Session #134: Zum Biergarten

For the 134th edi­tion of The Ses­sion, in which beer blog­gers around the world write on the same top­ic, Tom Cizauskas has asked us to think about beer gar­dens.

A good beer garden is a kind of fairy tale that allows you to wallow in summer, and to imagine yourself above or outside the modern world.

We first became aware of how mag­i­cal a Ger­man beer gar­den could be after Jes­si­ca went to the World Cup in 2006 and came back in love with the Englis­ch­er Garten in Munich where she saw thou­sands of foot­ball fans served litre after litre of Helles with unruf­fled effi­cien­cy.

A sunny beer garden.

When we think of Ger­many, we think of beer gar­dens: the high alti­tude majesty of the gar­den at the top of the Staffel­berg; the back­up gar­den of Würzburg­er Hof­bräu we found by acci­dent, which feels as if it’s deep in a for­est despite the ring road on the oth­er side of the hedge; or the river­side idyll of the Spi­tal­brauerei in Regens­burg where this blog was born.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Ses­sion #134: Zum Bier­garten”

British Beer Exports in Pictures

Ron Pattinson at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins has recently been mining data to tell the story of British beer exports in the 20th century. We thought we’d compliment that with some pictures from our collection of in-house magazines.

The pic­tures come from edi­tions of The Red Bar­relThe House of Whit­bread and Guin­ness Time, most­ly from the 1960s and 70s. (Yes, Guin­ness is Irish, but had it’s cor­po­rate HQ and a huge brew­ery in Lon­don from 1932.) It’s pret­ty well con­tent free but we have plans to write some­thing more sub­stan­tial about all this at some point in the future.

A Belgian pub.
Whit­bread­’s Tav­erne Nord, Boule­vard Adolphe Max, Brus­sels, c.1933.
A portrait of a man in an office.
C. De Keyser, Whit­bread­’s Bel­gian sales man­ag­er from 1937.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “British Beer Exports in Pic­tures”

Session #127: Festbier auf Englisch?

Autumn leaves somewhere in Europe.

For this month’s edition of the Session, when beer bloggers around the world write on one topic, Al at Fuggled has asked us to hunt down and consider Oktoberfest beers.

This is anoth­er one we were going to sit out because we haven’t seen any on sale and did­n’t have chance to go hunt­ing. But then we decid­ed, once again, to just be the kind of idiots who ignore the instruc­tions and come at it side­ways instead.

So here’s the ques­tion we asked our­selves: what’s the Eng­lish equiv­a­lent of Fes­t­bier?

First, we need to get our heads round what Fes­t­bier means in Ger­many. Yes, we’ve been writ­ing about beer for years and should know by now but the fact is, it seems a bit vague; has been the vic­tim of some appar­ent­ly incor­rect explain­er arti­cles over the years; and, being sea­son­al, has­n’t often been on offer when we’ve been in Ger­many.

So, with­out get­ting bogged down in its his­to­ry, what does it mean now? What does a Ger­man con­sumer expect from a bot­tle with Fes­t­bier or Okto­ber­fest on the label? We decid­ed the quick­est way to get some kind of work­ing answer was to ask a Ger­man, name­ly Andreas Kren­mair (@der_ak) who blogs about beer and brew­ing at Daft EejitHe says…

Good ques­tion… per­son­al­ly, I’d expect it to be slight­ly stronger than an Export-strength beer but not quite as strong as Bock­bier. For a Fes­t­bier, that would essen­tial­ly mean a scaled-up Helles, with a thick­er mouth­feel, pos­si­bly a slight boozi­ness, and maybe a tiny bit more bit­ter­ness, but still rel­a­tive­ly restrained. If it’s adver­tised as Märzen, I’d expect an amber to pale-brown colour, with notice­able melanoidin flavours, i.e. that malti­ness com­ing from dark­er-kilned malts like Vien­na or Munich malt.

Dis­ap­point­ing with a beer labelled as Fes­t­bier/Ok­to­ber­fest-Märzen would cer­tain­ly be either not enough or too much alco­hol, any of the obvi­ous off-flavours that some lagers suf­fer from, too much bit­ter­ness or an assertive hop­pi­ness. In the case of Märzen, the lack of that typ­i­cal malti­ness would be espe­cial­ly dis­ap­point­ing, as it would be an indi­ca­tor for an indus­tri­al­ly brewed Märzen that is essen­tial­ly Fes­t­bier coloured with Sina­mar (Ron Pat­tin­son once men­tioned that some Munich brew­ery does that for the US export mar­ket, but I for­got which brew­ery it was). All in all, my expec­ta­tion of a Fes­t­bier or Okto­ber­fest-Märzen is that I can drink at least 1 Maß of it with­out get­ting drunk, and want­i­ng more after­wards, so drink­a­bil­i­ty is key…

As a bonus, if the beer is served from grav­i­ty instead of keg, and with slight­ly low­er car­bon­a­tion, that makes a good Fes­t­bier even more drink­able in my opin­ion.

That’s some­thing to go on, and more or less fits with what we thought it meant.

So, an Eng­lish equiv­a­lent would be a stronger, rich­er, smoother ver­sion of an every­day style, and a bit stronger than the norm but not Super Strength. Stronger, rich­er, smoother, 5 point some­thing… That sounds a bit like ESB for starters, does­n’t it? The only prob­lem is, ESB is avail­able all year round, and a Fes­t­bier prob­a­bly ought to be with­held if it’s to feel spe­cial.

With that restric­tion in mind, Spin­go Spe­cial, from the Blue Anchor in Hel­ston, occurred as an option. It only turns up occa­sion­al­ly, and is cer­tain­ly rich. The only prob­lem is… it’s not very nice – just so, so sick­ly sweet, and way too strong. It cer­tain­ly fails AK’s drink­a­bil­i­ty test.

Anoth­er can­di­date might be St Austell Trib­ute Extra which is a stronger, malti­er ver­sion of the famous ale that tends to appear on cask in Novem­ber and Decem­ber. (That’s right, not Sep­tem­ber, when Okto­ber­fest hap­pens, or Octo­ber when peo­ple under­stand­ably think it does.) Quite a few oth­er brew­eries (a bit of Googling sug­gests) have win­ter ver­sions of their stan­dards ales along the same lines. So maybe that’s as close as we get, tim­ing notwith­stand­ing.

As it is, British autumn sea­son­als tend to be things with Red in the namerye in the grist, or both, and that’s fine, but it might be nice if those beers were also a full per­cent­age point or so stronger.

Actu­al­ly, ‘autumn ESB’ has a cer­tain ring to it, does­n’t it? How would you go about brew­ing one?

UPDATE 13:47 01/09/2017: Johannes Weiss (@weizen) works at Wei­hen­stephan and says:

As for Okto­ber­fest­bier, orig­i­nal grav­i­ty needs to be even high­er than for Fes­t­bier, and in Ger­many only Munich brew­eries can call it Okto­ber­fest­bier by law.

So there’s noth­ing there that real­ly applies to Britain, but it’s an inter­est­ing dis­tinc­tion.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 29 July 2017: Germany, Quality Control, Staly Vegas

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that’s grabbed us in the last week, from the politics of micropubs to the price of a six-pack.

Suzy Aldridge (@lincolnpubgeek) brings inter­est­ing news from Lin­coln which might or might not be mean­ing­ful in the wider scheme of things: the keg-heavy local craft beer bar has mor­phed into a cask-led microp­ub. Suzy quotes the local CAMRA chair:

As I see it, the craft scene is pre­dom­i­nant­ly aimed at the younger mar­ket, and with Lincoln’s nightlife being pre­dom­i­nant­ly stu­dent led I could fore­see such a busi­ness strug­gling dur­ing the Uni­ver­si­ty break. Who knows in the future things may change, but for now I will sup­port “The Craft Rooms” in its new incar­na­tion as “The Ale House”.

This cer­tain­ly fits with our read­ing of how microp­ubs and craft beer bars fit togeth­er – as ver­sions of the same thing, both essen­tial­ly prod­ucts of changes in licens­ing law and renewed enthu­si­asm for beer, but cater­ing to dif­fer­ent demo­graph­ics.

Detail from the cover of a German brewing textbook.

Ben Palmer (@Johnzee7) is a British appren­tice brew­er study­ing in Ger­many. On his blog Hop & Schwein he has gath­ered some obser­va­tions on Ger­man brew­ing cul­ture based on his expe­ri­ence so far:

The rea­son I make the gen­er­al­i­sa­tion about ‘Ger­man brew­ers’ in the first place is because they must all jump through the same edu­ca­tion­al hoops in order to become recog­nised as a brew­er… I esti­mate that 99% of peo­ple in pro­duc­tion based brew­ery roles have at some point com­plet­ed this appren­tice­ship, sat the exams and, most impor­tant­ly, received the cer­tifi­cate to prove this. Ger­mans real­ly like cer­tifi­cates. And offi­cial stamps too.

His thoughts on how this might be chang­ing with the rise of learn-on-the-job Amer­i­can-influ­enced Craft Beer brew­ers are espe­cial­ly fas­ci­nat­ing.

Anonymous beer can viewed from above.

At Beer and Present Dan­ger Josh Far­ring­ton pro­vides a use­ful round-up of recent qual­i­ty con­trol inci­dents in UK brew­ing – explod­ing cans, dumped batch­es, prod­uct recalls – and reflects on why some brew­eries con­tin­ue to let cus­tomers buy flawed beer despite the cur­rent cul­ture of high­ly-pub­li­cised self-fla­gel­la­tion:

Even in the past week­end, I had two canned beers from a pair of small brew­eries, only to find one was a scorched earth of smoky phe­nols crammed into a sup­posed Bavar­i­an helles, while the oth­er was a clas­sic Eng­lish IPA that had become a metal­lic soup, like slurp­ing on a slur­ry of bat­ter­ies. I can accept that mis­takes hap­pen after the beer is pack­aged – that every­thing was giv­en the okay in the first instance, that the first swig tast­ed swell – but there’s no excuse for not mak­ing reg­u­lar checks, or tak­ing sam­ples from across the range, to ensure that what you’re send­ing out to mar­ket is as good as you think it is.

The Wharf Tavern.

One of our favourite blog post for­mats is the thought­ful home town pub crawl and this week’s con­tri­bu­tion is from Mark John­son at Beer Com­pur­ga­tion who has been explor­ing Staly­bridge, Greater Man­ches­ter. He starts by set­ting the scene:

To many in the north-west it is famous for its nick­name of Staly Vegas, that came about (as far as I’m aware) through… a sort of revi­tal­i­sa­tion project around the cen­tral canal area by the new Tesco, improve­ments to two bus sta­tions and an influx of age-restrict­ing, dress-code-enforc­ing bars and pubs… The con­cept of Staly Vegas began to die around 2007 and offi­cial­ly broke in 2011, with the low­er­ing of strict entry poli­cies bring­ing delin­quent youths and drug deal­ing to the once respectable bars. What the town has been left with for six years is numer­ous board­ed up build­ings once used as venues that seem to be no longer use or orna­ment.

Fry: "Shut up and take my money!"

Jeff Alworth at Beer­vana has some inter­est­ing thoughts on beer pric­ing that take into account the ques­tion of rep­u­ta­tion over time:

Every deci­sion a brew­ery makes about pric­ing has ben­e­fits and risks. Bud­get-pric­ing may move prod­uct, but it reduces prof­it mar­gins and may even­tu­al­ly dam­age a brand’s rep­u­ta­tion, mir­ing it in the low­er tier in con­sumers’ minds. Once there, it’s dif­fi­cult to raise prices. On the oth­er hand, pric­ing beer at the upper end increas­es prof­its, estab­lish­es a brew­ery as a pre­mi­um pro­duc­er, but may appear like goug­ing once the shine has worn off the brew­ery’s rep­u­ta­tion.

(The first com­ment there is inter­est­ing, too, remind­ing us that even if con­ver­sa­tions about price/value aren’t vis­i­ble on social media does­n’t mean they’re not hap­pen­ing.)

And, final­ly, here’s some eye can­dy from the Bish­ops­gate Insti­tute in the City of Lon­don which has recent­ly been digi­tis­ing some fan­tas­tic images of pubs from their archives, as shared on Twit­ter by Stef Dick­ers, Spe­cial Col­lec­tions and Archives Man­ag­er.

A London pub in black-and-white, c.WWII.

Session #121: Bock! (Absence Of.)

Illustration adapted from a vintage bock beer poster.

For this edition of the monthly beer blogging jamboree Jon Abernathy has asked us to think about Bock, which left us in a pickle.

You see, in mul­ti­ple UK cities over the course of sev­er­al weeks, we haven’t seen a sin­gle Bock for sale. Per­haps sur­pris­ing­ly there was a Cor­nish Bock from St Austell (very decent, too) but if it still exists, it’s in deep hid­ing.

So we were going to swerve this Ses­sion alto­geth­er until, research­ing an arti­cle on Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jack­son last week, we got think­ing about Dort­munder.

Dort­munder, like Bock, is one of the 25 or so vari­eties of beer list­ed in the style guide in Jack­son’s orig­i­nal World Guide to Beer back in 1977, and of which mul­ti­ple exam­ples were list­ed in our Bible, his 1998 throw­away, pic­ture-heavy Great Beer Guide. But we can’t remem­ber the last time we encoun­tered any­thing call­ing itself a Dort­munder. (Although there are a few Exports around.)

Absent from his 1977 style guide, how­ev­er, is Gose, exam­ples of which are fair­ly easy to come by these days. That’s odd, isn’t it? That sour beer with salt and corian­der should be more read­i­ly avail­able than what you’d think might be a more acces­si­ble strong lager.

Well, maybe not. To many drinkers – even those with quaite refained palates – lager is lager is lager, and not ter­ri­bly inter­est­ing. And a strong lager with a nar­row­er focus on unsexy malt over hops is an even hard­er sell in 2017, espe­cial­ly to British drinkers who real­ly do expect fire­works to jus­ti­fy an ABV of more than 5%.

UPDATE 11:20: Oh, except that we did have a Dort­munder at Brew­Dog Bris­tol in Feb­ru­ary. No Bock, though.