Petty rant about beer bottle labels

Homebrewers know the pain of bottling. The boring bit of the whole process. Tedious, painful and messy. We try to minimize the pain by using polypins, but this means you have to drink the beer a lot quicker.

Cleaning the beer bottles is bad enough. But what really gets my goat is getting the labels off British ale bottles. I don’t know what they use to glue the damn things on, but chemicals, steam and good old fashioned elbow grease are not enough to get rid of them, and you end up with bottles with unsightly bits of paper and glue marks all over them. Not what you want to serve up your pride and joy in.

American labels are pretty bad, but then their bottles come in all sorts of weird shapes, and what with the preponderance of screw top caps, we tend to put them straight in recycling. Nothing more frustrating than spending all that time cleaning and sterilising a bottle, only to find the bugger won’t cap.

German and Belgian beer bottle labels come off with ease, on the other hand. Is this related to the fact that there is much more of a practice of reusing bottles there? Germany has a bottle deposit scheme, and in Belgium bottles often seem to be collected by the bar staff for return to the brewery.

Come on, British brewers! Do your bit for homebrewers and the environment, and use something with a half- life of less than a millenium. Flour and water paste works for us. Or Pritt Stick.

Boak

Baltic Porters again

A little while ago, we wrote about a handful of Baltic porters we’d been able to get our grubby hands on. After much hunting and hoarding, plus a generous gift, we’ve got enough together for a second round.

D. Carnegie & Co Stark Porter (Sweden)

The label boasts that this was first brewed in 1836 and is still brewed to the same recipe, although now by Carlsberg Sweden. Michael Jackson penned an article over 10 years ago about the brewery’s founder, a Scot, which you can find here.

Once again though, for us this was a case of the history being more interesting than the beer. It’s a lovely opaque black, with a pillowy head. There’s a hint of coffee in the aroma, but not much else. The initial gulp is lovely — milk-chocolate and coffee flavours, some wine-like fruit and a good bitter kick at the end — but then it’s gone. What aftertaste is left is a bit like Marmite.

It’s pleasant enough and reminded us of Sam Smith’s Oatmeal stout. It’s definitely got a heavy stout-like body. It tastes stronger than it is (it’s “only” 5.5%).

Baltika no 6 “Porter” (Russia)

We’ve been looking for this little beauty for ages, ruthlessly scouring every new Russian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian shop to open in our manor. Finally, a new Lithuanian shop called “Tradicia” at the bottom of Walthamstow Market was able to deliver. [The shop has lots of other goodies too, which may fuel a blog post or two…]

It was worth the wait. It too is inky-black with a slightly off-white head. It has an oily, slightly bubbly texture, definitely lighter than the Carnegie. The aroma reminded me of creme caramel.

As for the taste, there’s a huge explosion of roasted malt, biscuits and molasses. It’s rich without being sickly sweet, and has a fruity aftertaste (cherry?) that lingers. It slips down way too easily for 7%.

I think this is what we were after when we went looking for a Baltic porter. Something where the English stout influence is clear, but that has evolved into something else. All the publicity says that this is brewed to a traditional English recipe and is bottom fermented, but there were definitely elements of Schwarzbier in there too.

Pardubicky Porter (Czech Republic)

In response to our first post on Baltic Porters, Evan Rail drew our attention to the tradition of Czech “baltic” porters, telling us that Pardubicky had been the only regular example for a while. Upon hearing that we couldn’t get it in London, he sent us a bottle in the post. Top man. Sorry it’s taken so long to review it…

This is definitely an interesting beast. On their website, this also claims a nineteenth century recipe. It looks great, with a fluffy head, and smells a bit Belgian — candy sugar and booze!

Tastewise, it has a pleasing sourness that the other two didn’t have, as well as notes of molasses and port. At 8% it’s also stronger than the other two. Overall we probably preferred the Baltika, but this one’s definitely worth trying, and also delivers the right mix of the familiar and the exotic…

Boak

Tunnel brewing and marketing to the punter

tunnel2.jpgThe other week I was heading through Borough Market, on my way to Utobeer, when I spotted a temporary stall with some beer to taste.

It was manned by one of the brewers from the Tunnel Brewery, “Warwickshire’s newest microbrewery”, and they had around seven or eight of their products available to sample and buy, with a good discount on buying five or more bottles. From looking at their their website, they seem to have a strategy of selling direct to the punter via farmer’s markets.

I tried a couple, and as they were drinkable, went and bought five different bottles. This is four more bottles than I’d probably have bought if they’d been sitting on the shelves of Utobeer, all thanks to the fact that there was a bloke there, selling them. Oh, and the fact they had an exciting range, taking in traditional ales of all colours as well as lagers and wheatbeers.

Selling at markets therefore seems a good idea — as well as shifting more stock to the interested punters, they seemed to be doing a good job of getting passers-by to stop and try some. I can imagine this working even better in smaller farmers’ markets.

We’ve since tried three of the haul, and they’re very good. Well, the “Jean Cloudy Van Damme” Belgian Wit didn’t appeal to my personal tastes, but Bailey liked it. The Munich Style lager has a light golden colour, and excellent effervescence. Some malt in the mouth, but the overwhelming flavour is crisp, minty hops. Fruity and buttery notes reminded us more of a koelsch than a Munich lager, but it’s very tasty anyway.

My favourite was the Linda Lear “Dark Bitter” — I don’t know why it’s called dark, as it’s a golden-copper colour — but it’s certainly bitter. The initial dry and grassy taste didn’t bode well, but the flavours developed beautifully in the mouth; caramelly malt and flowery hops that linger in the mouth long after the beer has gone. It’s only 3.7% too.

Boak

Worthington White Shield doesn’t work in pubs

wws1.jpgThe first time we tried Worthington White Shield, we weren’t especially impressed. People told us that we needed to let it mature, so we gave that a go. The aged bottle did, indeed, taste fantastic.

But is there any room in the pub trade for a beer that needs to be aged for at least a year before it starts to live up to its reputation, and which tastes awful cold? I doubt we’re going to get pubs to change their habit of putting bottled beer in the fridge in a hurry, so beers which taste nice a bit frosty have a definite commercial advantage.

White Shield is a beer that only really makes sense at home.