In the last few months, we’ve come across a couple of welcome attempts by British breweries to mimic continental beer styles. More of this, please. It’s surely the best way to compete with imported lagers?
Wylam Czech-style Pilsener beer is malty, fruity and very satisfying. It’s nowhere near as good as a fresh Czech beer on tap, or even Derbyshire brewed Moravka, but compares very well with a bottle of Budvar. An impressive offering from this Northumberland microbrewery.
Cain’s Double bock is very ‘true to style’, despite its origins in the north west of England, rather than the brewhouses of Bavaria. It’s really heavy and malty, but without being too sickly. It’s got some very pleasant milk chocolate and vanilla flavours and a soupy body. At 7.1%, it goes straight to your head. Is this is available in cask form? If so, we’d love to try it.
This week, a colleague asked me in the pub whether London Pride is better than Carlsberg and what the difference is between them. I wasn’t quite sure what the most helpful answer would be.
I’ve seen a perfect demonstration of the wrong approach, in a well-known beer geek pub in London. A young woman at the bar asked her boyfriend what ale was, exactly, and how it differed from beer. She was overheard by a huge, bearded man with bona fide piss stains on his trousers. He ran the length of the bar, pint in hand, to crowingly deliver a complex explanation about different yeasts and top and bottom fermentation. He also threw in a bit about exceptions to the basic rule like koelsch, alt, dark lager and so on. As well as making him look like a total tosser, it wasn’t a terribly helpful answer for someone with a very limited understanding of beer and a passing interest in finding out more.
I’ve been asked this question by Spanish friends in the UK, and my answer is usually something like: “Lager’s what you usually drink in Spain. It’s generally light in colour and fizzy. In Spain (and usually in Britain), it doesn’t have a strong flavour, although you can get lagers that are more bitter or aromatic. Ale is a traditional British drink, and is less fizzy, fruitier and usually more bitter. It is often brown, but can be lighter or darker. Personally, I think the flavour of ale is much more interesting and varied than the lagers you usually get in pubs in Spain or the UK.”
But that also looks quite patronising when I write it down.
So what is the best answer, particularly if you want to encourage people to try the ale and give the Carlsberg a miss?
From reading US beer blogs, I get the impression that pumpkin beers are quite big over there. Apparently, the early Colonists turned to pumpkins to bulk out the barley, or something like that. At any rate, they’re a novelty over here.
We picked up Post Road Pumpkin Ale at Beer Exposed. It’s in the Brooklyn Brewery’s line of historic ales, so it’s branded a little differently. The overwhelming smell was spices (cinnamon and nutmeg at a guess). Unfortunately, what was a lovely smell translated into a rather unbalanced beer — really quite acrid from all the spice, with a thin body.
So we weren’t expecting a lot from Hall & Woodhouse’s seasonal Pumpkin Ale. We’re not massive fans of the Badger brewery products, particularly their “flavoured” beers, and particularly when they’re not fresh. This one had been sitting in our stash for around nine months, so the omens weren’t good. Well, that just goes to show how wrong you can be, as this is a lovely beer. Interestingly, it smelled of bananas, and the flavour was a bit like a less sickly, slightly spicier weissbier but with an ale-like mouthfeel and condition. And it was in excellent condition too, despite filtering, pasteurisation and our idiosyncratic cellaring methods. At 4.6%, it’s a bit weaker than the Brooklyn effort, but had a great rocky, long-lasting head. Excellent stuff, highly recommended.
A ludicrously strong pale and a ludicrously strong dark Belgian beer, taken in Ghent.
Style guidelines. Doncha just love them? As homebrewers, we can see that they have their uses sometimes, if you’re trying to recreate a specific beer, or describe what you’ve created in terms that everyone will understand.
But the categories that exist for Belgian beers are pretty daft. Objectively speaking, is there actually much difference between a “Belgian Golden Strong Ale”, and a “triple”, at least as defined here? Or even a Belgian Blond Ale? “Dubbels” and “tripels” are surely only relative terms, depending on which brewery makes them.
At least the idea of separate styles for “Trappist” beer and an “Abbey” beer seem to have fallen by the wayside, although you still get sweeping generalisations such as:
“Finish is variable depending on interpretation (authentic Trappist versions are moderately dry to dry, Abbey versions can be medium-dry to sweet)”
Personally, I think we should start again with Belgian beer styles. My simpler categorisation would go as follows:
(2) sour ones
(3) fruity ones
(4) boring pilsners
(5) Belgian pale ales (you know, the ones that aren’t ludicrously strong)
(6) ludicrously strong pale beers
(7) ludicrously strong dark ones
Have I missed anything?
Obviously, within these, there are some huge ranges of flavours, but that’s the case with the guidelines as they currently stand. My classification is also easier for the layman to understand.
Next week: having sorted beer styles, how to end world hunger.
Just a quick one to say that, if anyone has any confusion whatsoever about what mild is or where it came from, Ron Pattinson has posted a very clear summary which, controversially, he bases on historical evidence…
That post should be what comes at the top of the list when you Google “mild”, so everyone please link to it to make that happen!