Ten Years

Ringo Starr's Sentimental Journey album.

Well, there you go: we made it to ten years.

To mark the occasion we’ve relaunched the page where we list some highlights from the blog — just twelve posts this time, all things of which we’re particularly proud, or at least fond. Do have a look, especially if you’re a new follower-reader.

Newsletter subscribers will know a bit more about the ups and downs that have got us here so we won’t go over that again but thanks to everyone for reading, commenting, encouraging and sharing over the years.

Second decade, here we come.

Everything We Wrote in March 2017

We managed a fairly steady flow of new stuff in March with perhaps a tilt towards the historical, though there were a few pub trips and beer tasting notes scattered throughout.

Before we get to the blog, here’s a quick flag for something we wrote for All About Beer on ‘The History of the Future of Beer’:

For decades, people were convinced the robot bartender was just around the corner. It’s a staple of science fiction stories from Isaac Asimov to Doctor Who, but this space-age fantasy has occasionally been realized, even if only as a gimmick or statement piece…


Right, back to the blog. Way back on the 1 March we had Bailey’s account of hunting for mild in Manchester, a city which has tons of great pubs and a nostalgic tendency, and so ought to be fertile ground:

We’re not interested in pubs that sometimes have a guest mild, or left-field interpretations of mild. In fact, we’re sceptical of many micro-brewery milds which, through misunderstandings over how the style evolved, are too often really baby stouts. No, what we’re intrigued by is the idea that there are still pockets of the country where you could, if sufficiently perverse, be a Mild Drinker, day in day out, in roughly the same style as your parents or grandparents before you.


Still life: a bottle of Mariana Trench in green light among sea glass, driftwood and shells.

We completed the fourth round of Magical Mystery Pour, tasting beers chosen by Rebecca Pate, with notes on Magic Rock Salty Kiss and Weird Beard Mariana Trench. The latter caused a bit of debate — is it ever fair to write up notes on a beer past its best before date?


Illustration adapted from a vintage bock beer poster.

For Session #121 hosted by Jon at The Brewsite we reflected on Bock and its more-or-less complete absence from UK beer:

To many drinkers — even those with quaite refained palates — lager is lager is lager, and not terribly interesting. And a strong lager with a narrower focus on unsexy malt over hops is an even harder sell in 2017, especially to British drinkers who really do expect fireworks to justify an ABV of more than 5%.

Jon rounded up all the contributions here.


Mild Ale as a classical LP.

That Session post got us thinking about ‘classic styles’ and how often it is the case that, when they are available, it is because of the type of craft brewery people tend to assume does nothing but weird, strong, niche beers:

A few years ago we stuck up for Brodie’s of Leyton, East London, who were accused of brewing ‘silly beers’. They did, and do, brew sour beers with fruit and a whole range of hop-heavy pale ales but they also did something that no-one had done in the London Borough of Waltham Forest for about 40 years by our reckoning: they made a standard cask-conditioned dark mild.

Continue reading “Everything We Wrote in March 2017”

Is ‘Belgian’ a Flavour?

Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

We find ourselves using ‘Belgian’ as a shortcut flavour descriptor sometimes and have been thinking about what this means, for various reasons.

First, because we just finished writing an article about Liverpool’s Passageway Brewery. If you’ve read Brew Britannia you’ll have the gist of the story: it emerged in the mid-1990s, run in their spare time by two friends who worked together, and knocked people’s socks off by fermenting British-style cask ales with a then highly exotic Belgian yeast strain.

Secondly, because we’ve also been writing an article about British beer geeks obsessed with Belgian beer, which means we’ve been hanging out with a few of the same. One gently admonished us on this point, suggesting that ‘Belgian’ as used to describe flavour by non-Belgians usually just means ‘spicy yeast’, when of course Belgian beers might be tart, sherry-like, fruity (from actual fruit), literally spicy (as opposed to yeast spicy), hoppy (in various offbeat ways), and so on.

A bicycle outside a bar in Bruges, 2010.

And, finally, there have just been some beers that got us excited — beers that aren’t Belgian, or even fundamentally Belgian in style, but which use Belgian-derived yeast to add a twist. Stone Cali-Belgique, which we found confusing and underwhelming when we paid a fortune for it at The Rake in London years ago, is fast becoming a go-to in its canned Berlin-brewed bargain-price incarnation. Elusive Brewing’s Plan-B — a 3.7% pale ale brewed with UK malt, New World hops and Belgian yeast, was a contender for our Golden Pints bottled beer of 2016. And that Lervig/Magic Rock Farmhouse IPA from a few years back still haunts our palates. In general these days, we’ll pick up any kind of pale ale or IPA made this way — it just floats our boat.

So, yes, when we say something tastes ‘Belgian’, we do mostly mean that it has that faintly funky, abandoned-fruit-bowl, distantly gingery quality. The same character that, in our home-brewing, we’ve managed to get from various supposedly highly divergent Belgian-style yeasts, from dried stuff intended for producing Witbier, to saison and Trappist strains cloned from famous breweries and dispatched in vials.

But maybe sometimes we’re referring to something even broader — a very vague sense of faintly rustic, barely tamed oddness.

If this was flipped and a bunch of Belgian beer geeks were telling us about a beer produced in, say, Ghent that tasted ‘really British’, we think we’d know what they were trying to get across. And noting that a beer tastes ‘quite German’ certainly conveys something, too.

Shortcuts, like ‘proper pub’ or ‘malty’, are fine when used with caution, and don’t always need pinning down at every corner, especially if it stalls the conversation.

Everything We Wrote in February 2017

A bar counter with hand pumps: The Month That Was February 2017

We missed a few days in February because of the pressures of real life — family, flu, work — but still managed to knock out a few decent posts from beer reviews to Belgian bars.

We warmed up for the month by reviewing a bottled beer from Vibrant Forest, the stars of last year’s Great British Beer Festival for us: ‘Once we’d accepted that there was to be no grapefruit festival as advertised, we enjoyed it for what it was…


Macro image: 'Hops' with illustration of hop cones, 1970s.

More for the record than anything we rounded up responses to a Guardian article suggesting that Brexit might already be stamping on the toes of UK craft brewers and added a few thoughts of our own:

At the root of the Buy British school of thought it seems to us there are a couple of wrongheaded thoughts. First, we think some people believe the popularity of pale, hoppy American-influenced beers threatens the very existence of traditional English bitter — that they are the thin end of a wedge which will inevitably lead to total domination… but who can seriously say they struggle to get a pint of something brown and old-school in Britain in 2017?


Bullseye Brown -- autumnal vintage beer label. (Detail.)

For the 120th edition of The Session (which takes it to ten years, by the way) we let Joe Tindall’s wide-open choice of topic, brown beer, inspire a bit of whimsy:

Some people will tell you brown isn’t a flavour, but it is. It’s why you sear meat, and about 50 per cent of the meaning of toast.  (N.B. black is also a flavour.)

Joe’s round up of all the contributions is here.

Continue reading “Everything We Wrote in February 2017”

In Which We Fall into a Brown Study

This month’s Session hosted by Joe Tindall at The Fatal Glass of Beer is wonderfully opened ended: write about brown beer.

Some people will tell you brown isn’t a flavour, but it is. It’s why you sear meat, and about 50 per cent of the meaning of toast.  (N.B. black is also a flavour.)

Brown beer isn’t necessarily boring but a hell of a lot of boring beers seem to be brown. Adrian Tierney-Jones has, on more than one occasion, referred to beers as being the same brown as an old sideboard and it’s true: brown is the colour of corduroy trousers, garden fences, Austin Ambassadors, sensible shoes and your grandma’s coffee table. It’s a kind of camouflage.

You know what else is often brown? Pubs. We like brown pubs, too, but in a brown town drinking brown beer in a brown pub with a brown dog on the brown lino, browned off, until you drop down brown bread from a total eclipse of the heart. You can see why some people might be down on brown.

Back in the 1990s Sean Franklin of Rooster’s ditched brown in favour of pale because he wanted a blank canvas on which hops could shine. If pale is blank, is brown noise? Or texture? Texture can be good. Noise too. There’s a reason people put dirty old Polaroid filters on their iPhone photos.

Let’s do some word association. Is there someone else in the room with you right now? Ask them to tell you, without over-thinking, what colour beer is. We knew it — you owe us 50p!

We’ll be surprised if there isn’t at least one Session post this time round with the title Fifty Shades of Brown. St Austell HSD is a sort of burnt umber, in the language of Crayola crayons. The same brewery’s Cornish Best is what Crayola would call ‘beaver’. (Stop sniggering.) And their Tribute, which we have heard described as a ‘boring brown bitter’ by people who have clearly been spoiled, is a similar shade of amber to Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. And that’s just one brewery. Stare into the brown abyss long enough and you’ll begin to see stars.

Lager used to be brown, and some of it still is. Do you reckon Britain would have gone crazy for it like it has in the last 40 years if it wasn’t sunny, bubbly yellow? Gold is a much easier sell: ‘I hold here, in my mortal hand, a nugget of purest brown!’

Black + gold = brown. Last week at BrewDog Bristol, where brown is frowned upon, we ended up with a free half of Born to Die (a big IPA) which, on its own, was too harsh and boozy. So, we mixed it, 3 parts to 1, with BrewDog’s Guinness-challenging stout. The end result was like a stronger, shoutier cousin of Fuller’s ESB. You need never be without a brown beer if you’ve got a half of stout at hand. (Sadly for all you brownophobes there is no similar trick for turning ESB into double IPA.)

We probably won’t want to say or type the word brown for a week or two after this. But we don’t half want a pint of bitter.