Beamish & Crawford's Cork Porter Brewery.

GALLERY: Brewing in Ireland c.1902

The invaluable and labyrinthine Internet Archive (archive.org) recently made available millions of public domain images from old books, searchable by keyword, on Flickr.com.

This gallery comes from a 1902 book called Ireland: industrial and agricultural which has a substantial section on brewing in Ireland.

(We’ve tidied the images up a bit and flipped them all the right way round.)

Unlikely Wow Factor

taddy_porter_474

It’s been a while since a beer delighted us, without quibbles and caveats.

That’s how life goes, of course: most beers — or films, books, cakes, or whatever — are absolutely fine without necessarily triggering swooning fits.

But still, we have made an effort to try a few new beers lately, hoping to find a gem, and placed orders with Beer Merchants and Beer Ritz with that in mind.

Multiple IPAs and US-style pale ales from British breweries, however, triggered the same reaction: “It’s fine, but nothing to write home about.” (Or, rather, to write a blog post about.) Grassiness; occasionally yeastiness; one-dimensionality… none gave us chills.

Maybe we’re just tired of beers which are all about hops, though, because  the two beers that did cause us to sit up straight, included to make up the numbers in our order from Beer Ritz, are members of the stout family: Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter and the same brewery’s Imperial Stout.

Now, these beers are by no means new to us, or to anyone else. When we used to drink in London, hardly a week went by without a bottle or two of the former, while the latter, being rarer, was a beer we would go out of our way to find. (Tip: the Dover Castle, Weymouth Mews, always seems to have it.)

And Sam Smith’s is not a trendy brewery, nor even very likeable — something which, being human, can influence our opinions.

The taste, though! In both cases, the word that springs to mind is luscious, and both share a tongue-coating, silky, fortified wine feel in the mouth.

Taddy Porter (5%, £2.62 per 550ml) is the kind of beer that we would like to be able to drink more often on draught, in the pub. Just over the line from brown into a black, and a notch beyond sessionable, it is boldly flavoured without being attention-seeking, the emphasis being on flavours of sweetened cocoa and plummy, dark berries. If you’ve ever soaked dried fruit overnight in black tea as a cake ingredient, you’ll get the idea. Perhaps the best bottled porter on the market today?

Imperial Stout (£2.16 per 355ml) makes more sense as a ‘double stout’ — not so dark and heavy as to insist on a fancy glass, a smoking jacket and the undivided attention of the drinker, but perfect for nights when you want just one beer before bed. The flavour is somewhere between chocolate brownie and Christmas pudding, with just a suggestion of something bright and green, like gooseberry, ringing in the background. Resolution: we should always have some of this in the house.

The source of the ‘wow’ in both beers is hard to pin down. Our best guess is that, being cleanly and simply made, without a fog of off-flavours and confusion, the flavours of dark malt and dark brewing sugars are really allowed to shine through, in instantly gratifying fashion. But that’s just a guess, and there’s not much point in asking Mr Smith to elaborate.

Like the 60-year-old we once saw steal the show in a nightclub by performing a series of expert line dancing manoeuvres across the centre of the dance floor, one of these beers in particular — Taddy Porter — has made itself a contender for our beer of the year, in the unlikely company of Magic Rock/Lervig Farmhouse IPA and Bristol Beer Factory Belgian Conspiracy. We’ll schedule a proper taste-off for December.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 06/09/2014

Breakfast in the Palace, Leeds, by Bob Peters, from Flickr under Creative Commons.
Breakfast in the Palace, Leeds, by Bob Peters, from Flickr under Creative Commons.

Here’s some stuff from around the blogoshire and beyond to read once you’ve finished stumbling through the empties in search of a scraper for your tongue.

→ Oliver Gray at Literature and Libation explores beer pricing in the US with reference to some inside information on margins and material costs:

When you slap down $7 for a pint, you’re not paying for the sum of the ingredients, no matter how exotic the hops or rich and decadent the malt profile. You’re paying for the expertise of the brewer, her time and energy, the collective work of a brewery’s staff to deliver a product that you probably couldn’t make yourself… You’re paying for knowledge, practice, patience; for brewing as a service, not beer as a food.

→ The internal workings of the Campaign for Real Ale are illuminated by Glenn Johnson who explains how pubs are selected for the Good Beer Guide (2015 edition out now) in his region.

Nathanial ‘Nate Dawg’ Southwood is angry about tasting notes:

You cannot write that a beer smells like damp field mushrooms covered in manure, tasting like spunk covered hedgerow and expect people to believe your conclusion that it was rather nice… I’m just finding it irritating, vomit inducing and just straight up bullshit. It’s not doing the industry any favours by writing such pretentious crap.

(We don’t agree with him, but plenty of others do, and it’s food for thought.)

We wrote an article for Craft Beer Rising magazine on the revival of extinct British brewery brands. It also contains pieces by Pete Brown, Melissa Cole, Des de Moor.

→ Jeff Alworth highlights something interesting: the newsworthy 99-pack is ‘craft beer’ engaging in classic ‘big beer’ shenanigans, ‘selling packaging, not beer’.

→ Expert home brewer Andy ‘Tabamatu’ Parker attempts to clone a beer he’s never tried and experiments with posh flavour extracts (apricot, in this case).

→ Guinness have released two new bottled porters — Dublin (3.8%) and West Indies (6%) which are now available in UK supermarkets. We’ve been sent samples and will write something more detailed when we’ve processed our thoughts, but audio reviewer the Ormskirk Baron has already reviewed them. (West Indies | Dublin.)

→ IPA historian and expert Mitch Steele offers some thoughts on the revival of Ballantine IPA by Pabst.

This interactive map of global alcohol consumption preferences is simple but effective. (Via Laughing Squid.)

Screenshot of interactive map of global alcohol preferences.
Screenshot of interactive map.

→ You’ve got a month left to watch the episode of Alex Polizzi’s The Fixer in which she attempts to turn round a struggling UK microbrewery.

→ We’ve seen many variations on this image on Twitter in the last day or two so that big neon sign probably was a good way for Leeds International Beer Festival (which runs until tomorrow) to spend their marketing budget:

Session #91: Our First Belgian

This is our contribution to the 91st beer blogging session hosted by Belgian Smaak.

Leffe Blonde

The fact is, we don’t know for sure. We can’t remember.

It might have been Hoegaarden, and there’s an outside chance it was Belle-Vue Kriek. There might even have been bottles of something at a student party — De Koninck? Palm? There was definitely Stella Artois, but we’re not sure that counts.

The first really clear memory we have is of draught Leffe Blond at the William IV on the Leyton-Walthamstow border c.2002. Having arrived at the trendy Belgo restaurants from 1992 onward (see Chapter 11 of Brew Britannia) this ‘premium special occasion beverage’ took a decade to filter out to the suburbs.

Back then, after the closure of the Sweet William microbrewery but before the arrival of Brodie’s, the William was just another East London pub with a slightly tense atmosphere, lots of empty seats, and a line-up of mass-market lagers.

We only ever went there to see a friend who lived nearby. She was then a heavier smoker than Humphrey Bogart in his prime and, somehow, always felt more grown-up and sophisticated than everyone else in the room. In 2002, what counted as sophistication was ordering a chalice of Leffe in a cockney boozer.

So we copied her.

It was fun drinking out of silly glases, and it really did taste different to anything else we’d had before, though we weren’t in the habit of taking notes back then. We recall finding it weighty and luscious, perhaps because, at 6.6%, it was stronger than anything else widely available on draught at the time. Its strength also made it feel naughty: “I should warn you…” the barmaid would say every time.

* * *

More than a decade on, Leffe is really not cool, and, unless we’re missing something, has rather retreated from the on-trade. (See also: Hoegaarden.) We can’t think when we last saw a Leffe tap in a pub. In 2002, we didn’t know (or especially care) that it was a sub-brand of a big multi-national, but, these days, that doesn’t help its cause:  it’s not the kind of thing ‘craft beer’ bars bother themselves with.

What is is, at least in bottled form, is cheap. We picked up 750ml, with cage, cork, foil and other trappings of poshness, at CO-OP in the centre of Penzance for £3.49, but it can often be found on sale for as little as £2.50. But is it good value?

There is a distinctive Belgian yeast character — a touch of banana, some bread, a sprinkle of peppery-spice — but very restrained. It no longer tastes all that exotic — not because it’s been ‘dumbed down’ but because a lot of beer has flowed over our palates since 2002. What once read as luscious now seems like the stickiness of barley sugar sweets, or as if a tot of orange squash has been added to the glass.

It feels, all in all, hurried, tacky, and plasticky.

Compare it to, say, Westmalle Tripel, or pay it too much attention, and it seems a dud. Think of it as a lager with a bit more going on, and it’s not bad, and certainly good enough company with dinner in front of the telly.

Old Beer Descriptors: ‘Winey’

Ballantine Pale Ale, 1910.

Our post about a 1901 guide to beer styles prompted discussion about what ‘winey’ might have meant in beer descriptions of the Victorian/Edwardian period.

Commenters suggested:

  • “fruity esters”
  • “a pleasant level of acidity”
  • “sharp, but not in a citric way; that sour heaviness that you get in red wine”.

Here are a few more possible clues.

1. Above, from a 1910 sales booklet from Ballantine of New York, is a beer description which specifies that aged bottles have ‘the qualities of fine old wine’.

2. Robert Druitt’s 1873 Report on the Cheap Wines has this:

St. Elie [from Greece] went into disfavour with some of my friends from its great acidity and harshness. Blessed is the young wine which has these characters, if only it can be put by to mature. For I find that the St. Elie, if duly allowed to rest, deposits a small quantity of tartar, becomes darker in colour, and acquires a flavour of the true old winey character, resembling that of old Madeira. I use the word winey to indicate that taste and smell which wine has and which other liquids have not, and which is developed in the intensest form in this wine.

At which point, we turn to a contemporary wine writer, Jamie ‘Wine Anorak’ Goode:

Acetaldehyde is an important molecule in the oxidation of wine. Also known as ethanal, it’s the oxidation product of alcohol. Acetaldehyde has an aroma often likened to that of fresh-cut apples, and it gives wine a flat texture in the mouth. Sherry and Madeira exhibit high levels of acetaldehyde; indeed, one common description of oxidized whites is “sherried.”

4. Ron Pattinson has been looking at chemical analyses for 19th century lager beers. Of 1886-87 Nuremberg beers he says:

I’m shocked at the high lactic acid content of every sample. I’d have expected it to be no higher than 0.1%. Over 0.2% I would have expected to give the beer a detectable tartness.

5. And finally, a possible red herring from Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son, just for fun: “In particular,  there was a butler in a blue coat and bright buttons, who gave quite a winey flavour to the table beer; he poured it out so superbly.” (We think here flavour means ‘feel’, and this is about presentation rather than taste.)

So, in conclusion, what we’re now thinking is that (a) ‘winey’ had 100-150 years ago almost exactly the same meaning as the now more popular ‘vinous’; and that (b) we’ve been mistake in assuming that 19th century lager was much like the crisp, clean stuff we drink today.

Writing about beer and pubs since 2007