QUICK ONE: Tinnies in the Pub

Stella Artois advertising c.2007.

Some might regard the sale of canned big brewery lager in pubs as a bad sign but there is a definite silver lining.

This year, we’ve been making a special effort to break routine and go to pubs that, for one reason or another, we’ve ignored or avoided in the past. (Which, by the way, has been great fun.) As part of that, on Friday, at a loose end between trains in St Austell, we went to the first pub we came across on exiting the station — The Queen’s Head Hotel.

Some context: St Austell is a working town rather than a tourist destination, dominated by the brewery up the hill with its slick Hicks’ Bar, but oddly lacking a destination pub at its centre. We’ve tended to end up in the over-large, over-bright White Hart on previous visits because we could at least see inside. Often quiet in the evenings, the town is even more so in November and early December.

The Queen’s Head is an old building with two entrances and, though lacking partitions, indicates the lingering class divide with soft furniture and carpeting. All the action was around the bar and the pool table where regulars of various ages, all male as far as we observed, were chatting and joking with the young woman behind the bar.

There was cask ale on offer, and it was in decent condition, but we were surprised to see how many people were drinking pint cans of Stella Artois, straight from the tin. There is one obvious reason for that choice: it was £2.60 a pop, whereas the going rate for a pint of draught lager is more like £4.

For beer folk, this might seem like bad news, even a bit depressing — what hope for breweries if people don’t want or can’t afford to drink the beer they produce? And it does feel a bit like the pub has given up — the equivalent of turning up for work in your pyjamas.

But here’s that silver lining we promised: doesn’t this say something quite hopeful about the institution of the pub?

Given that you can buy Stella at the supermarket for the equivalent of about £1.30 a pint — exactly the same product, served in the same way — why would you pay even as much as £2.60? The pub, even one that isn’t all that special, is adding value.

People have to go out once in a while to be with other humans, and the pub is still the best place to do it.

Magical Mystery Pour #6: Headlands Pt. Bonita Rustic Lager

Magical Mystery Pour logo.The second of Joe Stange‘s suggestions is another canned American lager whose blurb hints at pre-prohibition credibility. Joe says:

“I have never had this beer, but I’m fascinated by the idea of an old-fashioned American lager revival. This one’s from San Francisco.

We bought it from Beers of Europe for £3.99. Its ABV is 5.3% and the can is big by craft beer standards (US 18oz — 473ml) but also, with its bare metallic finish, brings to mind supermarket own-brand beers and energy drinks.

We drank it in the same session as Ruhstaller’s Gilt Edge and our impressions were definitely influence by the proximity.

Continue reading “Magical Mystery Pour #6: Headlands Pt. Bonita Rustic Lager”

Magical Mystery Pour #5: Ruhstaller’s Gilt Edge

Magical Mystery Pour logo.We asked noted beer writer Joe Stange (@Thirsty_Pilgrim) to select our second batch of Magical Mystery Pour beers and he said yes. Well, actually, he said:

  1. “Oh I like this. It’s like your friends actually letting you play DJ at a party.”
  2. “You know, it’s very tempting to troll you with the six worst beers I can think of.”

But, after further consideration, he decided on an entirely different theme: lager. Specifically, he chose a mix of Belgian, German and American beers, some that he knows well, others about which he is curious, all of which we then purchased with our own cash from Beers of Europe.

First, we tackled Ruhstaller’s Gilt Edge, a 4.8% ABV, vaguely-heritage-y California golden lager. Joe hasn’t tried it but says:

This one comes all the way from Sacramento at 42 IBU. I hope it’s drinkable. The labels on these revivalist American lagers remind me of current generational tilts toward things like beard oil and cowboy rye whiskey. I expect a barber shop quarter to appear when you drink this.

It came in a 330ml can that cost £3.49 — not an outrageous price but not cheap either, especially for what you might call a basic beer style.

Initial impressions, even before opening the can, were mixed: on the one hand, the label was glued to the can which, with UK beers, we have tended to regard as a bad sign. On the other, we’ve rarely seen more informative blurb:

Labelling on Ruhstaller's can: hops, barley, etc.

There doesn’t seem to be anything to hide here which is reassuring, even if we don’t actually have any idea whether those are particularly great varieties of barley, or if these farms are anything special.

After pouring, we could but marvel: it looked so pretty. The head was as stiff as beaten egg-whites and the body of the beer, pale gold, almost seemed to give off a light of its own. (Although, to be fair, this is also true of, say, Stella Artois.)

Ruhstaller's in the glass on a beer mat.

The aroma was restrained — just an appetising wisp of herbs and citrus peel.

The flavour had a few stages: first, that crusty bread savoury-sweetness we associate with decent German beers, then a brief appearance from that twist of citrus, followed by — oh, blimey! — a crushing monster truck of unchecked bitterness. The first few sips were almost challenging, tipping way over from crisp into harsh. But the more we drank, the less that bothered us. Our palates adjusted to this new reality, just as the shock-inducing cold plunge at a spa gets to be fun after a while. We began to think that, yes, we’d like a few more of these in for the kind of hot day we’re sure is on the way, when the back of the throat demands something with real bite.

It’s typically American (if we can indulge in some stereotyping) in its boldness and frankness, but that doesn’t mean it’s unsubtle or silly. There are no grapefruits here.

If you think lager is bland, or you think Jever and Pilsner Urquell aren’t the beers they used to be, give this a try. It might just be the jolt you need.

VIDEO: How Cans are Made

If, like us, you remained fascinating by cans (they’re so space age!) then this video by Bill ‘Engineer Guy’ Hammack is a must-watch, not least because of the wonderful jargon — ‘seaming chuck’ is our favourite.

(There are going to be craft beer marketing people everywhere looking at those impractical spherical and cuboid cans and thinking, ‘Uh… where can we buy those?’)

(Via Laughing Squid.)

Rooster’s in Cans

Yorkshire brewery Rooster’s, founded by Sean Franklin in the 1990s but now run by the Fozard brothers, has just started canning three of its beers.

We’ve generally enjoyed Rooster’s beer on draught but have had mixed results with the bottled versions which we’ve put down to that scourge of the microbrewery — contract bottling. None of them have been bad, as such — just rather flaccid and stale tasting. The cans are packaged in-house, however, so we had high hopes that they might better capture the zing of the aromatic hops on which Rooster’s has built its reputation.

Fort Smith (5% ABV, £2.23 for 330ml from Beer Ritz) comes in a golden can with a matte finish, classy looking despite a vague reminder of Gold Label barley wine. It poured yellow-gold with gentle but generous carbonation which produced a thick, textured white head. The aroma was dominated by apricot and peach — a concentrated hit, like a scented candle — while the flavour recalled elderflower. The bitterness was assertive and almost surgically clean. Overall, it sits somewhere between a pint of cask pale’n’hoppy, as found up north, and a decent lager, and is certainly a cut above those cooked-tasting golden ales the supermarkets turn out.

Baby Faced Assassin in can.Baby Faced Assassin (6.1%, £2.42 for 330ml from Beer Ritz) is a beer we’ve wanted to try for a long time ever since seeing Zak Avery’s joyful reaction to an early iteration. (“It’ll never be released commercially…”) Opening the can released a burst of tropical fruit and citrus — it somehow smelled sweet, like a tin of Del Monte. Clear orange in the glass, it too had on of those solid, wavy white heads which inspires confidence. Close up, there was some weedy-ness to round out the fruit salad. The first taste elicited an ‘Oh, yes!’ It’s not at all sugary or cloying despite the aroma and, in fact, teeters on the line of being too bitter. As we went on, we detected an intriguing note of hedgerow herbs — cow parsley? — which you might call cattiness. BFA is not massively unusual — there are lots of beers that look and smell similar — but it all comes together so well, with no niggling off flavours to distract or irritate, that we couldn’t help but love it. Top marks.

Perhaps the extreme freshness of both cans gave them a bit of added glamour. Certainly the Brooklyn East India Pale Ale we tried afterwards tasted like the mummified corpse of a good beer, the hops all gone, leaving only a husk of leathery toffee.