Category Archives: opinion

‘It’s Meant to be Like That’: 2015 Edition

Tandleman has long been an outspoken critic of unfined beer, primarily on the grounds that hazy beer looks bad and, in his experience, usually tastes bad.

We haven’t always been receptive to that — the idea that clear = tasty, cloudy = rough is, we’re certain, a learned cultural prejudice — but in recent months, Mr T has made an ever-more persuasive case for why everyone should share his concern: it is confusing people, dragging down the quality of cask ale overall, or at least threatens to, and is damaging public confidence.

We’re not completely convinced there’s a trubocalypse underway, not least because most ‘normal’ pubs and the people who drink in them aren’t remotely interested in the politics of unfined beer. The following recent Twitter exchange, however, suggests there might well be an issue at the specialist end of the market (click the date below to read the whole thread):

Now, half-arsed bar staff have been using ‘It’s meant to be like that’ as a deflection probably for as long as beer has been sold — we remember being given a pint of vinegar in a pub in Salisbury and the chap behind the counter insisting ‘real ale is meant to have a tang to it’ — but this new angle on the same wheeze isn’t good news.

Perhaps hazy-beer-brewers labelling their products with a warning is no longer sufficient — maybe breweries who want their beer served bright should also state that clearly on the pump-clips and keg lenses, and shout about it on social media? It would be difficult for bar staff to say ‘Oh, it comes hazy’ if the point-of-sale material states boldly otherwise. And there’s plenty of historical precedent:

Brickwoods advertisement, 1912.
From 1912.

Cloudwater specifically has another problem: that name, which rather implies that all its beers might be ‘fantastically cloudy‘.

What Do We Mean by ‘Variety’?

When we’re asked what we want from British beer culture we tend to say ‘Variety,’ but what exactly does that mean?

The story of Brew Britannia is arguably that of the journey — dare we say of progress? — from homogeneity to variety. A Which? magazine article from April 1972 sums up where thing were at back then:

Our tasters thought none smelt very strongly in the glass — none were either unpleasant or very pleasant… As far as taste went, the overwhelming impression of our tasters was that none of the keg beers had an very characteristic taste… We can see little reason for preferring one keg bitter to another…

But 43 years on, it’s not unusual to hear even hardened beer geeks emit the occasional whine about the ‘agony of choice’.

Continue reading What Do We Mean by ‘Variety’?

Trousered on Craft

Stumbling home the other night, we reached a conclusion: the biggest problem with ‘craft’ beer (def. 2) is that it gets us more drunk than ‘normal’ beer.

It’s a multi-pronged attack.

First, it seems to us generally stronger. Whereas old-school breweries are pushing best bitters at c.4%, trendier breweries tend to have as their flagship products pale ales and IPAs at 5-6% ABV.

Then, secondly, that almost inevitably forces special releases and one-offs into high ABV territory and, let’s be honest, to people like us, those are all but irresistible, quite apart from the fact that big flavours paired with big booze often tastes so nice.

Continue reading Trousered on Craft

One to Watch: Sarah Warman, Influencer

A while ago, we thought aloud about whether there was anyone talking or writing about beer with anything like the ability of Jamie Oliver or Delia Smith to mention a product and immediately cause it to sell out across the country.

Though she’s not quite there, we reckon Sarah Warman (@sarahfwarman) might be the one to watch. (Literally.)

Back in 2011, we joined Twitter because we were frustrated by the BBC’s blank refusal to mention beer in any substantial way on its flagship weekend cookery show Saturday Kitchen and wanted to join in a campaign to encourage them to reconsider. It didn’t really work.

In recent months, however, without much fanfare, Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch (another show following much the same template of light chat around a cooker) has done what we all wanted and made beer a semi-regular feature, with Ms. Warman as their in-house expert.

Continue reading One to Watch: Sarah Warman, Influencer

What Meantime Means to Us

As well as its significance in the ‘rebirth of British beer’, Alastair Hook’s Meantime Brewery has been important to us on a personal level.

Meantime taught us that lager wasn’t just lager: tasting the range side by side, we could tell that ‘Cologne-style’ was not the same as Helles, which was definitely different to Golden Beer.  They were subtle, but distinctive.

Meantime put Vienna-style lager and Kölsch in Sainsburys supermarkets where we could buy four bottles for £4 and we turned up at many parties and barbecues with those packs under our arms c.2004.

Having read about porter, we wanted to taste it, but there didn’t seem to be many around a decade ago; Meantime fixed that, too. And their big 7.5% IPA was among the first we tasted that gave us a glimpse of what had people so excited about US takes on the style, and so dismissive of Greene King’s — it was boozy, fruity, juicy and bold.

The Union, Meantime’s brewery tap in Greenwich, was the first British pub where we really noticed beer being treated with respect. Half pints came in stemmed tulip glasses, bottles were served in snifters, and no-one seemed to care how much or how little you drank as long as you enjoyed it. We crossed London to get there, time and time again, and there was always something new to try. It was the world of Michael Jackson’s books brought to life.

In recent years, however, our ardour has faded. The brewery’s focus seems to have moved from obscure sub-styles to London Lager (oh, so lager is just lager after all?), Pale Ale and Yakima Red — beers that want so badly to be accepted everywhere that they blend into the banquettes. Alastair Hook has always been obsessed with consistency and control — he is passionate and eloquent on the subject — but perhaps, in recent years, Meantime has too often crossed the fine line between clean and bland? (We’re not sure, to be honest, that they are an upgrade from the mainstream as Pete Brown argues here, though we know what he means.)

This isn’t about demanding obscurity or ‘extremes’: if we want US-style pale ale, we buy Sierra Nevada. Porter? Sam Smith’s or Anchor. Big IPA? BrewDog Punk, or the ubiquitous Goose Island IPA, at £2 a bottle. If we want a British-brewed version of a classic German style, we increasingly find ourselves looking to Thornbridge. (Where the brewing team is led by Rob Lovatt, formerly of… Meantime.)

The acquisition of Meantime by SAB Miller isn’t catastrophic, just another step in the direction they’ve been travelling for some time. We’ll always have a soft spot for Meantime, and will continue to make pilgrimages to Greenwich, where the draught lager can still be transcendent.