Out of the loop

A milk carton of IPA.

I ended up sat in Bottles & Books on my own on Friday night, hovering around the edge of a conversation about beer that made me feel totally ignorant and out of touch.

Bottles & Books is our local craft beer phantasmagorium, with fridges full of cans, a wall of bottles, and a few taps of draught beer served by the third and two-thirds measure.

On Friday, the discussion turned to IPA, and it was when I heard this sentence that I knew I was out of my depth:

Brut IPA died a death fairly quickly, didn’t it? And NEIPA just tastes a bit… old fashioned. It’s all about the Hudson Valley style now.

Hudson Valley? Is that a region? Yes, but it’s also a brewery, as profiled in this article, which has a headline apparently designed to annoy conservative beer geeks who already think brewing has been fatally compromised by the amateur tendency:

Hudson Valley Brewery Makes Beer Based on Instinct, not Instructions

Sour IPA is, I gather, the long and short of it, and sure enough, when Jess and I went to the Left Handed Giant taproom yesterday, there was one on the menu.

We gave up trying to stay on top of trends years ago but there was something intoxicating about all this new information, all the names and details, that made me think… Should we try?

The odd educational eavesdropping session probably wouldn’t do us any harm, at least.

News, Nuggets and Longreads 23 March 2019: Choice, Cycles, Cask 2019

Here’s everything in the world of beer and pubs that struck us as noteworthy in the past week, from AB-InBev to Samuel Smith.

Hollie at Globe Hops, a UK beer blog that’s new to us, recently went back to Nottingham where she studied and noticed that many of her favourite pubs had tons more choice in their beer ranges, but somehow less character:

My brow furrowed. I struggled to articulate how it felt to me like something had been lost from the place, even though all that had really happened was that more options had been added. I’d loved the pub for precisely its niche; the reliability of excellently kept Castle Rock ales, the chance to try the brewery’s seasonal ranges, and guest ales from other small local breweries, such as the fantastic Springhead. But now there was a smorgasbord of choice that was almost dizzying. I quickly realised the problem; were it not for the recognisable brick walls and beams lovingly decorated with pump labels, I could be anywhere. The pub had retained its charm, but the bar choice had lost its accent.

(Via Peter McKerry | @PeterMcKerry.)

Continue reading “News, Nuggets and Longreads 23 March 2019: Choice, Cycles, Cask 2019”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 July 2018: Cain’s, Keptinis, Craeft

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that inspired us to hit the BOOKMARK button in the past week, from pubs to hazy IPAs.

But let’s start with some items of news.


Illustration: intimidating pub.

For Original Gravity Emma Inch has written about the feeling of being on edge in pubs, even if nothing concrete happens, because of a sense that people are just a little too aware of “what makes you different”:

Throughout my drinking life I’ve been asked to leave a pub on the grounds that it’s a ‘family friendly venue’; I’ve witnessed a friend being ejected for giving his male partner a dry peck on the cheek; I’ve had a fellow customer shout homophobic abuse in my ear whilst the bartender calmly continued to ask me to pay for my pint… Once, I had to shield my face from flying glass as the pub windows were kicked in by bigots outside, and I still remember the sharp, breathless fear in the days following the Admiral Duncan pub bombing, not knowing if it was all over, or who and where would be targeted next.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 July 2018: Cain’s, Keptinis, Craeft”

American vs. British Beer in 1996

GABF 1996 logo.

In the autumn of 1996 Britain sent a delegation of beer experts to judge at the Great American Beer Festival: Roger Protz, veteran beer writer; Alastair Hook, pioneering UK lager brewer; and Sean Franklin, generally reckoned to be the first British brewer to make a feature of American Cascade hops.

All three contributed to an article in technical trade magazine The Grist for November/December that year. Protz complained that the cold American beer gave him gut-ache while Hook reflected on the logistics and culture surrounding the event. But Franklin’s comments, which focus on the difference between British and American beers in those days before ‘craft beer’ was the phrase on everyone’s lips, are the most interesting.

He judged the Märzen, robust porter, English bitter and barley wine categories, not India Pale Ale as you might assume from reading this:

In retrospect I saw four common denominators. First because the American small brewers are much more into bottling than we are, the beers, in the main, looked very good. Secondly, as you’d expect, there was a lot of American hop character in the beers, plenty of grapefruit, flowery citrusy aromas — Chinook, Cascade and Centennial. Lots of very characterful, drinkable beers. Thirdly, some of the American beers have more ‘weight’ to them than UK beers. Certainly to give a balanced beer at the US serving temperature the beers need to be bigger in ‘weight’ and character than our own. Fourth, and most important, most US microbreweries now see beer as a ‘quality’ product. They have projected  fashionable edge onto their products. The quality matches the marketing.

Cold, weighty, characterful, perfumed… It’s easy to understand how that turned the heads of British beer drinkers, and brewers. And even if the details have changed and new styles have emerged it still feels like a fair summary of the differences between American beer in general and the more traditional British approach.

Birth of the Beer Can, 1935

In the week that Thornbridge announced it would begin canning beer after years of resistance we happened across an amusing article on the same subject in a 1935 edition of the New Yorker magazine.

It appeared without byline in the ‘Talk of the Town’ section in the issue for 30 November and begins like this:

We resigned from the Foreign Legion last week and joined the war between the beer-bottle people and the beer-can people. It is a lot more fun. We spent the entire week teasing bottle men about cans, and can men about bottles. “Is it true,” we asked Mr. Hopper, of the Continental Can Company, “that glass is a better insulator than tin?” “Is it a fact,” we asked Mr. Norrington, of the Glass Container Association of American, “that beer in Continental Cans is how beer ought to taste?” “Is it true,” we asked Mr. Odquist, of the American Can Company, “that the use of the can is complicated by the uncertain vicissitudes of international trade and amity?” We even called up Ruppert’s and asked them if it was a fact they were still put beer in funny old-fashioned bottles, instead of in “keg-lined cans” that have that “fresh from the brewery” flavor. They got so excited they made us come up to the brewery and take a blindfold test to see if we could tell draught beer from bottled beer. We failed, time and time again, time and time again. Gol darn, we’ve had fun lately!

Continental Can Company ad, c.1935.
SOURCE: Pinterest, unfortunately; probably from a magazine like Colliers which we know ran ads with this copy in 1935.

The article goes on to describe attempts by the various different can manufacturers to talk down each others products as resembling tomato tins or oil canisters respectively.

Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn joined on the side of the can, and presented us with twenty-three reasons it is better than the bottle, including Reason No. 13: “The housewife is used to the can.”

It was during this period of intense competition, the article suggests, that the ‘stubby bottle’ was invented as the glass answer to the can’s compact form, but there were dirty tricks, too:

The can people, hearing that glass men were openly branding a can-opener as a “deadly weapon,” developed the “cap-sealed can,” which opens just like a bottle. The bottle people, a little bit sick of some of the extravagant claims of the tin folk, quietly placed chemists at work, with a view to showing that the can group is a bunch of liars…. It’s hard to know whom to believe. Champions of the can say that light hurts beer. The glass people say that’s nonsense — heat, not light, hurts beer.

An advert for Keglined cans.
1935 advertisement for Keglined cans. SOURCE: Archive.org.

There’s some surprisingly detailed technical talk about lining for cans, too, designed to prevent the beer tasting metallic, with one manufacturer implying that their lining was similar to the resin pitch used in beer kegs, which, as the New Yorker gleefully points out, it really wasn’t.

It’s fascinating to read something from a moment when the can had yet to prove itself:

At present, most canned beer is sold in the South; but Continental now has a contract with Schlitz, and American with Pabst, so Milwaukee is now beginning to can its brew. So far, no New York brewery has gone over. Piel’s and Rubsam & Horrmann are blossoming out with “stubbies,” the new-day bottle. The steel industry is counting on 1,500,000,000 beer cans in 1936.

As we know, the can certainly did take off, and after decades of association with the most commodified of commodity beer, has had a strange resurgence in popularity and credibility in just the past decade. And yet more or less the same criticisms are voiced and the same claims are made — “cools faster” says the 1935 ad above, and that’s still a major selling point today. It’s a sign of the times, though, that disposability, a key benefit in 1935, has been replaced on the checklist with recyclability in 2018.

For more information the development of beer canning in the US check out Keglined, an entire website dedicated to that very subject. Main image adapted from this scan by ‘Billy’ at Flickr.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 4 February 2017: Lexicography, St Louis, Ateliers

Here’s all the beer and pub writing that grabbed our attention in the past seven days from different ways to say you’re bladdered to mysteries of the American palate.

First, for the BBC’s culture pages, lexicographer and broadcaster Susie Dent considers the 3,000 words in the English language to describe being drunk:

The concoctions those knights dispensed fill an even richer lexicon, veering from the euphemistic ‘tiger’s milk’ to the blatant invitation of ‘strip-me-naked’. Add those to the 3,000 words English currently holds for the state of being drunk (including ‘ramsquaddled’, ‘obfusticated’, ‘tight as a tick’, and the curious ‘been too free with Sir Richard’) and you’ll find that the only subjects that fill the pages of English slang more are money and sex.

(But has she quite got that bit on Bride-ale right?)


Barmen pouring IPAs.
SOURCE: Jeff Alworth/Beervana

These next two posts need to be read as one piece. First, Jeff Alworth argues — persuasively, we think — that the reason IPAs are so dominant in US craft beer is because it’s the first beer style Americans can really call their own, like jazz and comic books:

Americans are finding their palates, which is a sign of maturity. This is not a new point here at the blog, but it’s becoming more pointed. When a country develops its own beer culture, diversity declines. This is why Belgian and British ales don’t taste the same, nor Czech and German lagers. Americans have found their groove, and it is lined with the residue of sticky yellow lupulin.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 4 February 2017: Lexicography, St Louis, Ateliers”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 5 November 2016: ‘Chavs’, Antics and Dirty Tricks

Oof, it’s a big one today, taking in everything from sabotage anti-marketing to the origins of Gold Label barley wine.

John Holmes of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group has written on his private blog about the troubling implications of an updated take on Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’:

The modern pastiche gives us an obese mother, mouth wide open, burger in one hand and phone in the other while her baby shares her chips. The baby is in a onesie with ears while the mother is dressed in leopard-print leggings and a top so small that only anatomically-dubious drawing protects her decency. In combination, these stylistic choices seem designed to define the woman as, for want of a better word, a ‘chav’ and it is hard to escape the sense that we are intended to both judge and blame her for being in a disgusting state and, worse, for inflicting the same destiny on her young child.


Detail from Bourbon County label.
SOURCE: Goose Island, via Chicago Tribune.

Josh Noel at the Chicago Tribune, author of a book about Goose Island brewery, wasn’t satisfied with the vagueness around the origin date of Bourbon County Stout and did some digging which proved that breweries are often the worst sources when it comes to their own histories:

Legend says that the industry’s first stout aged in a bourbon barrel was initially tapped in 1992, at Goose Island’s Clybourn Avenue brewpub… Even the bottles say it, right there in the brown glass, between the words BOURBON and COUNTY — ‘Since 1992.’… But on the eve of this year’s release, I’ve concluded that there’s almost no chance that Bourbon County Stout came into this world in 1992. Dozens of interviews and hours of research point to the first keg of Bourbon County Stout being tapped in 1995.


The Ravensbourne Arms.

London-based pub group Antic is fascinating and weirdly opaque — we’ve never managed to get them to respond to queries by email or Tweet for starters. For 853, a website about local issues in South East London, Darryl writes about their weird antics (heh) with regard to the Ravensbourne Arms in Lewisham and how the collapse of local journalism has removed a key element of scrutiny:

Lewisham Council granted planning permission for flats above the Ravensbourne Arms as well as development of surrounding land twice, in 2014 and August 2015… The applications don’t mention the pub itself, but this should have rung alarm bells. Housing above pubs can be a way of securing the future of a venue (the new Catford Bridge Tavern will have flats above it). But such developments are also a very good way for developers to shut down the pub itself – these are cases that demand vigilance… The applicant was given as “Antic London”. There is no company of this name registered at Companies House in the UK, nor in Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 5 November 2016: ‘Chavs’, Antics and Dirty Tricks”

Magical Mystery Pour #10: Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale

The second beer chosen for us by The Beer Nut (@thebeernut) is Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale (7% ABV) from Michigan, USA. We bought it from Beer Gonzo at £3.70 per 330ml bottle.

Magical Mystery Pour logo.We were vaguely aware of having heard of this beer but pointedly didn’t look it up before tasting to avoid skewing our judgement any more than necessary.

On opening the bottle, we were treated to a wonderful fruity, flowery aroma, like something on the air in an sub-tropical ornamental garden. It looked beautiful in the glass, glowing orange with a rock-steady head of whipped-white foam. Altogether appetising.

The head on a glass of beer.

The first taste elicited involuntary expressions of delight: Ooo, cor, blimey, phwoar! Which we guess answers the fundamental binary question about whether we liked it or not. It took us back to a decade ago, experiencing absolute delight as we tried one American IPA after another at The Rake in London’s Borough Market, marvelling at beers that seemed heavier, richer, sweeter, more bitter and more intense than anything we could find on draught in our local pub.

Close-up the aroma suggested not flowers and fresh fruit but pipe tobacco and boiling marmalade. There was something old-fashioned about the whole package, which brought to mind a historical recreation we’ve enjoyed a lot on more than one occasion, Cluster’s Last Stand.

The bitterness seemed high compared to some similar beers we’ve had, a sort of drying blast over the tongue at the end of each dip, but it conveyed a sense of solid maturity rather than showboating X-TREME-ness.

Another beer that we thought of was Fuller’s Vintage Ale — an odd leap, perhaps, but there you go — which led us to a conclusion: Two-Hearted is like an English bitter boiled down to concentrate. We know that Gary Gillman (blogger and sometimes commenter here) and Nick (mostly on Twitter) are in the habit of letting down packaged beer to recreate the effect of cask ale so decided to follow their lead and dilute a sample of Two-Hearted 50/50 with tap water. This was revelatory, even though it didn’t taste great in its own right: reduced in intensity, it did indeed resemble, say, Young’s Bitter, or Harvey’s Armada IPA.

We were very impressed with this beer and would drink it again. It’s not cheap but it’s not outrageously expensive either and we couldn’t think of many British beers that provide this particular kind of jammy, chewy, juiciness at a lower price. (Suggestions welcome, of course, but think orange, marmalade and toffee rather than mango Champagne.)

Tasting done, we looked it up, and found felt slightly embarrassed not to have tried it before: it’s regarded as a classic by many and (obviously) some people think it is over-hyped. It’s rated as world class by Beer Advocate (disclosure: we’ve done paid work for BA magazine) and has a perfect 100 high score on RateBeer.

Reviews on both sites talk about pineapple, mango, citrus, passion fruit, pine and all that American-hop baggage, none of which we picked up — it’s as if they were describing a different beer. That made us wonder if the journey across the Atlantic, perhaps via mainland Europe, and six months in the bottle (ours was packaged in January) had taken the edges off this apparently legendary beer in a way that just happened to really work for us.

Yes, that’s right: our new favourite beer style is Staled Warehouse IPA™.

Pleasingly, The Beer Nut’s own tasting notes from 2011 seem to match ours. (This is a strangely rare occurrence.)

Consistency, Quality, Conspiracy

At the end of 2015 American consumers began to complain that bottles of Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout and Bourbon County Barleywine didn’t taste right, and were ‘gushing’ — that is, exploding out of the bottle on opening.

The brewery recalled the lot and began an investigation. Now, six months on, the brewery has revealed its findings: there was an infection of Lactobacillus acetotolerans.

We hadn’t been following this story particularly but when Tom Cizauskas Tweeted about it, it caught our attention. First, it prompted us to think, ‘Huh… Isn’t the idea that when breweries get taken over by AB-InBev their quality control is meant to get better, their beer more consistent?’ (It’s a standard component of the ‘I’m glad about this take-over’ stance.)

Continue reading “Consistency, Quality, Conspiracy”

Magical Mystery Pour #5: Ruhstaller’s Gilt Edge

Magical Mystery Pour logo.We asked noted beer writer Joe Stange (@Thirsty_Pilgrim) to select our second batch of Magical Mystery Pour beers and he said yes. Well, actually, he said:

  1. “Oh I like this. It’s like your friends actually letting you play DJ at a party.”
  2. “You know, it’s very tempting to troll you with the six worst beers I can think of.”

But, after further consideration, he decided on an entirely different theme: lager. Specifically, he chose a mix of Belgian, German and American beers, some that he knows well, others about which he is curious, all of which we then purchased with our own cash from Beers of Europe.

First, we tackled Ruhstaller’s Gilt Edge, a 4.8% ABV, vaguely-heritage-y California golden lager. Joe hasn’t tried it but says:

This one comes all the way from Sacramento at 42 IBU. I hope it’s drinkable. The labels on these revivalist American lagers remind me of current generational tilts toward things like beard oil and cowboy rye whiskey. I expect a barber shop quarter to appear when you drink this.

It came in a 330ml can that cost £3.49 — not an outrageous price but not cheap either, especially for what you might call a basic beer style.

Initial impressions, even before opening the can, were mixed: on the one hand, the label was glued to the can which, with UK beers, we have tended to regard as a bad sign. On the other, we’ve rarely seen more informative blurb:

Labelling on Ruhstaller's can: hops, barley, etc.

There doesn’t seem to be anything to hide here which is reassuring, even if we don’t actually have any idea whether those are particularly great varieties of barley, or if these farms are anything special.

After pouring, we could but marvel: it looked so pretty. The head was as stiff as beaten egg-whites and the body of the beer, pale gold, almost seemed to give off a light of its own. (Although, to be fair, this is also true of, say, Stella Artois.)

Ruhstaller's in the glass on a beer mat.

The aroma was restrained — just an appetising wisp of herbs and citrus peel.

The flavour had a few stages: first, that crusty bread savoury-sweetness we associate with decent German beers, then a brief appearance from that twist of citrus, followed by — oh, blimey! — a crushing monster truck of unchecked bitterness. The first few sips were almost challenging, tipping way over from crisp into harsh. But the more we drank, the less that bothered us. Our palates adjusted to this new reality, just as the shock-inducing cold plunge at a spa gets to be fun after a while. We began to think that, yes, we’d like a few more of these in for the kind of hot day we’re sure is on the way, when the back of the throat demands something with real bite.

It’s typically American (if we can indulge in some stereotyping) in its boldness and frankness, but that doesn’t mean it’s unsubtle or silly. There are no grapefruits here.

If you think lager is bland, or you think Jever and Pilsner Urquell aren’t the beers they used to be, give this a try. It might just be the jolt you need.