Whichever Keg IPA They Have, Please

Keg fonts at a central London pub.

Last Friday in London I went out for a session with one of my oldest friends, someone I’ve known since we were both 11-years-old, and was frankly a bit startled when he ordered a pint of BrewDog Punk IPA.

The thing is, as long as we’ve been going to the pub together (about 20 years) I’ve known him as a Guinness drinker. He’d never touch cask-conditioned beer, AKA ‘real ale’ — his fall-back was always lager.

Now, it turns out he’s ditched Guinness and drinks kegged American-style IPA or, at a push, pale ale. (By the pint, by the way — he’s a big lad, my mate, quite capable of drinking ten pints without seeming much the worse for wear, and he likes that these beers are on the strong side, getting him pissed at about the same rate as a little Hobbit like me drinking bitter.)

It’s only one case, of course, but we reckon it says something about (a) the continuing decline in the status of Guinness as The Alternative Beer Brand; (b) the rise of aromatic hoppy beer as a mainstream product and (c) the increasing availability of kegged PA/IPA in non-specialist pubs.

Whether this is good news probably depends on whether you hate Guinness or BrewDog more.

Pub History: Field Work in West London

After spending an afternoon reading about pubs in the National Archives at Kew we were keen to actually visit some and so decided on a crawl through the West London heartland of Fuller’s.

We started, as the sun began to set, at The Tap on the Line which is, handily, right on the platform at Kew station. A converted railway buffet bar inspired we guess by the Sheffield Tap, it’s also a bit like a mini version of the Parcel Yard at King’s Cross with which it shares a tendency to vintage tiling and scrubbed wood. There was lots of eating, not much seating, and a row of keg taps on the back wall. The ubiquitous Edison bulbs were also present and correct. It’s easy to admire the good taste with which it’s been put together, and pubs at stations are A Good Thing, but it did feel, frankly, a bit like drinking in the kitchen department of John Lewis.

Window at the Old Pack Horse, Chiswick.

On the tube to Gunnersbury we pondered what we did like in a Fuller’s pub and, rather to our own surprise, found ourselves thinking, wistfully, that we hoped the next one would be one of the mid-2000s refurbs with shiny orange wood and the full range of cask ales. With that in mind, The Old Pack Horse on Chiswick High Road was a sight for sore eyes: a grand, vaguely-art-nouveau exterior from 1905 with frosted windows full of gleaming light, advertising Public and Saloon bars. Though the interior was spacious there seemed to be lots of corners, cubby-holes and screens making it feel quite intimate. An antique metal sign advertising The Empire Bar lurked in the shadows above the bar evoking the period of pomp when the pub was built. The beer offer was cask-led… just — a new craft beer menu (mostly in bottles) was in the process of being rolled out, and was being pushed fairly hard by staff. The Thai restaurant at the back was a genuinely pleasing reminder of a decade ago when every pub in London seemed to have the same.

Continue reading “Pub History: Field Work in West London”

Predictions & Resolutions For 2016

Making predictions is difficult, but fun; it can make commentators seem like great seers, or complete idiots. (Usually the latter.)

In the wake of the takeover of Camden by AB-InBev a lot of people said, ‘Well, I saw this coming.’ Funny thing is, we didn’t, not exactly:

Most other breweries we can think of with slick branding and accessible flagship brands that aren’t brown bitters — Camden, Thornbridge, Williams Bros — seem less likely, but for some reason, we keep thinking of Purity. An outside chance, maybe, but perhaps worth a flutter.

But we won’t let that stop us from making this our first prediction:

Thornbridge beer bottle caps.

1. At Least One More Big Beer Takeover of a UK Craft Brewer

Others with better insight than us — namely Melissa Cole and Martyn Cornell — seem to be of the view that AB-InBev might have done with the UK for now (UPDATE via Twitter) and will be roving the Continent looking for acquisition targets. Maybe they’re right but we reckon at least one more British brewery will go this year.

‘Who’s next?’ you ask.

Continue reading “Predictions & Resolutions For 2016”

What Is ‘Drinkability’?

That’s a thought-provoking and funny response to (we assume) this blog post by John Keeling of Fuller’s for Craft Beer London, in which he says:

[Beer] from kegs, cans and bottles has got a lot better over the last few years, they just don’t have that ultimate drinkability. That is cask ale’s trump card: if you’re having a few, there’s no doubt that cask ale is your best option. It’s better for flavour; a 3½ percent ale won’t work on keg but it can be superb on cask. For an occasion when you’re going to have four or five pints, cask is best.

‘Drinkability’ is one of those words that some people dislike, along with ‘refreshing’, ‘smooth’ and ‘creamy’, for reasons summed up in a post by American writer Bryan Roth last year:

Every beer, by virtue of being liquid, is smooth. But to declare a beer’s sensory characteristics simply as ‘smooth’ is no better than relying on its disgraceful cousin, ‘drinkability,’ which is essentially describing a beer as drinkable because it doesn’t kill you when you consume it… ‘Smooth’ is nothing more than word vomit, digested in the chasms of the brain, spewed from our mouths and flushed down our collective consciousness, only to reappear all around us, as if some form of contagious disease so easily passed from one person to the next.

Continue reading “What Is ‘Drinkability’?”

Late Addition Teabags

When trying to explain how the approach to using hops in beer has changed in the last 30 years we’ve frequently resorted to an analogy: brewing a cup of tea.

Traditionally, British brewing has used hops primarily for bitterness. Just look at some of the recipes Ron Pattinson has shared over the years, on his website and his splendid book: in most, the last hops are added no later than 30 minutes before the end of the boil. (We’ll get on to dry-hopping in a moment.)

In recent years, some trendy beers have tended to move the hop addition later and later in the brewing process — fifteen minutes from the end, ten minutes, five minutes, one minute, or even at the exact moment the boil stops. Sometimes that’s in addition to a base layer of bittering hops, but increasingly not.

Dry-hopping — the traditional method of adding hops to cool beer during fermentation, conditioning or storage — has also become more popular, and more extreme.

(You can read about all of this in more detail in another excellent book, Stan Hieronymus’s For the Love of Hops.)

Anyway, here’s that analogy: we’ve explained this to curious people as the difference between (a) making your morning cuppa by stewing a single tea-bag for ten minutes, or (b) by dipping in ten but only for twenty seconds. Continue reading “Late Addition Teabags”