Category Archives: real ale

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.

‘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‘.

The Talbot Arms, Settle

As you’ll see from the gallery we posted earlier today there’s no shortage of pubs in the conjoined-twin-towns of Settle and Giggleswick but one was our clear favourite: the Talbot Arms.

Situated off the High Street, behind the market place and a few doors down from the 17th-century architectural oddity that is the Folly, the Talbot is visually striking: a wall of white with the pub’s name in huge black letters and an unusual sign of a white dog which looks both hip and yet also strangely medieval.

Inside is a single large room, rather bare, which somehow conveys that dining is an option without making it feel like an obligation. On our multiple visits we found locals chatting at the bar, in corners gossiping, or in muddy boots reading the Craven Herald with glasses of wine.

The ale list at the Talbot.

The cask ale offer struck us as interesting for various reasons. First, because we recognised few of the breweries; secondly, because there was a clear effort to cover a range of styles, from mild to pale’n’hoppy via old-fashioned bitter; and, finally, because the range seemed more resolutely small-and-local than some other pubs in the area.

Pump clip for Partners Cascade.

Not every beer we tried was top notch but none of them were downright bad, and all were in good nick. It was also here that we also found our beer of the week: Partners Brewing Cascade (4% ABV, £3 a pint). Somewhat neglected in favour of more fashionable hop varieties, Cascade is surely due a revival — citrus, yes, but with a distinctive fruits-of-the-forest character that lent this particular beer a ripe juiciness to balance a light body and flinty bitterness.

Perhaps those of you who know the northern scene better than us will let us know whether Partners is a generally well-regarded brewery — we suspect not, or we might have heard of them — but, regardless, this particular beer was one we stuck on for multiple pints, and for two days in a row at that.

The Talbot Arms also has a proper beer garden — that is, not a wasp-infested yard next to the bins with a pile of mouldering carpet, as is found in most English pubs, but something landscaped and leafy, with solid tables, and a mixture of sunshine and shade. It isn’t quite up to German standards, but it’s not far off.

Now, if you visit Settle, the Talbot might not be your favourite — perhaps we were lucky with the weather and the particular beers that were on offer — but you can certainly have some fun finding out over the course of a day or weekend.

Things We Love about CAMRA

Tweet: "@BoakandBailey Twitter doesn't put @camra across in a good light - do they do anything other than make mistakes/argue?"

We are by no means uncritical of CAMRA but our instinctive reaction to the Tweet above was defensive: we’re rather fond of the Campaign, despite its oddities, frustrations and occasional missteps.

That’s why, despite having been tempted a couple of times, we’ve never let our membership lapse. (Or made a big fuss about cutting up or burning our membership cards on social media, as some others have.)

Keen to explore that gut feeling, we had a think about what specifically makes us like CAMRA as it is now, and came up with the following list.

1. Joining is a rite of passage — a way to show you’re on Team Beer. When we were just getting into beer, we wanted something like a fan club to join, and CAMRA was and remains more-or-less the only game in town. We didn’t know the ins-and-outs of dispense method politics — we just wanted a badge and a newsletter and a secrete decoder ring. It still fulfils this function today.

2. It gets beer and pubs into the news. CAMRA’s pub of the year awards gain acres of coverage, especially in local papers. When there is a story about beer, CAMRA is always asked for a comment: without them, business, government and the health lobby would have a monopoly over the conversation. It reminds the real world that people who are a bit more than passingly interested in beer exist, and in great numbers.

3. It makes beer part of the conversation in Westminster. You might not think it joins the right conversations, or takes the right line, but the fact that it is able to influence government policy at all is remarkable. Membership numbers are always entertaining to consider: CAMRA 169,000; Conservative Party 150,000; Labour Party 194,000; Liberal Democrats 44,000. (SOURCE: Wikipedia.)

4. Its history. The modern beer festival, with its tokens and dizzying array of weird beers, evolved from events like the 1975 Covent Garden Beer Exhibition. The Good Beer Guide was the first book to prioritise drinkers and beer rather than breweries and food. CAMRA even helped to pioneer the ‘tasting note’, way back in the 1980s, when most people thought it was silly to talk about beer instead of just necking it. It didn’t single-handedly save British beer from mediocrity but it certainly played a huge part.

5. It offers something to react against. Breweries such as BrewDog and Meantime would not exist as they do today if they had not shaped themselves in opposition to CAMRA’s values and culture, as they saw them.

6. It is democratic. It’s an imperfect democracy — one that feels inaccessible and confusing to us in its current state — but it does give members the power to propose and vote on policy. The much-mocked letters page in What’s Brewing is currently a battleground between those who advocate a thawing of relations with ‘craft beer’, and those who want to send tanks in — but both voices are represented, in equal measure, without (as far as we can tell) any censorship of ideas.

7. It keeps cask-conditioned beer alive and relatively well. Though we’re pro-keg and -bottle, many of our favourite beers are cask-conditioned, and wouldn’t be half as good otherwise. We certainly think it’s a tradition worth preserving, and, without CAMRA’s constant stick-and-carrot pressure on the industry, it would be a lot harder to find outside specialist venues.

8. It takes practical steps to protect pubs of historic interest. We don’t believe that every pub is sacred — that none should ever be demolished or re-purposed — but CAMRA’s efforts in cataloguing and recording the most representative and significant heritage pubs is truly important work.

9. It is a national institution. The eccentricity, rituals, arcane rules and regulations, and the occasional pomposity, when they’re not infuriating, can seem rather charming. Like the College of Arms or Flora Day or cheese rolling, CAMRA is one of those things that makes Britain feel British: are we the only people who would voluntarily set up a huge national bureaucracy to organise debauches and moan about the heads on our pints, with occasional interludes of Morris Dancing?

Last and probably least…

10. It publishes, and pays fairly for, good quality long-form beer writing. (DISCLOSURE: including by us, if we do say so ourselves.) BEER magazine is one of few outlets in the UK for writing about beer and, despite its parentage, allows both criticism of CAMRA in its pages (though we can’t point to a specific example right now) and discussion of beers other than ‘real ale’.

* * *

Of course we could easily argue against ourselves on each of these points. For example, why should CAMRA be the de facto voice of beer drinkers, given that it doesn’t represent all of them? What’s the use of cask ale everywhere if it’s only lip service — dodgy Greene King IPA and Sharp’s Doom Bar? And doesn’t government have more important things to worry about than beer and pubs? But this was about exploring our gut feeling — that CAMRA is a good thing, for all its flaws.

We’ve switched comments off on this post because we can’t quite be bothered to moderate the argument that we suspect might ensue. If you’re desperate to Speak Your Brains, email us at and we’ll perhaps publish some comments in a follow-up.

In Brief: CAMRA and Key Kegs

This report by Tandleman on the Campaign for Real Ale annual general meeting is worth a read.

He argues that, on the whole, ‘backward facing motions were defeated, while progressive motions were passed’. Among those carried was Motion 15:

This Conference instructs the National Executive to investigate a labelling scheme for naturally conditioned Key Keg beer, which would allow customers to identify which beers, at the point of sale, conform with the CAMRA criteria for real ale.

This is significant, as we understand it, because it paves the way for beer in ‘key kegs‘ to appear at CAMRA beer festivals, as long as they meets certain technical criteria — that is to say, that they are unfiltered and unpasteurised, contain a certain proportion of live yeast, and are carbonated without the addition of CO2 from an external source. (Key kegs use gas, but the gas doesn’t actually come into contact with the beer.)

This is not a wholehearted embrace of keg beer, overturning 40+ years of principles upon which the Campaign was built. Nor is it ‘CAMRA goes craft’. And we suspect it will take a long time for the results to be evident in the wild, too, with much bureaucracy to negotiate.

But it is important as a gesture, like that simple handshake between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro last December.

The letters page in next month’s What’s Brewing should be fun, though, while those passionate craft beer types who CAMRA has already alienated, will probably regard this, sourly, as too little, too late.


Comment below if you like but this is mostly just a pointer to Tandleman’s post where there’s a lively discussion already underway.