Category Archives: Beer styles

Innocuous Fluid, 1856

“The respectable man of the lower order is a clerk undoubtedly… He lives in a small, eight-roomed house, in a terrace with a high-sounding name, ‘Adeliza’ or ‘Navarino’, in Camden-town or Dalston. He lets the drawing-room floor to a single gentleman… Pewter pots are never seen hanging on the area rails; for, in his respectability, he looks upon public-houses as the favourite baits of the devil, and has a four and a half-gallon cask of the mildest and cheapest bitter beer from the Romford brewery always on tap in his coal-cellar. It is with this innocuous fluid that the single gentleman and his friends are occasionally supplied, and charged at the rate of fourpence per pint.”

From ‘Respectable People’ by Edmund H Yates, The Train magazine, 1856.

(We think he’s describing what we’re beginning to suspect was the original AK, brewed by Ind Coope in the mid-1840s.)

Vienna Beer Today

Piccadilly Johnnies, 1904.

As the 1860s turned into the 1870s, absolutely the trendiest thing to drink in London was Vienna beer, aka Vienna lager — the pricey imported ‘craft beer’ of its day.

It seems to us that it was not so much a ‘style’ as the product of a single brewery — Dreher, of Klein-Schwechat, Vienna — with a few imitators trying to muscle in on the market it had created.

It appealed to Piccadilly Johnny — the hipster of his day –because:

  • It was served cold.
  • It had higher levels of carbonation.
  • It was paler than Munich Dunkel. (Though not as pale as Pilsner.)
  • He believed it wasn’t ‘intoxicating’. (We think this was psychological.)
  • ‘German’ stuff was fashionable, while English stuff was considered inherently naff.

Now, almost 150 years later, though there aren’t many descendants of Dreher’s Vienna beer, they are at least relatively easy to find, and not just in the West End of London.

Even near us, in deepest Cornwall, there are several pubs selling kegged Brooklyn Lager (5.2%), while bottles can be found in your local Wetherspoon, and most supermarkets. It’s one of the first self-declared ‘craft beers’ many people drink — it certainly was for us. Is it a convincing Vienna beer? Without going back to 1870, we can’t be sure, but we can’t believe its flowery hop aroma is remotely authentic. It is Dreher’s beer, via the 19th century New York beer hall, via the ‘real ale revolution’, via US ‘craft beer’.

Another widely available example is Negra Modelo (5.4%) from Mexico. In production since the 1920s, it is a lingering reminder of the country’s historic connections with Austria. It’s been a while since we drank one but our recollection is of a lager already lacking bitterness into which someone had then stirred a teaspoon of refined brown sugar. The brewery themselves sometimes call it a ‘Munich Dunkel’ — it is certainly darker than amber.

Finally, there’s Thornbridge’s Kill Your Darlings (5%), a case of which we have been working on for a couple of months. Smooth and clean almost to the point of blandness, it certainly tastes authentically Continental, and makes a change from pale lager while offering a similar kind of straightforward refreshment. It, too, is perhaps rather too Munich-dark to be quite authentic. Still, we’d like to drink a pint or two of this at the Craft Beer Co in Covent Garden, which isn’t far from the Strand – epicentre of the original Vienna beer craze.

On balance, the least authentic of the three, Brooklyn Lager, with its distinctly English dry-hopping regime, is probably the tastiest.

One of the projects we’re working on now is about lager in London in the 19th century — probably for a short e-book. In the meantime, we wholeheartedly recommend Ron Pattinson’s book Lager.

Session #88 Announcement

Illustration by Robert Wykes, 1938.
Illustration by Robert Wykes from What’s Yours? (1938). They’re laughing because ordering ‘bitter and mild’ is a faux pas — it should always be ‘mild and bitter’.

We haven’t hosted the monthly beer blogging Session since 2008 and, noticing that there was still a vacancy for 6 June with only weeks to go, decided it was time for another go.

The beer blogging Session logo.The topic we’ve chosen is traditional beer mixes.

In his 1976 book Beer and Skittles early beer writer Richard Boston lists several:

  • Lightplater – bitter and light ale.
  • Mother-in-law — old and bitter.
  • Granny — old and mild.
  • Boilermaker — brown and mild.
  • Blacksmith –stout and barley wine.
  • Half-and-half – bitter and stout, or bitter and mild.

We’d like you to drink one or more from that list and write about it on Friday 6 June… and that’s it.

We’re deliberately aiming for something broad and accessible, but there is one rule — no ‘beer cocktails’! It’s been done, for starters. So, mix two beers, not four; and steer clear of syrups, spirits, flavourings and crushed ice.

If you need further inspiration…

  • Try ordering them in a pub — do bar staff still know the ropes?
  • Use your own sources to find a traditional mix not on Boston’s list, e.g. Ram’n’Spesh in Young’s London pubs.
  • Make the same mix with several different beers — are there rules for the optimal Granny?
  • Experiment — Blacksmith IPA with black IPA, anyone?

And here’s more food for thought, from T.E.B. Clarke’s What’s Yours? (1938):

If, as usually occurs, you have found bitter too bitter and mild too sweet (as well as too uneconomic), you might well resort to “mild and bitter”…. Should you have discovered that you like Burton, or “old”, except for its slightly metallic flavour — another verdict common among beginners — make “B.B.” your next order.

Let us know when your post is up either by commenting here, emailing us at boakandbailey@gmail.com, or Tweeting at us.

UPDATE 12/05/2014

More inspiration from Twitter, some people have suggested beer mixes that have worked for them in the past:

  • Matthew Curtis — “Mikkeller beer geek breakfast with Odell IPA has been my greatest success.”
  • Ghost Drinker — “mix a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout with a Mort Subite Kriek…”.
  • Martyn Griffin — “Oakham Citra and Sarah Hughes Ruby (or a clone I HB’d) is an absolute winner.”
  • Al ‘Hopsinjoor’ – “The aforementioned Hardcore and Paradox… [Brewdog] Hardcore and Riptide (a RipCore if you will- thanks to ) [Magic Rock] Unhuman & [Buxton] Tsar Bomba, [Magic Rock Cannonball & Bearded Lady... [Summer Wine] Diablo & (again) Bearded Lady, all good mixes. [Buxton] Axe Edge & any good stout!”
  • Alan McLeod had some success with a 50/50 mix of Orval “as sort of a brett concentrate” with a ‘farmhouse cream ale’.
  • Rowan Molyneux — “Best mix I’ve found: 1/2 Hardcore IPA with 1/3 Paradox Heaven Hill (both BrewDog). Not tried with low ABVs yet…”

St Austell Tamar Creek

St Austell Tamar Creek.

St Austell have continued their exploration of ‘world beer’ styles with a Belgian-style sour cherry beer.

We’ve met Roger Ryman, head brewer at St Austell, a few times, and he has always struck us as rather sensible — the kind of bloke who keeps a very tidy glove box. Get him on to the subject of Belgian beer, however, and he becomes positively giddy.

Last time we bumped into him, in a pub in Penzance, he’d just come back from a trip to Poperinge accompanied by the latest edition of Stange and Webb’s Good Beer Guide to Belgium, and was excited to have re-stocked his cellar with multiple cases of De Ranke XX Bitter.

So when he brews Belgian-style beers at St Austell, it isn’t a text-book exercise or a mere marketing gimmick — there is a certain amount of passion (sorry) behind it.

The base beer for Tamar Creek was brewed on a tiny experimental brew kit, inoculated with wild yeast and brettanomyces, and then aged in wooden barrels on a bed of cherries from the Tamar Valley for six months. It comes in 750ml corked bottles wrapped in printed paper, in a tribute to Liefman’s — a better marketing manoeuvre than this rather gory PR photo:

Cherries being squashed by feet at St Austell.

We bought our bottle at the brewery shop for £9, but the online price is £14 including delivery. Is it worth the money?

Tasting

On opening, we got hit by an immediate nostril-curling sting of ‘funk’ which reminded us specifically of apples rotting in an orchard. (Brace yourselves — this review is all about ‘the erotics of disgust’.)

Poured into squeaky clean glasses, a soapy rose-tinted head rose up and over the lip of the glass before prickling away to nothing after 30 seconds or so, leaving what looked like a glass of well-aged red wine.

Despite a rather thin body, it tasted convincingly Belgian, the funky aroma matched by an acidic note not unlike (brace…) bile. It took us a while to pin down exactly which taste memories were being triggered, then it clicked: it had the skull-dissolving tang of pink grapefruit juice.

There was a dry tannic note, too, which wasn’t unlike biting into a grape seed.

On the whole, we’ll call it a grower. Though, at first, it seemed thin and one dimensional, the texture and sweetness built as it coated our mouths, and ‘ho-hum’ eventually turned to ‘yum yum’.

We didn’t regret spending £9 on it — about the same price as an imported Belgian equivalent — but whether you reach the same conclusion will probably depend on your interest in the exercise, the value you place on ‘buying local’, and your knowledge of the style.

We certainly look forward to future iterations of this brew, and to more heartfelt Belgian-inspired experiments from St Austell.

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  ).