Accountants and breweries

Accountants get a lot of stick from home-brew books, beer blogs and the like. Apparently we’re responsible for everything bad that has ever happened in beer, such as the move from cask to keg in the UK, use of rice as an adjunct, and the development of high-alpha (i.e low-flavour) hops.

I’m fed up with this laziness. Firstly, as anyone with any business experience knows, the job of the finance team is to support the goals of the company. If the company wants to sacrifice quality for profit, that’s the board’s call. And of course the board will take that decision based on (a) shareholder opinion (b) analysis of the market. So it’s all the fault of the consumers really…

Secondly, in my experience, real-ale lovers are well-represented within the accountant population. Maybe not that surprising given our reputation for being pedantic bores.

Thirdly, we just don’t have the (diabolical) imagination for the crimes we’re accused of.

Now the marketing team — that’s a different story…

Boak

Beer science — the answers

bunsenandbeaker.jpgWe asked some of our brainy friends to answer a few questions about the science of beer. Tom was the first to respond. He’s a statistical genius, obsessed with lasers, and has studied science at Cambridge and Imperial College. His answers, with lots of disclaimers about how he’s not a chemist and wouldn’t want any of this to end up on the National Curriculum, are below.

1. Tom isn’t sure what to make of the idea that a huge head on your beer will cause the hop oils to migrate and ruin the flavour. He says:

Hop oils are volatile organic compounds, with the ‘volatile’ indicating that they like to evaporate. The evaporation of hop oils is not, however, necessarily a bad thing. Aroma being a component of flavour, you would be left with little from the hops other than bitterness if they did not do so.

I’m puzzled by the word ‘migrate’. To me this would suggest a slow process (perhaps diffusion of the hop oils along the boundaries of the cellular structure formed by the head) but this would then be impeded by the presence of a larger head. A more logical argument would seem to me to be that the hop oils diffuse into bubbles forming in the body of the beer, and that turbulence caused in careless pouring would lead to a large number of these forming at the beginning. Once these bubbles burst, the beer would have a lower level of hop oils than if the beer had been poured carefully, so affecting the flavour. The problem would then be not so much the presence of a large head than the *loss* of the head that negatively affects the flavour.

More generally, I would expect temperature to have a greater effect on the evaporation of hop oils, which is why it might be a good idea to drink beer a bit warmer, and yet another reason (if one were needed) not to go near Carling Extra Cold.

2. Tom thinks clear bottles are a bad idea.

This one I can believe, since many compounds are photoreactive. The breakdown of organic compounds by exposure to light sounds perfectly reasonable. Think of it as sunburn for beer.

3. Tom thinks beer with artificially added carbon dioxide might well taste different to naturally carbonated beer.

Interesting. Carbon dioxide, when dissolved in water, forms an equilibrium with carbonic acid (H2CO3) formed, if it is not obvious, from water and carbon dioxide. The equilibrium is formed slowly however, so artificially carbonated beer may contain higher levels of dissolved carbon dioxide and lower carbonic acid than the equilibrium, so depending how soon after carbonation the beer was drunk it may have a lower acidity than beer with naturally produced carbon dioxide.

The Session: Christmas beer

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s session is hosted by the Barley Vine, and bloggers were asked in this post here to pick a seasonal beer or two.

We thought we’d bend the rules slightly and pontificate on Christmas / “winter” beers, and possibly get round to drinking one later. It’s not through lack of choice – London’s pubs are full of various seasonal offerings, and at the Pig’s Ear beer festival in Hackney I counted around 50 beers described as “Christmas Ales” from Britain and a dozen or so foreign offerings. It’s just that it’s an interesting topic in its own right: what, if anything, makes a Christmas beer?

In Britain, Christmas ales tend to be dark (but not as dark as porters) and spicy. This no doubt is related to our Christmas foods, which tend to be dark and spicy. The spices used tend to be cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg — all ingredients that shout “Christmas” at you. Unfortunately, these spices are quite difficult to get right. Too much and you end up with quite astringent flavours and “the wrong kind” of bitterness; too little and you may as well have not bothered — it’s just a gimmick to make the beer sound attractive. It’s quite rare to get a beer where you can taste the spice BUT without it being overpowering — like Dorset’s Advent-ageous which we tried at the Pig’s Ear festival.

Interestingly, Christmas ales in Britain are often not that strong. While some brewers see it as an excuse to whack up the malt and therefore the strength, most seem to stick to around the 5% mark. The evidence for this comes from the programme of the Pig’s Ear Beer festival, where there are plenty on offer at under 5%. Probably a good job given the amount we drink at Christmas in this country…

Belgian brewers are not ones for being constrained by styles or rules, and this applies to Christmas beers as well. Some are light, some are dark, but from the couple we’ve had, they don’t strike us as being more spicy than usual. They do tend to be stronger than usual though — e.g. Dolle Brouwers “Stille Nacht” at 12% (a nice drop, from what we remember, but that was a while back).

How about Christmas wheat beers? We’re not experts on the German brewing scene, but it was interesting to discover last time we were there that several breweries produce winter wheatbeers. We had an excellent beer called “Schneewaltzer” from the Herrnbrau brewery in Ingolstadt, described as a “Winterweisse”. It tasted incredibly Christmassy, even though we were drinking it in April… but then it’s not that surprising, given that one of the dominant flavours of many German wheatbeers is cloves, which we Brits always associate with Christmas.

belenos.jpgBut back to the Session topic! We tried a Christmas beer from Spain: Belenos de Navidá. I spotted it in El Corte Ingles, the legendary department store where you can get everything, including decent beer. It’s 9%, made in the Asturias region by “Exclusivas Tormas”, who seem to mostly be an importer / distributor. It says “we made this beer to celebrate Christmas 2006” in strange Castillian (archaic? regional? I wouldn’t dare say). I wonder whether that means they made it around Christmas 2006, or to sell over Christmas 2006? It’s best before November 2008, at any rate.

There’s no other information on the label. Is it bottle-conditioned, top or bottom fermented? The only source of further information on the internet is a web-forum about Spanish beer, from which I’ve been able to ascertain that:

  1. you can get it on tap in Oviedo (Asturias) but not many other places, though I don’t know if that would be the same as this “Christmas” beer;
  2. there’s rumours that it’s made in Belgium and only bottled in the Asturias, although these rumours are contested; and
  3. it reminds subscribers of this forum of a Belgium triple.

It pours a nice red colour and definitely has yeast suspended in it. It does indeed taste Belgium abbey / trappist through and through — good body, toffee-apple flavour, mild zestiness and spiciness. Extremely drinkable for its 9% and quite possibly the best beer in Spain.

Not that that’s saying much.

In conclusion, possibly the only thing that links Christmas beers is that they are an opportunity for brewers across the world to try something different, to experiment with their recipes and make something special.

Pig’s Ear beer festival, Hackney

pigs-ear.gifWe managed to make it to the Pig’s Ear in the end, and we’re extremely glad we made the effort. The beer lists were impressive, and everything we had was in good condition (unlike GBBF – but to be fair, it’s probably easier to keep things in condition in the winter, and when you’re not in an aircraft hanger.)

There was a good mix of people there for a beer festival – at least 10 women and many men without beards. No, seriously, it was good to see that it attracted locals as well as CAMRA members, as this can only be good for spreading the real ale message. I met locally-based Italians, Australians and Poles there as well, enjoying the beer.

Also a good idea is letting students in free – get’em when they’re young and pretentious, I say.

We had lots of great beers, but some that really stood out for us were;

  • Dark Star’s “Smoke on the Porter” – as you may guess, a slightly smoky porter
  • Dorset’s “Advent-ageous” – awful name, great beer. Described as a “Christmas beer” and subtly spicy, but extremely drinkable.
  • De Ranke Pere Noel – strong flavoured belgium blonde, impressive flavour for “only” being 7%
  • De Regenboog Smisje Kerstbier (in bottles) – at 11%, the perfect nightcap. Had drunk too much by then to give any useful description of what it tasted like, but we sat around going “wow” a lot.

We also picked up a number of interesting takeaways. And the Wobbly Bottom cheese stall was fabulous.

It’s on until Saturday, so there’s still time to visit!

Notes

All the details you need are here on the Pig’s Ear website. Even if you live outside London, don’t be put off by the fact it’s “in the suburbs”, it’s only about 10 minutes from Liverpool Street by train.

PS Also want to mention that we popped into the Pembury Tavern for a warm-up drink and the Augustus pale ale is absolutely superb.

Why the Galicians are the Irish of Spain

WARNING: Contains generalisations presented as facts without evidence to back them up.

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Galicia is a fascinating part of Spain, tucked away above Portugal. It has its own language (between Portugese and Spanish) and some uncanny parallels with Ireland.

  1. It rains all the time and is consequently very green.
  2. It’s battered by the Atlantic.
  3. Weird similarities in traditional music.
  4. According to some, there are more people of Galician origin in America than Galicia, due to famine and poverty in the 19th century.
  5. Getting onto the beer angle. Their major beer is seriously over-rated. Estrella de Galicia is probably my least favourite beer in Spain. How can you manage to have smooth flow lager? I also tried their 1906 “Reserva” which was actually worse than the normal lager.
  6. The reputation for being twinkly-eyed, salt of the earth types. Particularly when it comes to bars. It’s a broad generalisation (I warned about those) but Galician bars in cities like Madrid and Barcelona are often extremely friendly places, with very good service and excellent atmosphere. What’s interesting is that I think we’re seeing the start of the “Galician theme bar” (i.e. like O’Neill’s in the UK), cashing in on this reputation. I certainly visited one in Burgos.

The food choice tends to be more exciting in Galician bars than Irish bars though…