The Return of Dogbolter

What's Brewing magazine, Winter 1980/81, featuring David Bruce.

When we interviewed David ‘Firkin’ Bruce last summer, he told us about his new role as Chairman of the West Berkshire Brewery.

Last week, that rather belatedly triggered an idea: maybe, with a brewery at hand, he might be convinced, for the first time since the 1980s, to personally brew a beer to an original Firkin recipe.

He responded enthusiastically to the idea and is going to dig out his original 1979 recipe for the famous Dogbolter (all grain, no malt extract) and recreate it in the brewhouse at WBB.

It should be available on draught in time for the launch of Brew Britannia in June. There will also be a nationally-marketed bottled version available at some point afterwards.

UPDATE 23/04/2014: David Bruce says –

The WBB will be brewing 30 brewers’ barrels of my original Dogbolter (full-mash grist at 1060° O.G.) at 7:30 am on Wednesday 21st May.  This will be packaged to produce 40 firkins and c. 6,000 commemorative bottles, all to be available nationally from 2nd Jun.

Having spent so much time and effort researching the rise and fall of the Firkin brewpubs, we’re really excited at the prospect of actually tasting it.**

In fact, with the ’1970s bitter’ currently being tinkered with at Kirkstall in Leeds, and talk of an anniversary batch of Litchborough Bitter at Phipps NBC, it’s going to be an interesting couple of months for we who lust after long gone beers.

We’ll post more details on availability when we have them.

** We have, of course, tasted the Ramsgate Brewery beer of the same name. Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into one of those trademark disputes everyone hates.

Neu Alt?

Modern Alt Bier.

We broadly agree with the sentiment expressed here: it would be a shame if ‘craft beer’ in Germany amounted to nothing more than mediocre imitations of American styles.

At the same time, we don’t demand that other beer cultures remain unchanged as a theme park for visiting beer geeks — we enjoy the fruits of fifty years of increasing diversity in UK brewing, so why would German beer geeks be any different?

What we would like to see, alongside properly traditional styles, is German brewers riffing upon their own brewing heritage, just as US and UK brewers have upon the idea of India Pale Ale and porter.

What, for example, would a modern take on Alt look like?

Perhaps it might have some or most of of its bittering hops reallocated to the late aroma stage, showcasing Perle and other traditional varieties: a change in process, not a change in ingredients.

It might use American hops while retaining the traditional colour, ABV and yeast character. (That would not make it an India Alt, by the way.)

Or maybe it could just be stronger, paler and more bitter? (Yes, we know about Sticke.)

An example of where something like this is already happening is the ‘Hopfen Weisse’ from venerable wheat beer brewer Schneider.

Schneider Hopfen Weisse in its original packaging.

We haven’t conducted a thorough survey of German craft beer and we’re quite out of touch, so there may be many other examples of distinctly German beers which are also ‘modern’. Let us know below, especially if we can get our hands on them here in the UK.

All of the posts in Barm’s recent serial German travelogue are worth a read 1 | 2 | 3  ).

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

George Simonds

Brewery owner George Simonds c.1910

We know that the idea of small vs. big in the world of brewing isn’t new, but it was in the post-war period that brewers in Britain got really big to the point where it began to seem problematic.

They were complacent, arrogant and confident in the belief that consumers wanted consistency and familiarity above all else, and as a result, removed much of the diversity and flavour (for better or worse) from British beer.

It’s too much to say that big beer has been ‘overthrown’ in the last fifty years, but it has certainly been challenged — not only by consumers and small brewers, but also by governments which supported vibrant entrepreneurship over tweedy stolidity.

But none of those Big Six breweries began life as faceless monoliths. They were all small breweries once, founded by plucky individuals who saw an opportunity to challenge the status quo and make some money on the way. Eventually, though, they had to hand over control to sons and grandsons until, hundreds of years later, push-me-pull-you committees of cousins, in-laws and outsiders with no real interest in beer were in charge.

Our suspicion is that, of the current wave of new brewers (1970s to now) some will inevitably become the new Whitbreads and Watneys.

That doesn’t mean their beer will necessarily become terrible overnight (Watney’s beer was pretty good in the 1920s, it seems) but big breweries with lots at stake take fewer risks, and are more easily tempted into diminishing the beer for the sake of profit.

We don’t see, say, Sierra Nevada going into the Lite Lager business any time soon, but we can imagine, in thirty years time, a business which seems complacent and arrogant, and of which people will say: “They’re so dominant that no-one else can get into the market, and all they produce is that bland, dumbed-down, sub-6% pale ale crap…”

If that does happen, there will be plenty of brewers waiting to challenge them, and the cycle will continue.

This was prompted by a conversation between Alan McLeod and Stan Hieronymus.

Going Long in August 2014

Reading in the pub (illustration)

We’re writing something longer than usual (1500+ words) for Saturday 30 August 2014. Join us!

Our last attempt to nudge the Blogoshire into providing us with meatier reading material was on 1 March, following on from similar exercises in November and September last year.

This time, to give people time to recuperate and work on their masterpieces, we thought we’d set a longer deadline, hence 30 August.

Here’s the deal if you want to join in:

  • Write something longer than usual. (Our standard posts are 300-700 words long, so we aim for at least 1500 before we consider it a ‘long read’.)
  • You could just stretch a normal post out by adding lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of unnecessary words, phrases, sentences, and indeed paragraphs. But that’s quite the point. Instead, choose a subject which requires more words.
  • We’re not in charge and there are no ‘rules’; you can write what you like, post when you like; and you don’t have to mention us or link to this blog in your post. (Though of course it would be nice.)
  • If you want us to include your contribution in our round-up, let us know. The simplest way is by Tweeting a link with the hashtag #beerylongreads.
  • TIP: think of something you want to read but that doesn’t seem to exist — an interview with a particular brewer, the history of beer in a specific town, the story of a famous pub — and then write it.
  • Drop us a line if you want advice or just to run your idea past someone.

Last time we did this, we had a flurry of messages from people saying: ‘I didn’t know this was happening!’ We’ll issue a few reminders at tactical intervals but, in the meantime, put it in your diaries!

We haven’t decided what we’re going to write about yet. If you have any suggestions (our Newquay Steam Beer post was prompted by an email from a reader) let us know in the comments below.

News, Nuggets and Longreads 12/04/2014

Bloke drinking beer.

Before we head off to conduct earnest research into Cornish beer for our now annual ‘best beers‘ blog post, some bits and pieces of interest.

→ If you don’t follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you might have missed that, yesterday, instead of a blog post, we added a new page: “So you’re thinking about getting seriously into beer?

→ News just in: the esteemed judges of the World Beer Cup (PDF link) agree with us about Magic Rock Salty Kiss. (Albeit in the weirdly specific category of fruit wheat beers.)

→ Here’s Phil Mellows on Marston’s programme of pub building. (In Somerset last weekend, we saw that they built a brand new plastick Olde Worlde country inn two doors down from an actually old country inn. Hmmmm.)

→ This from Adnams is a great example of how to respond to frequently asked questions from customers: what exactly is the difference between cask and bottled Broadside?

→ Saved to Pocket this week:

→ And, finally, we agree with Richard:

Writing about beer and pubs since 2007