News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 September 2016: Camouflage, Machines, Monks

We’re still snowed under working on The Big Project but we’ve found time to read a few interesting articles and blog posts in the last week.

First, the author of the Running Past blog profiles a South London landmark, The Northover, which was built in the 1930s, camouflaged during World War II, and made a brief appearance in The Long Good Friday. (Highly relevant to our current obsessions.)


Picture by Michael Kiser for Good Beer Hunting, used with permission.
Picture by Michael Kiser for Good Beer Hunting, used with permission.

Good Beer Hunting continues to sign up great writers to its team. The latest addition is Evan Rail who debuts with a portrait of an American brewer in the Czech Republic:

Despite the American approach, the name itself—which translates, roughly, to something like Brewery Zhůř-guy—is almost ridiculously Czech, containing not only the language’s almost-impossible-to-pronounce ‘ř,’ but also the bizarrely long ‘á,’ to say nothing of the ooh-sounding ‘ů.’ (Oh, and the ‘z’ and the “h’ in ‘Zhůřák’ are pronounced separately. Good luck with that.) 


TV screen showing a monk on the brewery tour.
SOURCE: The BeerCast, used with permission.

It’s difficult to get an interesting post out of a mass junket but not impossible as Richard Taylor demonstrates with his latest BeerCast post contrasting the tour brewery tour at Cantillon with that at La Trappe:

But the problem with Cantillon is that when you combine it with Twitter and Facebook, and become used to breweries communicating with their customers directly 24/7 you develop the worst possible affectation – a sense of entitlement. It doesn’t afflict me very often, but for some reason it did at Koningshoeven – I just expected the monks to be there, mashing in and pausing to answer questions in broken English…


tavern

For the Recipes Project Dr James Brown and Dr Angela McShane of the like-minded Intoxicants Project share an account of a discussion around the question ‘Were Early Modern People Perpetually Drunk?’ It’s a fascinating read with this section on the hearty, nutritious quality of very sweet beer a particular eye-opener:

Indeed, even had they had the technical means to achieve… high levels of fermentation, they would probably not have wanted to: in the more expensive beers, using a lot of malt, they were likely to have been pushing for ‘sweetness and body’ rather than maximum alcoholic strength, which could lead to thinness and an astringent taste.


At Beer and Present Danger Josh Farrington brings news of a brewing project based on machine learning:

Devised by machine learning firm Intelligent Layer and creative agency 10x, the process combines artificial intelligence with the wisdom of crowds, using it’s own algorithms and feedback from drinkers to constantly update, refine, and reiterate the four styles currently being made – a Pale, a Golden, an Amber and a Black. Just as early-adopters can beta-test an app, now you can help develop a beer, responding to an online bot’s questionnaire after each drink, allowing IntelligentX to bring out a newly refined generation each month.

Marketing gimmick, or the future? And will it create beers perfectly engineered to appeal to geeks, or blanded out brews that offend no-one?


Dave S is still struggling to answer a question that bugs him: which British bitters are most highly regarded by beer geeks? This time, he’s crunched some numbers from RateBeer to come up with a ranking.


And finally, another call for help from us:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 September 2016: Keith’s, Kwak and Kveik

Here’s the best of the beer- and pub-related writing that’s caught our attention in the last week, from Canadian IPA to sour celebrity-endorsed Guinness.

Illustration: Biere de Garde text on weathered wood.

Joe Tindall at The Fatal Glass of Beer has been considering the relatively unfashionable Biére de garde style and especially British-brewed takes on it:

Biéres de garde are often grouped with saisons under the banner of ‘farmhouse ales’… [but] whilst the saison booms, its French cousin generates far less interest. This is understandable, in a way — if the dry, peppery quality of a saison in the Dupont vein invites dry hopping, mixed fermentation and other ‘crafty’ goings on, the soft, sweet, malty character of many biéres de garde hardly screams experimentation.


Yeast samples in jars.

Lars Marius Garshol summarises highly technical lab analysis of the various Kveik yeast strains he has collected around Scandinavia and the Baltic region:

[These] yeasts are extremely diverse, and that the yeasts don’t cluster by what region they came from. A Finnish yeast sits in between the Lithuanian ones, and some Lithuanian ones are closer to some Norwegian ones than to the others. Even within Norway the geographical relationships don’t hold. Stranda, furthest north, is the most similar to a yeast from Voss, furthest south.


Bottles of Alexander Keith's 'Fundy'.

Londoner Rebecca Pate of Brewing East has made a trip back to her native Canada which she finds herself viewing through a beery prism:

When I was a student at the University of King’s College in Halifax, we happily cradled sloshing pitchers of Alexander Keith’s IPA without a thought of hop characteristics in our heads… In Halifax, you can’t go far without having a Keith’s thrust upon you- it’s the province’s favourite sup and was heavily marketed under the slogan ‘those who like it, like it a lot’ throughout the summit of its popularity in the 90s.


Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 September 2016: Keith’s, Kwak and Kveik”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 20 August 2016: Ribbeltje, Gasholders and Serebryanka

Here’s all the writing about beer, pubs, beer glasses and gasholders that’s caught our eye in the last week.

Barm (@robsterowski) breaks the oddly sad news that the company behind Stella Artois is to cease serving its premium lager in so-called ribbeltje glasses in its native Belgium, going over instead to the fancier chalice design:

As is widely known, despite the brewer’s attempt to punt it in other countries as a ‘reassuringly expensive’ premium beer, in Belgium Stella is the bog standard café beer, with a basic, proletarian glass to match. This, of course, is precisely why the marketers hate the glass so much. It’s not chic enough for their pretensions.


Dandelion saison in the glass.
SOURCE: Ales of the Riverwards

With a cameo appearance from just such a glass, Ed Coffey at Ales of the Riverwards has been reflecting on foraged ingredients and his idea for dandelion saison is simple and, we think, rather brilliant. Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 20 August 2016: Ribbeltje, Gasholders and Serebryanka”

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 30 July 2016: Belgians, Bark, Berlin

Here’s all the beer and pub news, opinion and pondering from the last week that’s made us sit up and take notice, from eccentric Belgians to Berliner Weisse.

For Draft magazine Kate Bernot has taken an in-depth look (1,700 wds) into the use of roots, bark and other bits of tree in the outer limits of brewing experimentation:

Wood is not uncommon in a brewhouse; beers aged on fresh oak or made with spruce tips are familiar. But brewers, especially those in arborous domains, have recently begun to eye entire trees—bark, leaves, sap, needles and all—as ingredients. Juniper, cedar, birch, Ponderosa pine, white fir and other timbers all confer their own distinct flavors, from vanilla to citrus to herbs. More than that, brewers say the final beers express the rusticity of their surroundings, that desirable sense of place that has led to a revival in foraging and local sourcing.


Dany Prignon portrait.
By Breandán Kearney from Belgian Smaak.

At Belgian Smaak British Guild of Beer Writers’ Beer Writer of the Year Breandán Kearney has profiled the enigmatic Dany Prignon of Brasserie Fantôme. It’s an interesting long read (2,000 wds) altogether but it was this bit that really made us spit out our cocoa:

And it’s odd that as the owner and production manager of a brewery, he doesn’t even drink beer. “I don’t like it,” he says, as if this assertion were completely normal. “I taste it, but I prefer soft drinks.”

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads for 30 July 2016: Belgians, Bark, Berlin”

Q&A: Is There a Beer of the Somme?

France is well off our beat but we’re always happy to learn, which is a good part of why we like being asked tricky questions like the one above.

First, a bit of geography homework, for own benefit as much as anyone else’s — which part of the world are we talking about, exactly?

  1. The Somme is a river in northern France.
  2. It also gives its name to a regional administrative department in Picardy…
  3. … in which Amiens is the biggest city.

Illustration based on a 19th century Map of Picardy/Somme.

So we’re looking for a style or sub-style of beer, or even just one particular brew, that belongs to and in some sense ‘expresses the land’.

In his 1874 book On Beer: A Statistical Study Max Vogel gives a brief summary of the history of brewing in France:

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the brewers of Picardy made their beer of half barley, half rye… The beer, however, except the February and March brewings, would not keep even six months; they made small beer (petite biére) and strong or double beer, this latter being named Queute double in Picardy. To give the beer strength and flavour, they mixed it with pepper, resin, and berries…

We don’t know how reliable Vogel’s history is but that central suggestion — that Picardy beer was traditionally made with a good chunk of rye — is echoed by other authors, and fits with the agricultural history of the area.

The problem is, though there are a handful of breweries in Somme, none of them seem to brew anything with rye (seigle), at least as far as we can glean from scouring Facebook pages and Ratebeer. (French brewery websites in particular tend to the oblique, if they exist at all.) There are lots of Belgian-style beers with coriander and orange peel but no berries or pepper either, by the look of it. So rye and these other historic ingredients look like a dead end, unless any of our well-travelled Francophone readers know otherwise — if so, comment below!

The main reason we’ve heard of Somme in connection with brewing is because of its part in the history of hops, as explained here by Martyn Cornell:

The first documented link between hops and brewing comes from Picardy in Northern France, in 822, where Abbot Adalhard of the Benedictine monastery of Corbie, in the Somme valley near Amiens, wrote a series of statutes on how the abbey should be run. The many rules covered areas such as the duties of the abbey’s tenants, which included gathering of firewood and also of hops – implying wild hops, rather than cultivated ones. Adalhard also said that a tithe (or tenth) of all the malt that came in should be given to the porter of the monastery, and the same with the hops. If this did not supply enough hops, the porter should take steps to get more from elsewhere to make sufficient beer for himself: “De humlone … decima ei portio … detur. Si hoc ei non sufficit, ipse … sibi adquirat unde ad cervisas suas faciendas sufficienter habeat.”

Though Picardy is a historic hop-growing region we can’t find any evidence that the industry survives there, Alsace having taken over completely at some point, perhaps, maybe obviously, after Somme was laid waste in World War I. Nor does there seem to be any particular hop variety associated with the region in the various lists we have at hand. Hops from surrounding regions probably have similar characteristics but that’s not quite in the spirit of terroir, which makes this another dead end.

Samara beer.
SOURCE: Brassier de le Somme.

Talking specifics, Samara from Brasserie de la Somme is a beer clearly designed to be ultra-local, which was created in partnership with archaeologists and botanists at the museum-garden with which it shares a name. It uses no hops but, instead, is brewed with seven different herbs and plants from Samara’s botanical garden, along with local honey, and is intended as a recreation of something brewed by ancient Gauls. (Insert your own Asterix potion joke here.) Before anyone else says it, no, it doesn’t look very appetising, even in the brewery-approved glamour shot.

Anyone wanting to carry out their own exploration of the beer of the Somme might consider going on one of the famous ‘Podge’ tours: Siobhan McGinn is leading the next one in mid-October taking in breweries, bars and battle-sites.

UPDATE 25/07/2016 21:10

Thomas from Happy Beer Time (@HappyBeerTime) asked around among the French-language beer geeks and they did find a beer with rye that sounds a bit like the one described by Max Vogel: La Caussenarde Seiglée (RateBeer). The only problem is, it’s not from Picardy — it’s from the south of France. Still, interesting.