The Session

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 replies on “Session #131: Three Questions About Beer”

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.

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?”

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.

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 ?

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.

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.

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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