Category Archives: Generalisations about beer culture

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

Do People Realise Breweries Have Gone?

In Exeter the other week we got talking to a bloke leaning on the bar in the pub.

He told us that he goes to the pub most days because, being single and in his fifties, the alternative is an empty flat: ‘The pub is like Facebook for me.’ He told us an excellent story about being in a Glasgow pub while Shane McGowan of the Pogues held court.

Eventually, though, we got on to the subject of beer and we trotted out our usual line: that Devon’s a bit of a weird case because it doesn’t have a big trad-family-regional brewer like Adnams or Wadworth.

‘Well, there’s Heavitree,’ he replied.

Heavitree does have pubs across the city and the region, often branded ‘Heavitree Brewery’ — we saw one in Teignmouth, for example — but the firm hasn’t actually produced any beer of its own since 1970. The brewhouse was demolished ten years after that.

How could he not know this?

Which made us wonder how many people don’t realise their own ‘local’ brewery no longer exists, or is now a subsidiary of another firm (Ringwood), or a ‘zombie brand’ (Mann’s, Gale’s), or is a completely new brewery using an old one’s trademarks (Truman).

Hardcore beer geeks like us obsess over details of ownership and history but, barring the odd scandal, most people (generalisation klaxon) don’t, just as we don’t keep tabs on who owns which car firms these days, or which chocolate bar brands.

Craft Cider, 1946

While we’ve lost the will to debate the meaning of ‘craft’ in relation to beer we remain on the look out for evidence of how the term took hold.

In 1946, Batsford (as in the pub guides) published a book called English Country Crafts by Norman Wymer. Most of it concerns, e.g., woodworking but there is a brief mention of cider-making:

Maybe it can hardly be called a craft in the strict sense, but cider-making is an interesting old country work… and is, I think, worth a mention… Modern methods of processing and bottling have caused cider, as sold in most parts, to deprecate in taste, while the large firms now buy up the farmers’ apples in such huge quantities that the old-style cider-making has almost died out… There is as much difference between the machine- and the home-made cider as between mass-produced and hand-made articles. If you doubt it, try a glass of each and judge for yourself. Then you will see why cider-making is regarded as a country craft.

Craft, modern methods, old-style, machine-made, home-made,hand-made, mass-produced… How do you like them apples? (Ahem… sorry…)

On the other side of the coin, Paul Jennings’s The Local (2007) quotes Charles Barclay of Barclay Perkins describing himself and his peers, in 1830, rather wonderfully, as ‘power-loom brewers’.

Main image source.

Drink It Until You Like It

In his essay ‘The Man Who Ate Everything’ Jeffrey Steingarten argues that (a) food critics really cannot claim authority if they have aversions to particular ingredients; and (b) that such aversions, should they exist, can be fairly easily overcome.

When it comes to beer there are people who don’t like lager, or find stout too intense, or think hoppy IPAs ‘taste like a mouthful of soap‘. Some people just don’t like beer full stop. There’s nothing wrong with that — people ought to drink what they enjoy drinking — but those who have a niggling sense that they’re missing out could try Steingarten’s method:

We come into the world with a yen for sweets… and a weak aversion to bitterness, and after four months develop a fondness for salt… And that’s about it. Everything else is learned. Newborns are not repelled even by the sight and smell of putrefied meat crawling with maggots… Most parents give up trying novel foods on their weanlings after two or three attempts and then complain to the pediatrician; this may be the most common cause of fussy eaters and finicky adults — of omnivores manqués. Most babies will accept nearly anything after eight or ten tries.

With that principle in mind, after eating each on ten or so different occasions, Steingarten grew to love kimchi (Korean pickle), clams, anchovies, and various other foodstuffs that had previously made him turn green. In most cases, it seems that exposure wasn’t really the key — it was actually forcing himself to eat enough examples that he eventually happened upon a good one — but the message is the same: keep trying.

For this to work in weaning you on to a beer style of which you are sceptical you would, like Steingarten, have to genuinely want to get to like it. If you are determined to resist because, for example, not liking lager is a dogmatic position rather than really a matter of taste, it wouldn’t make any difference.

You might also, we suppose, use the same technique to increase your tolerance for extremes of bitterness, sweetness, sourness, booziness, yeastiness, or whatever characteristic it is in general that you find challenging in beer.

But it probably won’t help you learn to love a beer that is just, at it’s core, a bit shit.

We’re not quite sure of the publication history of the essay: it’s dated 1989 and 1996 in the book of the same name so we think it must have appeared in Vogue in 1989. You can read it in full on the New York Times website.