Category Archives: opinion

Why Brew Gose Instead of Mild?

There’s a simple answer to this question: because no-one in Britain actually likes mild.

Of course that’s not quite true — a few people are obsessive about it, and quite a few others like the occasional pint for a change. In the Midlands through to the North West, it seems there are even some regular mild drinkers left.

In general, though, it’s a style that the Campaign for Real Ale has been trying to get people excited about for 40 years with little success. First wave CAMRA members prefered cult bitters; in more recent years, they’ve turned their attention to hoppy golden ales.

And many (most?) post-2005 craft beer enthusiasts think like Tony Naylor — what’s the point of it?

[Mild] as it developed in the 20th century, was a low-strength (around 3%), very-lightly hopped beer, that became a staple thirst-quencher for miners, factory workers and anyone keen to sink eight pints and still get up for their shift the next morning… Flavours… were deliberately dialled-down to an innocuous level. Even its most misty-eyed fans admit that this was a beer designed to be undemanding, easy drinking.

They’ve got a point, too: if ‘connoisseurs’ rejected Foster’s lager and Watney’s Red because they were weak, sweet, bland and fizzy, then mild’s only point of superiority is that it isn’t usually highly-carbonated. Not much of a sales pitch.

“But no-one likes Gose either!” That might well be true but, if they dislike Gose, it’s because it tastes weird, which is preferable in marketing terms to tasting bland. And, as it’s usually bottled or kegged, not that many people have to like it for it to be worth brewing or stocking. Cask mild, on the other hand, needs a few people to drink several pints a night if it’s to be any good at all.

Nor does it help that lots of milds are, regrettably, bloody awful. We do like mild (mostly, it must be said, for sentimental reasons) but even we struggle with pints of sweet bland bitter dyed black with caramel or, worse, mislabelled, watery stouts that taste like the rinsings from a dirty coffee percolator.

We’d love to see more mild around — we can go months without a taste of the stuff — but let’s not kid ourselves that, if only, say, Magic Rock would make one, it could be cool again.

Somewhere Between Passion and Greed

We stick by the idea that most brewers, or most craft brewers — cut it how you like — are motivated more by passion than greed.

But let’s unpack that word ‘passion’ a bit: it doesn’t necessarily mean gibbering, cultish fervour. How many people are really passionate about what they do to pay the rent? But plenty of people have jobs they find interesting, stimulating and enjoyable; and, if they didn’t, would probably go and do something else instead.

That’s not to say that someone who starts a brewing business doesn’t hope that, at the very least, the venture will cover its costs, and that they don’t set out with the dreams of making a few quid down the line.

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‘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’.

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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.

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