Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that got our brainboxes revving in the past week, with bulletins from Bhutan to Runcorn.
The Cask Marque Cask Report was published this week (PDF) written this year by Rosie Davenport. We’re still digesting it, and, like others, debating its value, but in the meantime James Beeson has written an excellent summary with additional industry comment for the Morning Advertiser:
The headline statistic from this year’s report highlights that sales of cask beer are down by 5% over the past six years, and 3.8% in the past year alone. While it is undoubtedly disappointing, and indeed worrying, to see cask suffering a sharp decline in sales, this is symptomatic of a wider decline in beer drinking across the UK, with keg beer and lager also falling by 25% and 11% respectively.
So, Bang Chang and Sin Chang, the nation’s two types of farmhouse ale, are often made from 100 percent organic raw wheat cultivated by each household. In some cases, even the yeast culture itself is coaxed from these same fields… Some of these farmers not only grow their cereal and brew from it, they also make their own yeast bagels from bits of dried bark, leaves, and powdered maize or wheat, which are cooked and solidified. Aun Namgay, a Scharchop woman from Radhi, a hamlet in the country’s sparsely populated east, explains that her newly baked cakes need to be coated in an older ‘mother’ bagel for the fresh ones to be truly effective.
So she was the first person we approached to give us a drinking list, stipulating that:
It should contain five or six beers.
All of which should be available from the same supplier.
At a cost of around £40 maximum for the lot.
First up, she recommended Spontanbasil, a collaboration between Lindemans (Belgium) and Mikkeller (Denmark), a lambic beer made with fresh basil leaves. It cost (brace yourselves) £13.50 for a 750ml bottle and its ABV is 6%.
Because we want to be in gear when Stash Day is formally announced, we’ve started picking off some of the bottles we’ve acquired but deemed too special to actually drink.
First up, Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise 2006, which we bought at the brewery early last year.
The Lou Pepe beers are a sub-range which, as Cantillon put it:
…deviate from [the usual Cantillon] principles. The Gueuze Lou Pepe is made with two years old lambic beers with a mellow taste, often coming from barrels in which only wine has been kept before. In July, the same kind of beer is used to make the Lou Pepe Kriek and Framboise. With these beers too, the fruits are soaked in barrels coming directly from Bordeaux… The second fermentation of these particular beers is not caused by the addition of young lambic but of a sweet liquor… The Kriek and the Rosé de Gambrinus contain 200 g of fruits per liter on an average, while the Lou Pepe beers contain about 300 g.
It fizzes violently at first, creating a huge mousse-like head which disappears almost immediately, leaving in the glass something that looks like red wine. It smells of… Now, the euphemisms are usually barnyard or animal related, but let’s be frank here: it smells a bit like poo. Once we’d got over that, however, we found a fairly gentle tasting, sweetish beer.
We enjoyed it but, frankly, not as much as the super-sour, popping candy of a beer that is the standard Cantillon Kriek.
So England regain the Ashes, convincingly in the end although I’m sure I wasn’t the only one getting nervous.
When Ponting and then Clarke were run out in short succession, I started hunting around for something bubbly to chill. We eventually settled on Vigneronne, which is a lambic with added grapes, brewed by Cantillon.
It certainly had the right champers-like consistency and lots of bubbles. It’s not as overwhelmingly sour as some of the other Cantillon offerings, with a slight sweetness towards the end. If we didn’t know it had grapes in, we probably wouldn’t have guessed, but all in all it made a nice refreshing drink for the garden. Iris is still our favourite though.
Further disaster on the homebrewing front. Our first ale of the autumn, brewed the weeks ago, is infected in some way.
This is a weird one though, as it tastes and smells really different to the last infected batch. It smells like a malty lambic, or maybe like scrumpy cider. It tastes quite interesting – as well as the sour notes, which dominate the initial taste, there’s a bit of butterscotch, blackcurrant and apple. The malt flavour is still there and in the finish, it’s definitely more beer than vinegar. And there are hints of a slightly medicinal, phenolic flavour that could indicate the presence of Brettonomyces, as far as we can tell from a bit of reading around the subject.
In a weird way, it’s actually rather nice. It’s obviously not what we intended to brew, but I’m quite tempted to bottle it, leave it for a few months and see what we end up with.
Perhaps we have a unique wild yeast strain in the marshes around East London which will one day bring beer geeks on pilgrimage from around the world, and make our fortune… or am I being hopelessly optimistic, and we should just use it to make chutney in lieu of cider vinegar?
We actually used two yeasts for this, neither of which seemed to be working at the time, which might explain how something else snuck in. We wanted to use Fullers’ yeast, so we tried to harvest some from a couple of bottles of 1845. As a back up, we also got liquid Wyeast 1028 going. Neither of these showed any signs of life on brew day, so we pitched them both and hoped for the best. Of course, doing all of this would have greatly increased the chance of infection.