information on the label, were that it would be (a) quite dry and (b) a little grassy, perhaps even hinting at Poperinge Hommelbier.
There are some beers about which it is practically impossible to express an opinion and be believed, one way or the other.
They’re so talked-about, so anticipated, so venerated, or so despised, that nothing we say can add much to the conversation.
The Westvleteren beers from Belgium are one example, Batham’s Best Bitter might be another. But they’re fixed points in the firmament; others blink into existence and generate great heat, perhaps only for a few months or years.
The word we’re avoiding here is hype, perhaps because it gets thrown around too easily — people talking with enthusiasm about a thing you’re not interested in isn’t hype. It might be justifiable in this case, though, which has seen online beer stores issuing would-be-panic-inducing Tweets in anticipation of a consumer frenzy, and launch events. (It is still in stock in many places, by the way.)
If we say that we were anything less than wowed by version 3 of Manchester Cloudwater’s Double IPA, we’re surely just inverted bandwagon jumpers, contrarians and grumps. We’re fighting the hype and thus still failing to judge the beer on its own merits. We’re those people who say with a flourish that they don’t like The Beatles and make you think, ‘Really? Even “It Won’t Be Long”?’ If we say we didn’t especially like this beer not everyone will believe us or will question our motives.
But what happens if we rave about it? If we list this fruit and that. If we say it is like nothing else we’ve ever tasted and that it blows similar beers from other equally hip breweries out of the water, that it finds a truly distinctive flavour profile in a market already crowded with IPAs, that it made us swoon?
Then we’ll be sheep, sycophants, mindless zombie fans.
So, we’re just going to leave the box here, unopened.
The second of Joe Stange‘s suggestions is another canned American lager whose blurb hints at pre-prohibition credibility. Joe says:
“I have never had this beer, but I’m fascinated by the idea of an old-fashioned American lager revival. This one’s from San Francisco.”
We bought it from Beers of Europe for £3.99. Its ABV is 5.3% and the can is big by craft beer standards (US 18oz — 473ml) but also, with its bare metallic finish, brings to mind supermarket own-brand beers and energy drinks.
We drank it in the same session as Ruhstaller’s Gilt Edge and our impressions were definitely influence by the proximity.