Category Archives: Generalisations about beer culture

Illustration: red coffee cup.

Bewildered by Coffee

Our experience in a smart independent coffee shop in Falmouth this weekend gave us a glimpse into how many people must feel when they enter a craft beer bar.

We like coffee, but (as with whisky, wine, cheese) we don’t know very much, having not chosen to expend any mental energy reading on the subject, or forcing ourselves to concentrate as we consume. We’ve picked up a few nuggets of folk knowledge here and there, and think we can spot a bad cup of coffee in the wild, but that’s about it.

Walking through the door of Espressini Dulce on Arwenack Street, we were confronted by… well, not much. There was a blackboard with descriptions of four varieties of coffee and, once it had been pointed out to us, a minimalist list of methods of preparation –espresso, cortado, and so on.

We didn’t know what to do — what was the difference between the varieties of coffee? Would we be laughed out of the place for drinking anything other than espresso? So we just stood there, as if our operating systems had crashed.

Noticing our confusion, the chap behind the counter offered assistance, and we confessed our ignorance. He explained how the top two blends were available for espresso; and described their respective flavours with references to chocolate and red berries.

After all that, we went for one of each, cortado-style: here, we realised, was a chance for our first ever comparative coffee tasting experience!

And they both tasted… really nice. We could tell they were different, but didn’t detect chocolate, berries or smoke. Just coffee. Coffee with hints of coffee, and underlying coffee notes.

Yes, for a brief moment, we were those people beer geeks roll their eyes at: “It all tastes like beer to me — what do people normally have?”

Keg taps.

Beer, Beer Everywhere…

Last week, we watched with interest as an American customer tried to buy a beer in a British pub.

The pub in question had a slightly larger than usual selection of bottles and (self-declared) ‘craft keg’ along with several cask-conditioned ales in very good condition.

Behind the bar was a twenty-something with a sleepy manner bordering on off-hand.

Enter the American, white-haired and friendly: “I gotta get a beer. What IPA’s have ya got?”

The twenty-something blinked, recalling staff training, and pointed at a keg font. “Uh… This one’s new in, from… uh… the US–”

“Oh, that’s a great beer, but I didn’t come all this way to drink something made 20 miles from where I live! What else have ya got?”

The twenty-something looked startled. “Well, on cask–”

“Oh, I can’t drink that flat beer! I need the carbonation, know what I mean?”

At this point, what we’d thought was a pretty decent selection started to look rather narrow, like a Guess Who? board in the final stages of a game.

The twenty-something was struggling and stretched out a hand, hesitantly, to the font for a kegged pale ale. “This is from London, it’s quite hoppy–”

“IBUs?”

“Er…”

“How bitter is it in international units? Yeah, gimme a taste,” he said, realising the twenty-something wouldn’t be able to answer. On sipping, he screwed up his face.

“What else have ya got?”

“We have another pale ale from a local brewery–”

“Lemme  taste it.” Clearly unimpressed by its flavour, he nonetheless shrugged in resignation. “Yeah, OK, I guess I’ll take a small glass of that — a half a pint.” (He didn’t drink it.)

* * *

There were several things about this exchange that interested us. First, by ruling out the cask-conditioned ales, the visitor was fatally limiting his own choice and missing out (in our opinion) on the best beer that particular pub had to offer.

At the same time, the fact that there wasn’t a single beer he could really get excited about out of a range of 12 or so draught products suggested to us that British craft beer (definition 2) in the mainstream still has plenty of catching up to do with the US equivalent.

And, finally, the poor twenty-something’s struggle shows that training is a good start but only goes so far without (sorry) ‘passion’ to back it up.

Sinclair C5.

100 WORDS: Yes, That Must Be It

We drank it on the wrong day, in the wrong way, in the wrong place.

We drank it too cool, too warm, too soon, too late. We got a bad bottle, from a bad batch, from a bad source. Our glasses were dirty, our palates fatigued. The moon was full, an east wind was blowing, and there was an R in the month.

We’re prejudiced, stupid, closed-minded, and probably liars, too.

Taste is subjective, anyway, and wouldn’t it be boring if we all liked the same things?

Yes, that must be it — that must be why we didn’t like your beer.

Native or Local?

Illustration: government stamp on a British pint glass.

Reading around the blogoshire today, there seems to be a connection to be made between two interesting posts.

First, Matt ‘Total Ales’ Curtis reports on the Hop & Berry, a pub in Islington, North London, which sets out to act a showcase for the booming London brewing scene. (See Beer Guide London for the list we always refer to.) Our first thought was: “Beer geeks visiting London from overseas will find a one-stop-shop very handy.”

But then there’s Joe ‘Thirsty Pilgrim’ Stange writing of a recent trip to London:

As a Traveler with Thirst I don’t really care about British ‘craft beer.’ It’s OK as a curiosity. As a journalist it’s interesting. But these days you can get aromatic, bitter IPA nearly anywhere in the world. Even Costa Rica. Even Germany. Why would I drink that in the UK, which has its own, special, underappreciated thing? Yes, I can see how folks who have drunk brown bitter all their lives might be bored with it. I’m not.

It seems that native style, then, might be a more important idea than local manufacture.

Thought experiment: if you were to visit Berlin, would you feel you’d had a more authentic experience drinking American-brewed Berliner Weisse, or locally made Cascade-hopped IPA?

Illustration: raising a glass to the lips.

100 Words: Hype & Prejudice

I like things. You over-rate things. They are fanboys.

The brewery I like gets well-deserved attention. The brewery you like is all marketing. The brewery they like is all hype.

The beer I like is hoppy. The beer you like is boring. The beer they like is silly, unbalanced hipster nonsense.

I take beer just seriously enough. You take beer too seriously. They are pretentious.

I know a good thing when I see it. You are entitled to your opinions, however absurd. They are fools, admiring the emperor’s new clothes.

Everybody else is wrong.