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?
Trusting our peers, rather than dabbling with one or two, we included half a dozen (@ £1.95 each, plus P&P) in our last order from Beer Merchants, placed at the height of the recent heat wave when we were craving things cold and refreshing.
At first, we were a little disappointed: compared to the cans of St Austell Korev we had picked up from the local CO-OP (@ about £1.10 each) Fourpure Pils seemed rather rough-edged. Last night, however, having emptied the last two cans and crushed them against our foreheads with a roar (obviously not) we concluded that it was good stuff after all.
It is, for one thing, far from bland: by the standards of most beers calling themselves Pils, it has a pronounced wild-flower, blackcurrant, stinging nettle hop aroma, back up by a robust, parching bitterness.
The hint of roughness remained in evidence, however — somewhere in the brewing and packaging process, we’d guess there is oxygen where there shouldn’t be, leading to a persistent stale, papery note in the background. It’s much, much cleaner than our home-brewed lager (plastic bucket, no temperature control) but there are similarities.
Depending on your tastes, though, this might read as that much-desired quality — ‘character’.
We couldn’t resist one final experiment — would it taste different necked straight from the can? Side-by-side with a serving in a fancy stemmed tasting glass, we noted to our surprise that despite this practical issue…
Want the great taste of can but only have bottles? Simply hold a piece of filthy aluminium under your nose while drinking.
…the aroma was actually far better, concentrated through the tiny aperture into a needle of bright hoppiness right up the nostrils. From a glass, though still punchy, aroma, flavour and bitterness all seemed generally gentler.
In conclusion, we’d buy Fourpure Pils again, and look forward to trying it on tap when we get the chance.
Founded in 1977, Godson’s was the first new brewing company to be established in London for decades, and we’re quite proud of having tracked down its founder, Patrick Fitzpatrick.
We’ve described him a few times now as the original Hackney hipster brewer — bearded, charming and hippyish, he was only in his twenties when he went into business in East London, having been inspired on a trip to India.
For one reason and another, we were obliged to remove a section explaining the downfall of Godson’s from the final draft of the book, but accidentally left in a teasing line suggesting that ‘everything that could go wrong did…’
Now, slightly edited (but hopefully transparently so) is a chunk of the transcript of our interview with Mr Fitzpatrick, which will hopefully satisfy those of you who were left on tenterhooks.
The first brewery was in Hackney and that was a temporary premises. We knew it was due to be redeveloped, at some point, into a car park, but we asked how long we had it for and they said, oh, five or ten years. Then Mrs Thatcher came to power and, to stimulate the economy, ordered councils to spend on capital projects. Someone in Hackney Council didn’t realise we’d been promised this premises by their property division and the development was suddenly moved forward.
Tower Hamlets heard about this and they invited us in. The Gunmaker’s Lane property was totally unsuitable – absolutely everything about it was wrong. It was an old, wooden-floored warehouse. We also had staff problems, employing people through the local employment exchange. It was a bad summer for brewing, by which I mean it was really hot, so we had quality control problems, but we had to keep up the supply to customers.
I also had a bit of a falling out with [logistics manager] Hugo Freeman and [brewer] Rob Adams… [and] they both left the industry, as far as I know.
In the autumn/winter of the same year, we moved again, to the Black Horse brewery. This was much better, but, again, everything had to be moved. While we were moving around, we couldn’t brew or sell our own beer…
Then there was the Tisbury merger, which was really a reverse takeover. We heard about them through John Wilmot, who was also working as a consultant for them. My wife wanted to move out of London and so this seemed like a good opportunity. It was in a mess, though, and we had to close it down and rebuild it, all the while having the beer brewed in London, which wasn’t ideal. Then, in 1983, they got taken over, while we were in the process of ‘due diligence’ for the merger, by a company which was investing gold salvaged from a World War II shipwreck… I pulled out, being owed something like £120k.
Then Everards, Adnams, Hall & Woodhouse and Ruddles set up their own distribution company and offered me the chance to go in with them. I think, now, wrongly, I did so. I thought, great – if they take on distribution, then I can concentrate on brewing, but I hadn’t realised what an essential combination the two were…
We also took on another brewery, Chudley, which was run by Tom Chudley in Maida Vale. I thought we were taking on a business partner who could actually brew and would look after production, but… [actually] we inherited his debt. [B&B: And then Chudley left the company.]
All this ‘corporate’ stuff began to take over from the actual brewing, and just wore me out. We eventually sold the rights to the name to Peter Gibb at Gibb’s Mews, and I left brewing.
So there you go –the lack of a decent, stable premises, and a series of partnerships that didn’t work out, were what did for Godson’s.
“The respectable man of the lower order is a clerk undoubtedly… He lives in a small, eight-roomed house, in a terrace with a high-sounding name, ‘Adeliza’ or ‘Navarino’, in Camden-town or Dalston. He lets the drawing-room floor to a single gentleman… Pewter pots are never seen hanging on the area rails; for, in his respectability, he looks upon public-houses as the favourite baits of the devil, and has a four and a half-gallon cask of the mildest and cheapest bitter beer from the Romford brewery always on tap in his coal-cellar. It is with this innocuous fluid that the single gentleman and his friends are occasionally supplied, and charged at the rate of fourpence per pint.”
It seems to us that it was not so much a ‘style’ as the product of a single brewery — Dreher, of Klein-Schwechat, Vienna — with a few imitators trying to muscle in on the market it had created.
It appealed to Piccadilly Johnny — the hipster of his day –because:
It was served cold.
It had higher levels of carbonation.
It was paler than Munich Dunkel. (Though not as pale as Pilsner.)
He believed it wasn’t ‘intoxicating’. (We think this was psychological.)
‘German’ stuff was fashionable, while English stuff was considered inherently naff.
Now, almost 150 years later, though there aren’t many descendants of Dreher’s Vienna beer, they are at least relatively easy to find, and not just in the West End of London.
Even near us, in deepest Cornwall, there are several pubs selling kegged Brooklyn Lager (5.2%), while bottles can be found in your local Wetherspoon, and most supermarkets. It’s one of the first self-declared ‘craft beers’ many people drink — it certainly was for us. Is it a convincing Vienna beer? Without going back to 1870, we can’t be sure, but we can’t believe its flowery hop aroma is remotely authentic. It is Dreher’s beer, via the 19th century New York beer hall, via the ‘real ale revolution’, via US ‘craft beer’.
Another widely available example is Negra Modelo (5.4%) from Mexico. In production since the 1920s, it is a lingering reminder of the country’s historic connections with Austria. It’s been a while since we drank one but our recollection is of a lager already lacking bitterness into which someone had then stirred a teaspoon of refined brown sugar. The brewery themselves sometimes call it a ‘Munich Dunkel’ — it is certainly darker than amber.
Finally, there’s Thornbridge’s Kill Your Darlings (5%), a case of which we have been working on for a couple of months. Smooth and clean almost to the point of blandness, it certainly tastes authentically Continental, and makes a change from pale lager while offering a similar kind of straightforward refreshment. It, too, is perhaps rather too Munich-dark to be quite authentic. Still, we’d like to drink a pint or two of this at the Craft Beer Co in Covent Garden, which isn’t far from the Strand — epicentre of the original Vienna beer craze.
On balance, the least authentic of the three, Brooklyn Lager, with its distinctly English dry-hopping regime, is probably the tastiest.
One of the projects we’re working on now is about lager in London in the 19th century — probably for a short e-book. In the meantime, we wholeheartedly recommend Ron Pattinson’s book Lager.