The Science of Beer

How much sci­ence is behind some of the ideas we have about beer? These sound con­vinc­ing, and we’re inclined to believe them, but we’ve nev­er real­ly seen any evi­dence, as such:

  1. If you pour beer with too big a head, the hop oils will come to the top and dis­ap­pear (“migrate”).
  2. Beer spoils more eas­i­ly in clear bot­tles because of the action of light.
  3. Arti­fi­cial­ly car­bon­at­ed beer tastes notice­ably dif­fer­ent from nat­u­ral­ly car­bon­at­ed beer.

We’re going to be ask­ing some braini­acs of our acquain­tance to give us their views, but we’re also inter­est­ed to hear of any evi­dence you know of to con­firm or deny any of these, or of any oth­er the­o­ries you’d like to prove/debunk.

As a starter for ten, I’ve got this nag­ging feel­ing that, just as sea salt is still sodi­um chlo­ride how­ev­er you pack­age it, sure­ly car­bon diox­ide dis­solved in water is the same stuff how­ev­er it got there?

Christmas gifts for beer lovers

What do you buy a beer lover for Christ­mas, oth­er than beer?

jacksonbook.jpg1. The late Michael Jackson’s new book, the Eye­wit­ness Guide to Beer – prob­a­bly an update of his 1998 Dor­ling Kinder­s­ley book Ulti­mate Beer, but looks inter­est­ing any­way.

2. Some glass­ware. You can pick up brand­ed Fuller’s glass­es for around £4 in most of their pubs. Many super­mar­kets are sell­ing gift sets with brand­ed glass­es from Shep­herd Neame Spit­fire, Old Speck­led Hen and oth­er well-known brands. Or, you can go posh – here’s a selec­tion online. I like the look of these but could also do with one of these to drink impe­r­i­al stout from.

beermachine.jpg3. A home­brew­ing kit. There are some basic, gim­micky auto­mat­ic brew­ing machines, which look like fun. Or, you can buy a decent begin­ners kit from these peo­ple and pay less for it. But don’t for­get to get a decent book to go with it.

4. More home­brew­ing stuff. If your loved one is already brew­ing, why not help them take it to the next lev­el with some fan­cy kit like a

pubinabox.jpg5. There are all kinds of “pub at home” kits and acces­sories, from the cheap and cheer­ful to the ludi­crous­ly elab­o­rate and expen­sive. If you don’t fan­cy hav­ing any of that in the house, what about the shed…?

6. Some rare and, erm, beau­ti­ful brew­e­ri­ana from Ebay might go down well. Not sure I’d want a load of old bot­tle tops for Christ­mas myself, but who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men.

7. What about the ludi­crous­ly named World’s Best Bot­tle Open­er? Or even a nice tra­di­tion­al one. You can nev­er have too many. Like umbrel­las, they have a habit of dis­ap­pear­ing. Just don’t buy a Homer Simp­son nov­el­ty bot­tle open­er. Believe me, the nov­el­ty of hear­ing “mmm­mm, beer” wears off after, ooh, two bot­tles or so.

8. What about some food to accom­pa­ny beer, or a com­bi­na­tion of the two? O’Hanlon’s port stout and stil­ton; almost any­thing Bel­gian with some choco­late; or some pork scratch­ings…

9. CAMRA mem­ber­ship!

10. goodgift.jpgGood gifts are increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar. If there’s too much junk in your house any­way, and you don’t want to encour­age your loved ones to get fat and drunk, why not buy a brew­ery in Tan­za­nia on their behalf?

11. And final­ly, if you are going to buy beer – and, let’s face it, it’s prob­a­bly your best bet – choose them with a theme such as strong stouts, Christ­mas beers, Ger­man beers, or what­ev­er, and pack­age them nice­ly.

Adelscott and Desperados – eugh!

beer_bottle.jpgAdelscott is a gold­en (orange) ale made with whisky malt (although many bars mis­tak­en­ly adver­tise it as con­tain­ing whisky). Des­per­a­dos is a Mex­i­can-type beer with a shot of tequi­la in each bot­tle (or, rather, “aro­ma­tised” with tequi­la). They are brewed by Fis­ch­er (Heineken) in France.

Both beers are avail­able in almost every bar there. They cost a euro or two more than ordi­nary lagers, and are pushed as “spe­cial­ty beers” or “beers for tast­ing”.

We thought Adelscott might be inter­est­ing – Boak’s boss had raved about it. We weren’t expect­ing much from Des­per­a­dos. But, just to make sure, last week we sat in a bar in Mont­pe­lier and ordered one Adelscott and one Des­per­a­dos.

And guess what – both are foul. Des­per­a­dos tastes like a par­tic­u­lar­ly sick­ly lemon­ade; Adelscott tastes like Lucozade. Both are full of flavour­ings and unfer­ment­ed sug­ar, so taste like alcopops. They are also quite strong, at near­ly 6% each.

Avoid ’em. We’d rather drink Heineken – and that’s say­ing some­thing.

Image: inter­est­ing detail from an entire­ly unre­lat­ed beer bot­tle.

Damm good beer (ooh… bad pun)

akdamm.jpg In both France and Spain, the label “beer from Alsace” or “Alsa­t­ian beer” is used to imply that the stuff in the bot­tle will be a bit more strong­ly flavoured, bet­ter craft­ed and pur­er. In short, it will be almost as good as Ger­man beer.

In prac­tice, there’s very rarely any real dif­fer­ence in style or qual­i­ty. One Span­ish brew­ery that jus­ti­fi­ably trum­pets its Alsa­t­ian roots, how­ev­er, is Barcelona’s Damm, whose beers are a cut above those of many of their com­peti­tors.

Their well-known Estrel­la Damm is a fair­ly typ­i­cal bland Span­ish lager, but unlike sim­i­lar efforts from Mahou, San Miguel and Cruz­cam­po, it’s actu­al­ly pleas­ant tast­ing. Of all the com­mon­ly found Span­ish lagers, it has the most body and the strongest malt flavour. The one to go for if you’ve got a choice in a Span­ish bar.

volldam.jpgTheir flag­ship beer is the Ger­man­i­cal­ly named Voll-Damm. It’s a dark gold­en, full-bod­ied 7.2% (DN) Ger­man-style spe­cial beer whose label makes some bold claims: “The Gen­uine Beer Char­ac­ter”; “Das Orig­i­nale Maerzen Bier”. Hmm­mm. First brewed in the 1950s, it might strug­gle to con­vince a court of the truth of that last claim. Nonethe­less, it is a fan­tas­tic beer, by any stan­dards. We had one short­ly after a bot­tle of Sal­va­tor, and the taste was remark­ably sim­i­lar, even if the colour was not. The nicest tast­ing Span­ish beer we’ve found, if not one to knock back lots of in the blaz­ing sun. Span­ish res­i­dents can even join a Voll-Damm fan club and declare them­selves Voll­dammis­tas.

Final­ly, there’s the fan­ci­ly pack­aged A.K. Damm, which is named after the brewery’s founder, August Kuen­st­mann Damm, an emi­gree from Alsace. It’s not strong (4.8%), but it does have a (just about) dis­cernible hop char­ac­ter and a real­ly sol­id malt base. There’s also some­thing fruity in the yeast – we were remind­ed of one of the more ale-like Koelschs. It’s worth not­ing, too, that when we had two bot­tles brewed six months apart, the new­er bot­tle was much bet­ter.

The one that got away – the Damm beer we have yet to try – is Bock-Damm. It’s not a Bock, but a dark Munich style lager.

It’s good to see a Span­ish brew­ery tak­ing the trou­ble to pro­duce a range of dif­fer­ent styles, even if all of them are pas­teurised and fil­tered half to death.

Rosita – Catalan real ale


We spent yes­ter­day in Tar­rag­o­na – now a fair­ly sleepy Span­ish city by the sea, but once one of the biggest in the Roman Empire.

Imag­ine our excite­ment when, as we were on our way out of town, we saw an advert in a shop win­dow for “Rosi­ta – cervesa arte­sanal de Tar­rag­o­na”. That trans­lates, more-or-less, as “Rosi­ta – the craft beer from the Tar­ragon region”.

We bought two bot­tles, and asked the help­ful shop­keep­er where we could try it in a local bar. He sent us to the town square down the street, and before 10 min­utes had passed, we were crack­ing open two cold bot­tles.

BAILEY: “It’ll be a bor­ing fizzy lager.”

BOAK: “Hmm. Maybe not. I don’t speak Cata­lan, but I think this says that it’s ‘refer­ment­ed in the bot­tle’.”

BAILEY: “It’s bot­tle-con­di­tioned!?”

BOAK: “It’s also top-fer­ment­ed!”

And, sure enough, Rosi­ta is a pale, cit­rusy, slight­ly cloudy and very hop­py pale ale. It was also only light­ly car­bon­at­ed, and not like fizzy pop. We were impressed. This is a great beer, by any stan­dards, but tast­ed all the bet­ter amidst a sea of bland so-called ‘pil­sners’.

We were even more impressed when we tried it with seafood lat­er that evening. The cit­rus flavours leapt out, and it seemed won­der­ful­ly refresh­ing, with­out being over­pow­er­ing.

We’ve often said that we can under­stand why there’s only bor­ing lager in Spain – the locals wouldn’t go for any­thing else in that heat – but this won­der­ful beer shows how to do it.

Rosita’s ingre­di­ents are list­ed as malt, hops, yeast and sug­ar. Our guess is that there are some Amer­i­can hops, and pos­si­bly some Eng­lish ones too. There’s more info (in Cata­lan only) on their web­site.

PS – Tarragona’s worth a stop for the Roman ruins and medieval old town, and also seems to be quite a gas­tro­nom­i­cal sort of place. We had lunch in a restau­rant called (we think) “Cervesera La Nau” on Car­rer de la Nau, which had a quite exten­sive beer list. Tar­rag­o­na is about an hour away from Barcelona by train.