Category Archives: Beer styles

Neu Alt?

Modern Alt Bier.

We broadly agree with the sentiment expressed here: it would be a shame if ‘craft beer’ in Germany amounted to nothing more than mediocre imitations of American styles.

At the same time, we don’t demand that other beer cultures remain unchanged as a theme park for visiting beer geeks — we enjoy the fruits of fifty years of increasing diversity in UK brewing, so why would German beer geeks be any different?

What we would like to see, alongside properly traditional styles, is German brewers riffing upon their own brewing heritage, just as US and UK brewers have upon the idea of India Pale Ale and porter.

What, for example, would a modern take on Alt look like?

Perhaps it might have some or most of of its bittering hops reallocated to the late aroma stage, showcasing Perle and other traditional varieties: a change in process, not a change in ingredients.

It might use American hops while retaining the traditional colour, ABV and yeast character. (That would not make it an India Alt, by the way.)

Or maybe it could just be stronger, paler and more bitter? (Yes, we know about Sticke.)

An example of where something like this is already happening is the ‘Hopfen Weisse’ from venerable wheat beer brewer Schneider.

Schneider Hopfen Weisse in its original packaging.

We haven’t conducted a thorough survey of German craft beer and we’re quite out of touch, so there may be many other examples of distinctly German beers which are also ‘modern’. Let us know below, especially if we can get our hands on them here in the UK.

All of the posts in Barm’s recent serial German travelogue are worth a read 1 | 2 | 3  ).

What Colour is Golden?

Was ‘golden ale’ really invented with Exmoor Gold and Hop Back Summer Lightning in the 1980s?

whitbread_pale_crystalglass

In his book Amber, Gold & Black Martyn Cornell is very careful to point out that there were pale-coloured English beers before then, and some were even marketed as ‘gold’ or ‘golden’, but concludes that it was not until Hop Back Summer Lightning that this really became a distinct ‘style’ with many imitators.

We find that argument convincing and cite it in our book, but this 1974 quotation from early home brewing guru Dave Line (in The Big Book of Brewing) did give us pause for thought:

[The colour of bitter] should shade between a light and dark golden. I am rather bemused that the commercial bitters have been progressively darkened over the last decade as the original gravities have fallen. Seemingly darkening the beer gives the illusion of strength.

But what does he mean by light and dark golden? We ran his 1974 ‘Crystal Bitter’ recipe through some brewing software which suggested a colour of 10 SRM — somewhere between the typical colour of German wheat beer and American pale ale bang on where English bitter ought to be according to this chart from Wikipedia:

SRM chart from Wikipedia.

For comparison, Fuller’s London Pride, which we think of as being a bang-on typical colour for a pint of bitter, comes in at something like 14 SRM.

Summer Lightning, on the other hand, according to most ‘clone recipes’ we can find online, sits at around 4-6 SRM — paler again than Line’s ‘beautiful, golden’ Crystal Bitter.

Perhaps describing colour using simile and metaphor isn’t all that helpful after all.

Bonus hypothesis: We know (keg) bitter got weaker and sweet throughout the 1960s, while mild all but died out. If bitter was also getting darker, was what actually happened that two ‘styles’ collapsed into one? A sort of pre-mixed ‘mild and bitter’?

UPDATE: D’oh! We read the EBC column rather than SRM. Post updated to reflect this howler.

Mild Can Still Surprise Us

We can go months without seeing a draught mild on sale in Penzance and so, at the sight of a pump clip for St Austell’s ‘The Queen’s Mild’, felt the same kind of excitement a city-based beer geek might at the sight of, say, a limited edition farmhouse porter.

St Austell Queen's Mild.We’ve been sorely disappointed by mild in the past: too often, they turn out to be watery and murky — like something from the U-bend under the kitchen sink. But from the moment this landed on the bar, we knew we were on to a winner.

It glowed in the glass, almost black but not opaque. The use of a sparkler (in the West Country, they are sometimes employed, sometimes not — there is no dogma) gave it a smooth, slightly-off-white head. A sparkling clean glass didn’t hurt, either. It looked, in short, like a photo opportunity for the Mild Marketing Board.

A relatively high strength for a mild (4.5%) seemed to nudge it into Old Ale territory (think Adnams). We’d like to have tried it side-by-side with Black Prince, St Austell’s regular but rarely-seen ‘dark ale’, but our impression was that Queen’s was milkier, stouter, and more bitter. A sort of ‘best mild’, perhaps.

It was extremely moreish and satisfying but didn’t demand our complete attention: it made us say ‘Aaah….’ rather than ‘Wow!’

We meant to have one but couldn’t resist a second. Then, seizing the moment, pushed on to a third. We might have made a fourth if the pub hadn’t been closing around us.

Queen’s Mild was £3.40 a pint at the Yacht Inn, Penzance, which is about the going rate for a pint round here. We think it was a leftover from the Celtic Beer Festival, for which Roger Ryman and his team brew small amounts of a dazzling range of experimental beers, and brewed in collaboration with the Queen’s Arms, Brixham.

A Cattle-Prod to the Taste Buds

Berliner Kindl Weisse.

Magic Rock Brewing have been in experimental mode lately, augmenting their core range of hop-driven ales with forays into the far corners of European beer styles.

Circus of Sour pump clip.While we share some of Ed’s concerns about British brewers playing around with styles before they’ve really got to know them, Magic Rock’s Gose-style beer with grapefruit juice (unfortunately named ‘Salty Kiss’) is a front-runner for our beer of the year.

With that in mind, we were excited to come across Circus of Sour, their attempt at a Berliner Weisse. It isn’t flavoured with fruit and hasn’t been cross-bred with any other styles: it’s a more-or-less straight up attempt at a style which scarcely needs any tinkering with to shock British palates. Classical, but still quite mad to those of us brought up on brown bitter and Foster’s.

At 3.5%, Circus of Sour is a touch stronger than Berliner Kindl Weiss — a beer which, merely by outliving its competitors, has become the standard for the style. COS tasted much fresher than any bottled Kindl we’ve ever tried, and seemed a more vibrant shade of yellow. It has a sherbet, popping candy quality, reaching into the back of our mouths and tightening all the screws. Like a grown-up version of sour home-made lemonade, perhaps. (Oh — Pete Brown’s already said that.)

We enjoyed watching our not-especially-beer-geeky companions taste it. Each of them in turn expressed disgust, puckering their lips and scrunching their eyes, as if taking cough medicine. Then, a moment later, their eyes popped open: ‘Actually, that’s not bad.’ The consensus was that it was summery and truly refreshing.

Could Berliner Weisse, then, have more mainstream appeal than our instincts might lead us to expect?

We found it on sale at the Stormbird in Camberwell, South London — a craft beer bar which we remember from its days as an overcrowded, DJ-led ‘style bar’ called the Funky Monkey. Though some of the kegged US IPAs on sale seemed a bit flat and past their best, and wouldn’t go out of our way to visit, we liked the place well enough and will certainly pop in again if we find ourselves in the area.

The Next Big Thing?

Soviet Kvass advertisement.A few years ago, we didn’t really know what saison was. Nowadays, breweries up and down Britain, especially those with their eyes on the ‘craft beer bar’ market, are producing them in relative abundance.

Phil Markowski’s book Farmhouse Ales has, we suspect, been influential, and the fact that most British drinkers don’t know saison well enough to be able to tell a good one from a bad one with any confidence makes it a forgiving experiment for smaller and (ahem) less technically-minded brewers.

But, while saisons are in no danger of becoming the new ‘boring brown bitter’ just yet, the novelty-obsessed British beer geek is no longer likely to fall into a nerdgasm at the mere sight of the word on a pump-clip or label.

Amongst a certain dedicated crowd, even Berliner Weisse and Gose are beginning to seem a bit ‘old hat’.

So what will come after that? We reckon 2014 is going to see lots of attempts at kvass or kvass-inspired beers – low in alcohol, made with rye bread, herbs and wild yeast. There’s already been at least one and probably others we’ve missed.

Frankly, there’s not much else left in Randy Mosher for UK brewers to plunder.

But that’s just our guess. What’s yours?

For more on brewing traditions in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and beyond, keep an eye on Lars Marius Garshol’s blog and follow him on Twitter. We’re really hoping Brewers Publications will get him to write a book in their European styles series.