As usual, we’ve spent the past week looking out for interesting stories about beer, brewing and pubs. Here’s our regular round-up of the best of what we found, from Belgian classics to Derg-Lind.
‘Person bags dream job’ stories are usually dreadful PR clickbait but this one, from BBC East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, is rather heartening: a professional historian has been given the job of collecting oral history recordings from Lincolnshire pubs. Architectural historian Marc Knighton says:
“We know about the historic fabric – the buildings are there – but we want the intangible history… The legends, the ghosts.”
Poking around in unusual sources Martyn Cornell consistently finds new angles on, and details from, beer history. This week, a 19th century Australian newspaper revealed the extent to which cats were part of the landscape of brewing:
“A malt-house would be a paradise for rats but for the destroying angels, in the shape of cats, that the maltster keeps to guard his portals. The rat that would attempt to eat the sack that held the malt would speedily be killed by the cats in the brewery that Mr. Aitken has built. He actually doesn’t know how many cats he has. He said at one time, mildly, about 1,000; afterwards, that he was personally acquainted with at least 50, but that there were wild ones in the recesses of his cellars at whose presence he trembled. There must be queer games played on the roofs of a brewery on moonlight nights.”
It seems as if English people insisting on writing about Irish red ale has finally goaded Liam into polishing up his long-gestating three-part epic on that subject. Part one landed this week, digging into the deep history of the style – or, rather, its absence:
On the 15th of July 1856 Eugene O’Curry, who was Professor of Irish History and Archaeology in the Catholic University of Ireland, delivered a lecture relating to ecclesiastical manuscripts… In it O’Curry relates in his own words a fragment of a story where Conn and his companions were led to a ‘royal court, into which the entered, and found it occupied by a beautiful and richly dressed princess with a silver vat full of red ale, and a golden ladle and golden cup before her.’ This was translated from Old Irish and O’Curry could not date it exactly but implies it must be from before the middle of the 11th century. Looking at a copy of his source material reproduced in old Irish script, the word that is important to our story is ‘Derg-Lind’ and later in the same source the word is repeated as ‘Derg-Laith’, which was translated as the Irish words for ‘Red Ale’.
For Pellicle John Rega writes about the appeal and history of De Dolle Oerbier, which isn’t as old as its personality might suggest, and which is very much at the mercy of the supply chain:
Then in 2000, De Dolle faced a massive shock. Rodenbach, after a change of ownership, cut off its yeast supply. [Brewer] Kris [Herteleer] attempted to propagate the strain (or, to be more accurate, various strains) as best he could, but the complex nature of this yeast made it difficult to tame. Over time, it changed… A hungrier, more robust team of yeasts—as well as bacteria including Lactobacillus and Pediococcus—now holds sway, producing a beer with softer acidity and stronger fermentation. Kris has adjusted with a stronger malt profile and yet more hops… Recently De Dolle has been forced to adapt yet again, as its original maltster, Huys, went out of business. Kris tells me how he had to tweak for the loss of a particular malt within his complicated grain bill featuring a blend of six pale and caramel malts, now sourced from Dingemans.
The Beer Nut has provided a bumper set of entertaining tasting notes on a bunch of beers from British breweries such as Cloudwater and Newbarns:
I expected a big kick from the hops as none of Rakau, Simcoe and Galaxy are shy and retiring. Sure enough the aroma is an insanely strong funky, savoury buzz, like long-fermented silage and hot sparks of flint. The flavour goes all out for dryness, an extreme sort of sesame paste with added chalk dust and oily sage. “Earthy undertones” says the label but they’re far from undertones, leaving no room for the promised peach, passionfruit and apricot. This is the opposite of juicy and was probably sucking juice from the other cans in the fridge.
A topic always bubbling away in the world of beer is the apparent reluctance of ‘craft’ breweries to produce ‘trad’ styles. Jeff Alworth made a point about that on Twitter this week…
… and Gary Gillman offered some typically careful thoughts on why English ale styles might be difficult to replicate:
4. Whether bottled, cask, or keg, hop rates in Britain in the last generation, speaking generally, are relatively modest. Even in the 1970s craft pioneer Fritz Maytag was struck for example by the modest quantities used for dry-hopping bitter ale.
5. Such beers, when emulated in craft conditions and served cold and fizzy, do not show to best advantage. In contrast, Helles and pilsener retained a unity of style, so the path of emulation was clearer.
We’ve been somewhat intrigued by the idea of non-alcoholic Guinness – how important is alcohol to the mouthfeel and flavour? At her blog Weird Beer Girl HQ, Lisa Grimm, an American living in Dublin, provides notes on both this beer and a newly-launched Guinness competitor:
[Heineken’s] Island’s Edge has been expressly positioned as a stout for people who don’t typically drink stout, and to that end, it includes tea and basil in the recipe to make it, to paraphrase, less bitter and more refreshing, though none of the flavours of tea or basil are noticeable in the resulting beer. So, having had a pint of it recently, I can confirm that it does, indeed, lack those flavours…along with most other elements of flavour. It’s oddly thin, creamy head notwithstanding, and barely registers anything beyond roasty water – it’s less a stout and more the ghost of one.
Finally, from Twitter, there’s this vision of the high life…