Session #131: Three Questions About Beer

Illustration: 2018 BEER, constructivist style.

For this 131st Session of the ever-fragile Session (a monthly event which sees beer bloggers round the world post on the same topic) co-founder Jay Brooks has stepped in as emergency host and poses three questions.

  1. What one word, or phrase, do you think should be used to describe beer that you’d like to drink?

What Jay wants to know here, we gath­er, is which phrase we might pre­fer to ‘craft beer’, giv­en the gen­er­al deri­sion that term elic­its from beer geeks in 2018.

But here’s the thing: we don’t use the term craft beer all that often, but when we do want a short­hand phrase for These Beers which are dif­fer­ent to Those Beers, with flex­i­ble cri­te­ria and vague cat­e­go­ry bound­aries, craft beer still seems as good as any.

We don’t real­ly care – bou­tique beer (pre­ten­tious), design­er beer (sounds as if it wears a shiny grey suit with the sleeves rolled up), indie beer (a lit­tle more spe­cif­ic), or even Cat­e­go­ry X94, would all work just as well – but as craft beer does mean some­thing (even if nobody agrees exact­ly what) and is in every­day use on the street, why both­er fight­ing it?

Craft beer’ is fine, and we will con­tin­ue to use it occa­sion­al­ly, if it’s all the same to you.

2. What two breweries do you think are very underrated?

Jay set the bar high on this one: “every­thing they brew should be spot on”. We can’t think of a sin­gle brew­ery that meets that stan­dard and most of those that come near aren’t under­rat­ed. But…

Maybe our brew­ery of the year for 2017, Bris­tol Beer Fac­to­ry, gets a bit less atten­tion than it deserves. It is a touch con­ser­v­a­tive by the stan­dards of 2018; it lacks nov­el­ty val­ue being more than a decade old; and it can seem some­what face­less. Those beers, though. Oh, those beers.

And we’ve been very pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by some of the small West Coun­try brew­eries on rota­tion at our new local, The Draper’s Arms, many of which we’d nev­er heard of and/or nev­er tried. There are a few that might end up fill­ing this slot, when we’ve real­ly got to to know them. Ket­tle­smith, for exam­ple, or Stroud, or Ched­dar Ales, all of which have now moved from Risky to Sol­id in our men­tal list of trust­ed brew­eries, with poten­tial to progress fur­ther.

3. Which three kinds of beer would you like to see more of in 2018?

Mild. Dark, ide­al­ly, but with flavours defined by sug­ars rather than out-of-place roasti­ness. (Mild does not just mean baby porter.)

Pale-n-hop­py. It’s not there aren’t lots of them, just that we don’t come across them quite as often as we’d like. Ide­al­ly, every pub would have at least one on offer, just like they’d have one mild/porter/stout, but that’s not our expe­ri­ence so far in Bris­tol pubs.

Impe­r­i­al stout. Although peo­ple com­plain ‘that’s all you get these days’, we still hard­ly ever encounter them in pubs. Bot­tles would be fine – this is one style that can sit in the fridge for months just get­ting more inter­est­ing. The funki­er and scari­er the bet­ter, but ide­al­ly fruit/chocolate/coffee free.

10 thoughts on “Session #131: Three Questions About Beer”

  1. Brown Ale.The prop­er stuff.
    There used to be noth­ing bet­ter for liven­ing up a tired pint than a bot­tle of brown ale.
    Just not fash­ion­able these days.

  2. Pale-n-hop­py is in an inter­est­ing place now. I try to be cau­tious about my craft-bub­ble per­spec­tive, but while pale, cit­russey beers might not be on the verge of over­tak­ing lager, they do seem to be doing gen­uine busi­ness these days – Oakham and Tiny Rebel, for instance, each seem to have got to about the size of a largeish fam­i­ly brew­er, Brew­dog are even big­ger and Ghost Ship is now Adnams’ biggest sell­ing beer. But still most region­al and fam­i­ly brew­ers still seem to look at it, shrug, and say “well, we’ve got a gold­en ale with a bit of Chal­lenger in it, will that do?”

    1. I sus­pect that in the main region­al and fam­i­ly brew­ers know their audi­ence pret­ty well.
      Per­haps they’ve just decid­ed pale and cit­russey is not for them.
      I’m still not con­vinced that they’re any­thing oth­er than a niche mar­ket.

        1. Niche as in rarely to be found in fair­ly ” ordi­nary ” pubs.
          Per­son­al­ly I think it’s because pale,citrussey beers are best served cold with a bit of fizz in them.
          There’s a pub I drink in which has a type of this beer on keg and it’s excel­lent when poured into a nucle­at glass to give it some life and just aver­age in a stan­dard glass.
          And it’s served as cold as the Guin­ness.
          But the more choice the bet­ter wouldn’t you agree ?

      1. Nah, this thing’s real, it’s one of the great gen­er­a­tional shifts like hap­pened from porter to mild to bit­ter to lager.

        There’s huge region­al vari­a­tions, but I know fair­ly “ordi­nary” pubs that are doing 70–80% of their cask as pale.

    2. The crafties are small­er than you think – even Brew­dog has only gone past Adnams and Snozzell in the last year or so, and are still some way behind Fuller’s and Sheps, and nowhere near Marston’s and Greene King.

      And I’m not sure you can gen­er­alise, there’s huge region­al vari­a­tions – Manc/Cheshire have always drunk pale n’hoppy in the form of Bod­dies and that pref­er­ence con­tin­ues to this day, where­as go just a few miles over the bor­der into Banks/M&B ter­ri­to­ry and peo­ple still pre­fer dark. But to take one exam­ple, Sheps’ “crafty” Whit­stable Bay range is now half the vol­ume of the Spit­fire fam­i­ly – and the for­mer is grow­ing at 20% whilst the lat­ter is essen­tial­ly flat. Wouldn’t sur­prise me if the two were even clos­er than that – the last few Sheps pubs I’ve been to didn’t even have (brown) Spit­fire on cask, I sus­pect they see it as a super­mar­ket and old-man-pub brand these days.

  3. In the typ­i­cal “beer pub” in the North-West it can often be dif­fi­cult to find any­thing of mod­er­ate strength that isn’t pale’n’hoppy. I was recent­ly in the Mag­net in Stock­port where I think the beer list showed ten pale’n’hoppy beers and only one “amber” in the form of Tay­lors Land­lord.

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