Category Archives: Generalisations about beer culture

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.

The Lure of Luxury, The Call of Craft?

Why do people buy ‘fancy beer’ — because it tastes better, or because it ‘signals’ status?

Psychologist Paul Bloom’s article ‘The Lure of Luxury‘ mentions beer only in passing — ‘the attractive stranger in a bar is aroused by your choice of beer’ — but anyone who’s been called a snob for drinking a £6 pint, or rolled their eyes at the glitzy packaging of a limited edition IPA, will get the relevance.

Dr Bloom sets out two opposing points of view:

  1. People want luxury goods because they look, feel or taste good — they give pleasure in and of themselves.
  2. Luxury goods are status symbol designed to impress others and signal ‘intelligence, ambition, and power’.

The truth, he argues, lies somewhere in between:

Now, only a philistine would deny Postrel’s point that some consumer preferences are aesthetic, even sensual. And only a rube would doubt that some people buy some luxury items to impress colleagues, competitors, spouses, and lovers. Perhaps we can divvy up the consumer world. An appreciation of beauty explains certain accessible and universal consumer pleasures—Postrel begins her book in Kabul after the Taliban fell, describing how the women there reveled in their freedom to possess burkas of different colors and to paint their nails—while signaling theory applies to the more extravagant purchases. A crimson burka? Aesthetics. A $30,000 watch? Signaling. Aristotle Onassis’s choice to upholster the bar stools in his yacht with whale foreskin? Definitely signaling.

He goes on to consider why an exact replica of an object isn’t as desirable as the real thing; why when people buy a celebrity’s jumper in a charity auction they don’t want it dry-cleaned first; and whether anyone needs six mechanical wrists to automatically wind their collection of Rolex watches.

Let’s attempt to translate those questions: Why do people continue to hunt down and pay through the nose for Westvleteren 12 when none but the most refined palates can tell it from St Bernardus Abt 12? Why is beer brewed under contract less appealing than otherwise? Does anyone need a £168 six-pack of beer?

When you choose a beer is it really ‘about flavour’ — the defensive cry of the craft beer drinker accused of extravagance — or something else? And, of course, something else might be fine, depending on your values, and the pleasure it brings is just as real.

We found Dr Bloom’s article via If you can’t be bothered to read it you can see him speaking on related topics at the TED Talks website.