News, nuggets and longreads 20 April 2019: Pub Crawling, Carlsberg, Craftonia

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, from Leeds to low alcohol beer.

For the Guardian Dave Simp­son writes about the devel­op­ment of the post-punk scene in Leeds in the late 1970s, which took place in pubs, with the York­shire Rip­per as a dark back­ground pres­ence:

Today, with its wood and tiles and punk sound­track, [the Fen­ton] is almost as it was; Gill observes that the juke­box has moved rooms. “Pre-mobile phones, you’d have to go where you knew peo­ple would be,” Mekons singer Tom Green­hal­gh explains, remem­ber­ing “intense polit­i­cal debates and insane hedo­nism”, and leg­endary scene char­ac­ters such as Bar­ry the Badge. “A huge gay guy cov­ered in badges from Arm­ley Social­ist Worker’s par­ty. He was rock-hard, but then he could just grab you, snog you and stick his tongue down your throat.”


Roger Protz has been writ­ing about lager in Britain for 40 years so his com­men­tary on where the new ‘Dan­ish Pil­sner’ Carls­berg has just launched in the UK fits in was bound to be inter­est­ing. Where oth­ers have been cau­tious­ly pos­i­tive, Mr Protz essen­tial­ly dis­miss­es the beer as more the same:

I was asked for my views by Carlsberg’s Lon­don-based PR com­pa­ny, who sent me some sam­ples. The bot­tled ver­sion said it was brewed in the UK – pre­sum­ably this means the Northamp­ton fac­to­ry – while the can says “brewed in the EU”. I said this made a mock­ery of the new beer being called “Dan­ish Pil­sner”… I added that 3.8 per cent ABV was too low to mer­it being called Pil­sner: the clas­sic Pil­sner Urquell is 4.4 per cent and all claims to be a Pil­sner should be judged against it. I found the Carls­berg beer to be thin and lack­ing in aro­ma and flavour.

A foot­note from us: we were asked to take part in mar­ket research by Heineken ear­li­er this week, which leads us to sus­pect some sim­i­lar post-Cam­den rein­ven­tion is in the pipeline there, too.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, nuggets and lon­greads 20 April 2019: Pub Crawl­ing, Carls­berg, Crafto­nia”

BWOASA: Bear Essentials Barley Wine

Barley wine on a bookshelf

A canned 13% bar­ley wine with rasp­ber­ries and vanil­la at £5.99 for 330ml? If we weren’t engaged in this BWOASA mis­sion for April, we’d have gone nowhere near.

A col­lab­o­ra­tion between Aberdeen’s Fierce and Newport’s Tiny Rebel, Bear Essen­tials turned up at Bot­tles & Books, our local craft booza­to­ri­um.

We drank it at home last night, approach­ing with some ner­vous­ness. This is where the twist is sup­posed to come, right? Well…

We didn’t real­ly like it. It was strong, but tast­ed thin. It was com­plex and weird, but not in a way that pleased us – a jum­ble rather than a cav­al­cade.

Specifics: it was red, had low car­bon­a­tion and a loose head, and smelled like Bakewell tart. The sug­ges­tion of almond and bis­cuit base car­ried through into the flavour, joined by a sub­tle mouth-tight­en­ing sour­ness, and a heavy lay­er of vanil­la.

White choco­late stout? Pas­try Fram­boise? Maybe. Bar­ley wine? Only because the label said so. Noth­ing about the look, tex­ture or flavour sug­gest­ed any con­nec­tion to Gold­en Pride or Gold Label.

So what does bar­ley wine sig­nal in a craft beer con­text? High alco­holic strength, sweet­ness, and the absence of either hops or roast­ed flavours, we think.

BWOASA: What’s the point of ‘strong ale’?

Strong ales and ESB.

Let’s be honest, strong ale, the SA in BWOASA, is the least exciting part. We only included it, really, to give ourselves a fighting chance, suspecting that we’d find more strong ale than barley wine out in the field.

As it is, we’ve hard­ly encoun­tered much at all – again, it is the wrong time of year – but even with only a few points of ref­er­ence, a view of this niche is becom­ing clear.

Strong ale, AKA extra spe­cial bit­ter, tends to sit above best bit­ter in a giv­en brewery’s range, in terms of both rich­ness and ABV. Of course there are no hard rules but it seems rea­son­able to take 5% as the low­er cut-off. Oth­er words you might see on the pack­ag­ing or at point of sale include ‘pre­mi­um’ and ‘malty’.

Hav­ing checked in with Fuller’s ESB and 1845 at the start of the month, the next strong ale we encoun­tered was Good Chem­istry Extra Spe­cial, at 5.6%. Jess found it at Small Bar, and Ray had it a week lat­er at the Drap­ers; when we com­pared notes, we found sim­i­lar obser­va­tions: juicy malt (but not juicy hops), round­ness, brown­ness, liquorice, trea­cle and a hint of smoke. If you mixed Fuller’s ESB with Theak­ston Old Peculi­er, 50–50, this might be what you’d end up with. We both like it quite a bit, but it’s res­olute­ly old-fash­ioned, and real­ly demands snow and open fires, rather than blos­som and length­en­ing days.

* * *

We had a bit of a debate over Goff’s Black Knight, 5.3%, at the Bank Tav­ern in Bris­tol city cen­tre. Ray took against it – ‘Dusty, unfin­ished home­brew, an absolute crys­tal malt night­mare.’ – while Jess rather liked it, and didn’t detect what­ev­er got his hack­les up. It cer­tain­ly is a beer with crys­tal malt to the fore, though, hav­ing that assertive tof­fee taste we used to encounter con­stant­ly a decade ago but which seems to have all but dis­ap­peared from com­mer­cial beers. It remind­ed us of when hard­core geeks used to moan about beers being ‘twig­gy’. Real­ly, Black Knight is all about body: mouth-fill­ing, nour­ish­ing, almost enough to cre­osote a fence.

* * *

Palmer’s 200 at the Oxford in Tot­ter­down is anoth­er blast from the past, a remind­ed of hol­i­days in and around Lyme Reg­is in our twen­ties, when we’d groan at yet anoth­er line-up of brown beers in one damp old pub or anoth­er, and long for even the faintest whis­per of hops. At 5%, it only just push­es its head out of best bit­ter ter­ri­to­ry, but looks, feels and tastes the part: red-brown, dense, sug­ary… one-dimen­sion­al. Boiled sweets and caramel. Sticky. We didn’t  mind it (the faintest of praise) but per­haps we’re devel­op­ing Stock­holm Syn­drome, because our drink­ing com­pan­ion ordered a pint on our advice and looked almost hurt, as if we’d played a cru­el prank.

* * *

What is the point of strong ale? Who real­ly knows. To gen­er­alise, based on a com­bi­na­tion of this recent expe­ri­ence and fad­ing mem­o­ries, it gets you drunk, and makes you feel full, but with­out offer­ing much in the way of flavour, unless you real­ly like 50 shades of sug­ar and some­thing from the wood­shed.

Of course the best exam­ples have a cer­tain mag­ic about them but this style, per­haps more than any oth­er, demands inter­est­ing yeast (Fuller’s) or some oth­er sleight of hand to give it life.

The best pub in Britain, according to Twitter

On Saturday night, Tony Naylor declared the Old Bridge, Ripponden, ‘arguably Britain’s best pub’:

That prompt­ed us to ask our Twit­ter fol­low­ers, slight­ly mis­chie­vous­ly, we must admit, to place their votes for Britain’s best pub.

When the replies start­ed to tum­ble in, we realised the results might actu­al­ly be some­what mean­ing­ful, as cer­tain pubs got mul­ti­ple votes, and the names of cool-sound­ing pubs we’d nev­er vis­it­ed popped up.

So, we’ve decid­ed to sort through the answers and turn them into a to-do list.

Notes

We dis­count­ed pubs that nom­i­nat­ed them­selves, obvi­ous­ly.

There were a sur­pris­ing num­ber of votes for Orwell’s the Moon Under Water, or sim­i­lar­ly whim­si­cal per­fect pubs of the imag­i­na­tion. Love­ly stuff but basi­cal­ly a smart-arsed way of cop­ping out of answer­ing.

Where peo­ple named mul­ti­ple pubs, we’ve ignored all but the first one men­tioned in their Tweet. That’ll teach ’em.

We noticed one satir­i­cal answer – the Wether­spoon in Pre­ston that was con­tro­ver­sial­ly named best pub in town last week – but oth­ers might have slipped through the net.

The list

First, here’s a list of all the pubs that got more than one nom­i­na­tion – a very decent list, which over­laps with our per­son­al favourites to some degree.

  1. The Great West­ern, Wolver­hamp­ton
  2. The Hope, Car­shal­ton
  3. The Grove, Hud­der­s­field
  4. The Free Trade Inn, New­cas­tle
  5. The Bell, Ald­worth
  6. The Old Ship, Sea­hous­es
  7. The Ship & Mitre, Liv­er­pool

(We real­ly must get to the Hope. This is get­ting embar­rass­ing.)

Now, here’s the full list.

You might not like every pub sug­gest­ed but the point is, to some­one, some­where, these pubs were spe­cial enough to war­rant a response, which means they’re prob­a­bly at least worth stick­ing a nose into if you find your­self in the area.

Out of the loop

A milk carton of IPA.

I ended up sat in Bottles & Books on my own on Friday night, hovering around the edge of a conversation about beer that made me feel totally ignorant and out of touch.

Bot­tles & Books is our local craft beer phan­tas­mago­ri­um, with fridges full of cans, a wall of bot­tles, and a few taps of draught beer served by the third and two-thirds mea­sure.

On Fri­day, the dis­cus­sion turned to IPA, and it was when I heard this sen­tence that I knew I was out of my depth:

Brut IPA died a death fair­ly quick­ly, didn’t it? And NEIPA just tastes a bit… old fash­ioned. It’s all about the Hud­son Val­ley style now.

Hud­son Val­ley? Is that a region? Yes, but it’s also a brew­ery, as pro­filed in this arti­cle, which has a head­line appar­ent­ly designed to annoy con­ser­v­a­tive beer geeks who already think brew­ing has been fatal­ly com­pro­mised by the ama­teur ten­den­cy:

Hud­son Val­ley Brew­ery Makes Beer Based on Instinct, not Instruc­tions

Sour IPA is, I gath­er, the long and short of it, and sure enough, when Jess and I went to the Left Hand­ed Giant tap­room yes­ter­day, there was one on the menu.

We gave up try­ing to stay on top of trends years ago but there was some­thing intox­i­cat­ing about all this new infor­ma­tion, all the names and details, that made me think… Should we try?

The odd edu­ca­tion­al eaves­drop­ping ses­sion prob­a­bly wouldn’t do us any harm, at least.