UK to stay with imperial and metric muddle

On the BBC, it´s been announced that there will no longer be pressure from the EU for the UK to standardise its measurements.

The imperial v metric debate was always very impassioned, and I could never work out why. I couldn´t understand why the EU thought it was worth the energy to force us Brits out of our crazy system, nor could I understand why market traders and the like got so inflamed about changing over. I´ve lived on the continent and have no problem whatsoever with buying half a kilo of apples instead of a pound. Nor a half litre of beer instead of a pint (though interestingly, this was one of the sacred measurements that we were always going to be able to keep!)

On the one hand, I´m pleased this has come to an end of sorts. The debate always seemed to throw up the most petty and ignorant comments — like the idea that the metric system is something Johnny Foreigner cooked up to diddle us, when actually it was invented by British scientists. Or the idea that it enables us to better trade with America, when many of the US imperial measurements are different from ours.

On the other hand this leaves us with the same muddle we´ve had for the past thirty years. I know my weight in stones and my height in feet and inches, measure short distances in centimetres and metres and long distances in miles. I struggle to remember how many ounces there are in a pound, or how many pounds there are in a stone, and I have absolutely no idea what an acre of land represents. Some metric measurements seen to have taken well — I reckon most people measure temperature in Celsius here – but others just refuse to stick.

Where´s the beer relevance? Try homebrewing when your references are American and your equipment is a mixture of British and European. Working out how many litres an American quart is to add to your pounds of grain and grams of spices. Or working your way through the mash temperature debate but having to translate everything into Celsius so you understand it. Thank God for spreadsheets and internet ready-reckoners.

Boak (in Spain, not struggling to cope with metric measurement)

Boheme 1795

boheme1795.jpgI’m always intrigued by the “own-brand” Czech and German lagers that you see in supermarkets and corner-shops in the UK. Some are rank, but others are real hidden gems. Most are sold in the UK under pseudonyms, but it’s easy enough to trace their true origins online.

So, why wouldn’t I grab six bottles of Tesco’s new Czech lager, “Boheme 1795”, for £4?

It looks, at first sight, like a cheap knock-off of Budvar — white and red label, green bottles, and so on — but turns out to be the real deal: the original Budweiser. The German-owned Mateske brewery was the first to make beer in Budweis in 1795, and made the first pilsner there in 1802.

In the Czech Republic, it’s sold as a Budweiser/Budvar (any beer from České Budějovice is entitled to the name) but in the UK, Tesco have chickened out, to avoid trouble with Anheuser-Busch.

What does it taste like? Better than I expected — drier and more bitter than Budvar, a similar appealing golden colour — but not mindblowing.

But at 66p a bottle, or 50p a bottle if you buy a case of 20 for £10, it’s great value, and definitely more than drinkable.

India Pale Ale in India

I stumbled across the fascinating India Brew blog yesterday, and have been devouring their backlog of posts. This line in a post on the history of brewing in India really caught my eye:

Today no brewer in India makes India Pale Ale. All Indian beers are either lagers (5 % alcohol — such as Australian lager) or strong lagers (8 % alcohol – such as the popular MAX super strong beer). International Breweries Pvt. Ltd. have recently announced an intention to work with Mohan Meakin to produce and launch an India Pale Ale called Indian IPA from India’s first brewery at Solan.

A real Indian IPA would be interesting, and might (weirdly) also increase the chances of seeing IPA on the menu in curry houses in the UK.

Bierfest by numbers in Don Quijote country

Boak is on tour in France and Spain.

I was extremely surprised to see posters advertising an Oktoberfest in Cuenca. Cuenca is a beautiful town in the Castille-La Mancha region of Spain (the dry bit in the middle), famous for cheese, honey, cooking with strange bits of animal… but not really for its beer. A closer look revealed the event to be “sponsored” (i.e. organised) by Paulaner, who have organised similar festivals in other Spanish cities. The Cuenca local authorities then tagged on a tapas festival, where different restaurants and bars have stalls and offer a couple of dishes each.

Obviously I had to go along and have a look. It appeared to be in the car park of a housing estate, with a huge Paulaner tent dominating the proceedings (not in the photo). Inside was the requisite oompah band, Paulaner on tap, a mixture of German and Spanish snacks and some tacky souvenirs.

The outside was definitely where it was at — I got the impression the locals weren´t quite sure what they were supposed to do in the tent. They were certainly slightly bemused by the band. That said, the tent was beginning to fill when I left, and no doubt it turned into a wild fiesta afterwards. Perhaps.

Like the locals, I´m not sure what to make of it all. On the one hand, the combination of good beer and tapas is a match made in heaven. On the other hand, this is not so much a genuine cultural exchange as a mass-marketing technique by Paulaner. If you read Spanish, here´s an article from Marketing Magazine last year, which says that by promoting these festivals, Paulaner want to develop the appreciation of beer in Spain. Well, that´s nice of them. Funny that their generosity doesn´t extend to promoting beers from other breweries. Here´s a link to the London Bierfest, which looks identical.

Do we really want these Identikit beer festivals springing up all over the place? Sure, I dream of a world where every town has a beer festival — but not exactly the same festival wherever you go.

Boak

The Session: Brew Zoo X2

session-logo-r-sm.jpg

This month’s session is hosted by Lyke2Drink:

Have you ever noticed how many animals show up on beer labels? We have lions and tigers and bears, plus various birds, reptiles, fish, assorted domesticated and wild animals, plus a few mythical creatures. For whatever reason brewers have a tradition of branding their beers using everything from pets to predators. The Brew Zoo will celebrate these lagers and ales.

A couple of Sessions back, we dropped the ball and ended up reviewing Sri Lankan Lion stout instead of a local beer as we were supposed to. We’re making up for it this time by reviewing the beers of a local brewery which also happen to fill an entire bird sanctuary. And with a whole bonus post about a bird-themed beer from Spain.

Cotleigh is a brewery based in Wiveliscombe, Somerset — a county most famous for being where Bailey was born and grew up, hence the claim to locality.

The beers in their range include Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, Buzzard and Peregrine Porter, amongst many other birds of prey.

We’ve tried them all at one time or another. Peregrine Porter is a lovely bottle conditioned porter/stout, which tastes similar to another fruity Somerset porter, RCH’s Old Slug. Tawny Owl is a bog-standard copper coloured bitter which we drank in a pub in Beer, Dorset, earlier this year whilst the locals discussed their haul from the wreck of the MSC Napoli (“I got two pair of Adidas”).

buzzard.jpgThe only one of their range we’ve got handy right now is a bottle of Buzzard (thanks, Bailey’s mum and dad). It used to be called “Old Buzzard” and is a bottle conditioned “strong ale”, although not really that strong at 4.8%. The ingredients include pale, crystal and chocolate malt, with Goldings, Fuggles and Northdown hops. It’s accented towards burnt coffee flavours, with some Rauchbier smokiness. It matures in the bottle, this one tasting much drier and smokier than the one from the same batch we drank in February. In the glass, it looks almost black, with a great big pillowy tan head which stays forever.

We guess it would go nicely with rich roasted meats… or with the big hunks of rotting flesh we’ll be feeding Cotleigh Buzzard in the Session zoo.

And, just in case we’re struggling to get a full set of animals for the Brew Zoo, Cotleigh’s Christmas beer is the cheesily named Reinbeer. Groan.

We got our bottle of Buzzard from the excellent specialist beer shop Open Bottles, in Bridgwater, Somerset (01278 459666).

++ STOP PRESS — BONUS POST FROM BOAK, OUR CORRESPONDENT IN SPAIN ++

My contribution from Spain is “Aguila” (eagle) from Amstel. I think this is still part of the Heineken group.

Two years ago in Cádiz (south west Spain) we ordered a couple of cañas and were taken aback by the tastiness of the beer — in contrast to the usual refreshing but bland fizz, this stuff had real body and flavour, rather like Meantime’s much lamented “Golden Beer”. We asked what it was, but because my Spanish was pretty crap then, I could only make out “a-GEE-la” or something like that. The next round he brought us something different.

A few days later, we spotted Águila (from Amstel) on tap (that´s AH-geela, a subtle pronunciation difference, possibly?), and obviously went for it. It was the usual bland fizz.

We couldn´t work out what had happened. Was it actually Águila we had in Cádiz? Was the stuff in this cafe just not right?

To this day, it is still a mystery. I´ve had plenty of drinks from an Águila tap but wouldn´t say there was anything special about it. Now, I´m not sure that there is a beer called Águila produced anymore — it´s not mentioned on Amstel´s official site, nor can you find it in bottles. But the pumps are quite cool, with a big eagle on top, so it´s not inconceivable that landlords decided to keep the pumps even if the specific product no longer exists.

I do still wonder what it was we had in Cadíz that day, because it was definitely different. I can´t think of any other beers that sound like “ah-GEE-la”, so I wonder if it was one of the last barrels of the old stuff? To further complicate things, I believe Águila was actually a brand taken over by Amstel, so maybe it was the original, which has now been replaced by the boring Dutch brew?

We might never know. Unless any of you guys can help…?