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News, Nuggets & Longreads 26 August 2017: Seaweed, Scofflaws, Soupy IPA

There was a lot of good reading this week so it’s a bit of a bumper fun summer special today, covering everything from consistency to country pubs.

First up, for Draft magazine Zach Fowle explores the growing popularity of seaweed beer. Our first instinct was to bracket this with, say, moon-dust beer, as silly and gimmicky, but there seems to be more thought behind this particular trend:

David Carlson, owner of Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. in Belfast, Maine… says Sea Belt has become one of his most popular beers; he brewed it five times last year and is trying to build up to making it once a month. What’s behind the sudden desire for—or, at least, acceptance of—seaweed in our beer? Hard to say, but it may be tied to the rise in the popularity of gose, the saline German ale that helped the American palate become accustomed to saltiness in beer.

(Via Kate Bernot @kbernot.)

Mild taste-off: multiple milds in plastic beakers.

From Emma at Crema’s Beer Odyssey comes a reminder that we are all alone in the universe, experiencing the world in our own way, able to relate to each other only through a collective lie. That is to say, she has realised after years of confusion that she tastes diacetyl as vanilla:

While I’m getting my head round the idea that my vanilla = everyone else’s butter a couple of previous episodes of ‘funny tasting beer’ come drifting back, where pale ales and IPAs tasted of vanilla to me but not to anyone else. I even know someone who won a medal for a homebrewed saison that tasted like cream soda to me. I knew it didn’t taste right at the time but I couldn’t have said what the specific fault was then (other than saisons shouldn’t taste of cream soda, obviously). But I could now… At this point I should mention that before I switched to a career in biomedicine I used to work in a QC/chemical analysis lab at Yoplait Dairy Crest where I was known as a bit of a vanilla super taster – I am very sensitive to low levels of vanilla…

The Scofflaw Brewing team give the camera the finger.

Scofflaw Brewing of Atlanta, Georgia, went viral in the last week or so as reported here by Jim Vorel for Paste Magazine:

Scofflaw is one of the young stars of Atlanta’s beer scene, having gathered a huge amount of hype for a company that hasn’t yet celebrated its one-year anniversary… But there’s always a flip side to such stories, and according to many Scofflaw drinkers, the pressing issue is consistency and replicability of the company’s flagship beers such as Basement IPA. This is nothing surprising for a young brewery to deal with… What is uncommon is a brewery reacting to those types of concerns with combative words and upturned middle fingers. That’s what Scofflaw did via Facebook yesterday, firing off a post that has lit up the Atlanta craft beer scene and ignited debate on both sides…

What Scofflaw said, to paraphrase, is that complaints about consistency are unfair; that customers who don’t like their beer how it is should drink something more boring and commercial; and anyway, ‘I am not a professional, I am a fucking scofflaw’.

Of the various ‘takes’ this story prompted we particularly enjoyed this from Josh Weikert at Brew Simple, reflecting on a wider attitude problem in brewing:

At a certain brewpub I used to visit a couple of times a year there was a disclaimer on the beer menu that went something like this: “If you have any questions about a beer, ask your server, because we don’t accept any returns if you don’t like it.”

I understand the impulse… [but] I still think it’s a stupid thing to do. First, what’s it costing you, really? Cost per ounce, especially at a brewpub, is pretty low, out the door. More importantly, though, by getting your $6 on that pint you won’t take back you’re probably costing yourself business, too. Enjoy it – you just lost the $300 that person will now spend down the street over the next year.

And isn’t it possible that at least one of those people is right, and there’s something wrong with that beer?

Kegs and casks behind the Free Trade Inn, Newcastle.

The latest piece from Mark Johnson at Beer Compurgation doesn’t explicitly mention The Scofflaw Affair but certainly echoes it: ‘All We Have is Our Reputation… So Pick Up Your Crap Beer and Make it Better’. His point, in brief, is that some breweries are in denial about the fundamental mediocrity and/or inconsistency of their beer, which does them no good in the long run:

Recently I was in a pub where they had a beer on keg I’d had just a fortnight before… The beer didn’t taste awful or off, it was just entirely different to what it should have been… The next week I returned and that beer was still on. I asked the same person behind the bar about it. “Yes, we got the brewers themselves to taste it and they said that whilst it was different it still tasted fine and as it should. They won’t take it back so I’ve got to sell it.”

So it will sit there on the bar. A beer that nobody has complained about but nobody is particularly enjoying. The pub will be forced to try and recuperate the money paid for it whilst selling a beer they don’t particularly want to. Meanwhile the brewers earn a reputation amongst the drinkers of the beer that some of their beers are poor.

Keg fonts at a central London pub.

Dave S has been thinking about the beers you really see on British bars in 2017 and concluded, we think rightly, that one particular growth category is being overlooked by the commentariat:

[A] new new wave of keg beers… are appearing on the bars of vaguely upmarket real ale pubs. Mostly from traditional family and regional brewers, they range from meek golden ales to full-fledged American pales, although they seldom go far past the magic 5% barrier beyond which lies loopy juice, and while they’re often accomplished bits of work, there aren’t many of them that’d pass for Beavertown or Magic Rock. There are precedents here in Adnams’ Spindrift and the like, but it seems to be over the last couple of years that they’ve really taken off… Not quite craft, not quite trad, this sort of thing is middlebrow, and doesn’t get anyone much excited… So the interesting question here is who, if anyone, is actually drinking them, and what purpose they serve for the pubs that stock them?

We’ll sling in a nugget of info here: when we asked the landlord of a not-especially posh pub for a half of one of these big-regional keg IPAs a while ago he said, ‘Oh, you don’t want that — no-one drinks it, I only have it because the brewery basically pays me to take it with the rest of my order.’ Make of that what you will.

A Kent country pub with weatherboarding.

Paul Bailey (no relation) at Bailey’s Beer Blog (this is confusing) has been reflecting on the kind of pub that is being rescued and revived, despite the tough climate for pubs generally, in his part of Kent:

[These] three pubs have become ‘destination’ eating places, and one is also a thriving hotel. Whilst traditionalists might bemoan the fact they are no longer the simple country alehouses they once were, the fact they are still open and are continuing to welcome both casual and local drinkers, is definitely worthy of applause.

Part 1 (abstract) | Part 2 (particular)

A mockup of the CAMRA World Beer Festival

Attempting to be constructive and playful at the same time Alec Latham at Mostly About Beer has imagined a reinvented Great British Beer Festival — the CAMRA World Beer Festival (CWBF):

The cask beers are dispersed amongst all the others. They form virtually the entirety of the bitter stand, most of the pale ale, half of the IPA and roast barley bars but none of the sour, Lambic, Lager or Brett bars. This helps people put cask beer in its place and it’s an education – the comprehension that cask favours some beer kinds but isn’t suited to others… In the programme, a rundown is given of each bar: Bar one, for example, celebrates spontaneously fermented beers – historically the first beers ever made before yeast was properly harnessed and cultured – hence its first position billing on the itinerary.

This is an interesting idea. We might have a go at our fantasy GBBF next week.

A glass of New England IPA in Maine.

Can you bear to read yet another article about New England IPAs? If so this frank front-line reflection from journalist Dave Patterson for Maine Today is the one:

The idea for this column was first conceived when Connecticut’s Two Roads Brewing started distributing Two Juicy to Maine. This double IPA has the label ‘New England Style IPA’ on the can. To my palate, Two Juicy was wildly underwhelming with muted flavors and a cloudiness that didn’t result in a full-bodied mouthfeel. A New England style-IPA should make you believe in a higher power; this one does not. It’s fine, but we should demand more from a New England-style IPA. It might not be Nickleback, but it’s how we eventually get to Nickleback.

(Via Liam Barnes @LiamapBarnes.)

This short post from home-brewer Kat Sewell contains an interesting detail that might inspire some copycats:

Anspach and Hobday kindly gave me a sample of their Funky yeast strain. This is a strain their brewer, Dylan, has built up using various bottle dregs.

And, finally, here’s the worst of pub-going in 2017 summed up in a single Tweet:

14 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 26 August 2017: Seaweed, Scofflaws, Soupy IPA”

Brewers who insist that the beer “is meant to be like that” despite very obvious flaws lose my respect. I had one instance where a bar I frequented at that time had a local craft lager on tap which had a very noticeable chlorophenolic note, almost like straight from an off-flavour kit. I mentioned it to the bar owner, and he told me they had noticed it as well, but after telling the brewer about it, all they got as a reply was “it’s meant to be like that”. Straight up denying faults in your beer, not taking responsibility for the quality of your product, and leaving a bar with a keg of awful beer to sell, that’s not how you should treat customers, and ultimately, if done often enough, it will damage that brewery’s reputation.

Well it’s the publican’s job to intercept those barrels, the contaminated ones, the vegan ones that never drop, and so on – because that’s his reputation on the line. The average drinker doesn’t get a terribly informed impression of the technical quality of a brewery – but publicans are very aware of which ones don’t condition their beers for long enough etc – and vote with their order forms.

We’ve resisted so far because (a) we thought we’d said it all before and (b) it gets so emotional and bad-tempered. But (a) things have changed since we last opined and (b) people seem to be more open to a frank discussion about it these days.

The thread over at Tandleman’s place is still ticking along – I’ve just weighed in with my usual lack of concision. The short version is :

All the county champions (but other stuff as well) – the best of British
Tweak the style mix so it better reflects modern drinking with higher ABVs, more Speciality etc and allocate styles in bigger “pools”
Allow more “specials” as opposed to core beers
Break up Speciality into “normalish” and “freakshow”
New-hop bar and British single-hop bar, we need awareness of British hops to maintain British beer identity
Regional bars not Cumbria and Cornwall together
Grid numbering of bars

Whilst writing it I came to realise there’s another under-appreciated category that’s not reallly attracted much attention, and that’s the “cask beer with a hint of fruit/herbs etc but which still tastes of beer as opposed to beer that tastes of fruit”. I’m thinking of some of the tea beers like Yu Lu, or Plum Porter, which ordinary punters treat as honorary “normal” beer on the bar, as opposed to say Titanic Raspberry Wheat, which is definitely a beer that tastes of fruit (albeit much nicer than the average raspberry beer). It makes a lot of sense fora brewery, it gives the beer a bit of a USP when up against 1500 other breweries, and the accent can add a bit of interest to a cheap hop/grain bill. Lumping them together in “Speciality” no longer really describes what’s happening on the ground, that category needs to be split. As an aside, a fairly trad microbrewery I was talking to last week is looking at doing a gruit – that would not have been on the agenda even 3 years ago. The need for commercial differentiation is really driving that Speciality category, there wasn’t enough of it at GBBF.

Another thing I’ve only just thought about – the cider bar was miles from the main seating, which a) discouraged casual consumption, normally I try and have a cider at a beer festival and b) would have been really antisocial for groups with 1 cider drinker.

I’d also make it draught-only now that good bottles are so much easier to come by elsewhere, instead get more foreign cask.

Being at a distance, it would be helpful if a review of Doom Bar (the name’s form of double negative announcing its own lack of potential) were provided as it seems to be repeatedly presented the worst beer ever made. Is that actually the case?

It’s generally considered pretty bland and sweet, but is also hugely popular, and weirdly, irritatingly ubiquitous nationwide. The brand is owned by Molson who push it hard leaning on its Cornish heritage, but they brew the bottled version in Burton. The go-to real ale for pubs that aren’t interested in real ale.

The ubiquity comes from it being a Molson Coors stablemate of Carling. Since a direct deal with Coors for Carling is pretty much a must-have for many large chains, particularly oop North, it’s very easy to sell Doom Bar on the back of it. In particular Coors are trying to associated Carling with football, so there’s been deals along the lines of “stock 3 Coors draught products and get x% off your Sky bill”. Since many pubs are paying £10k+ for Sky, that’s a not inconsiderable draw and so you will often see Carling, Coors Light and Doom Bar together on a bar. Coors tend to be pretty aggressive with other incentives too.

The main problem is that it tends to end up in inexperienced hands in pubs that don’t sell much of it, so there’s an awful lot of quite tired Doom Bar around.

So in a nutshell …..
‘it’s not about the beer…. it’s about marketing and sales incentives stupid’.
Hmm… must be a stupid mega ‘beer’ company.

What’s more worrying in my opinion is the signs, commented on by Dave S, that regionals are listening to their marketing people and proliferating really nasty ‘keg’ beers (akin to Red Barrel or the worst mass produced beers and lagers) and passing them off as ‘craft’ using ‘trendy’ (but pretty faux) naming, taps in tiled walls etc. As far as I have seen Greene King seemed to have succumbed to this big time, but others are following suit (today I saw Marston’s Shipyard Pale Ale on the same multi tap bling brass tube, shoulder to shoulder with all the mass produced lagers et al). Where’s my ‘The End is Nigh’ sandwich board?

At one time it was a good example of the darkish, sweetish variety of old-school English bitter – I grew up drinking that style of beer & remained a fan of DB for longer than most beer bloggers. Since the brewery was taken over, though, it’s become a bland and uninteresting example of the style. I reviewed the bottled version last year and was quite unpleasantly surprised by how poor it was.

I think I need to do a gbbf post too, keep seeing throwaway comments like “more foreign cask” that need addressing

Some good links here guys

Heh. Yep, more foreign cask was a throwaway, or at least dropping all the bottles was, it’s the only bit of my manifesto that I’m not 100% on. But if the foreign cask ran out on Thursday then clearly more is needed – and I’d trade it for at least some of the bottles/cans if trades need to be done.

I’m sure your argument will be it’s the Great BRITISH Beer Festival – it may have been that in the early days but it’s not now. For many years it’s been the Great British Cask Beer Festival, more recently it’s become the Great British and International Beers Mostly In Cask But Also In Bottle And We’re OK-ish About Keykeg But Definitely Not #Evilkeg Unless It’s Poncey Lager Festival. You may not like it but that’s where we are at the moment.

My argument would be that a) the foreign cask is dead popular with punters, it’s a USP for people to go and b)it only comes to London because of CAMRA’s clout persuading the Brewer’s Association to organise the central freight deal as a marketing thing. I suspect it would be very hard for anyone else to replicate it without the kudos and guaranteed footfall of GBBF. I must admit, I probably wouldn’t go to a dedicated US cask festival, but I enjoy a couple of thirds for interest if not necessarily huge enjoyment. And at least the BA can be reasonably confident that the beer will be treated well at this end.

The other aspect is that a significant proportion of CAMRA membership don’t want it to become the Great British Beer Festival – the #evilkeg must be resisted at all counts. I’m not one of those people, but it seems there is no chance of the GBBF ever living up to its name in the near future. So if “British” is not an option, then it would seem that at least the Great Cask Beer Festival would have a bit more coherence to it. Cask is not(-ish) something you can order over the internet, bottles are, cask provides a USP that justifies the entrance fee.

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