Taste-Off: Interesting Eastern European Corner Shop Beers

This beers we tast­ed for this taste-off post were paid for by Patre­on sub­scribers and the top­ic was sug­gest­ed via com­ments on a Patre­on post by Aaron Stein and Andy M.

Cornershop beer seems to have evolved in the half decade since we last checked in, but has it got better?

There’s some­thing appeal­ing about the idea of dis­cov­er­ing a hid­den gem in the least pre­ten­tious of sur­round­ings, stand­ing on chipped floor tiles next to the per­ma­nent­ly run­ning dehu­mid­i­fi­er near the tinned Bigos. Most peo­ple are too snob­by, too xeno­pho­bic, too scared to tack­le these mys­te­ri­ous labels, goes the inner dia­logue, but me? I’m a brave adven­tur­er. In fact, though, there’s hard­ly a beer geek in the coun­try who hasn’t had the same thought and you’ll find any num­ber of blogs review­ing this type of beer with a quick Google.

When we left Lon­don for Corn­wall back in 2011 we had tried damn near every bot­tled East­ern Euro­pean beer on sale in the cor­ner­shops of Waltham­stow. Most were fine, some were foul, and Švy­tu­rys (Carls­berg) Ekstra Draught – an unpas­teurised Dort­munder from Lithua­nia – was one of our go-to bot­tled lagers. Now, in Bris­tol, we once again have easy access to East­ern Euro­pean cor­ner­shops with their dumplings, cured meats, quark, cher­ry-flavoured Jaf­fa Cakes and, yes, acres of exot­ic look­ing beer.

We dipped our toes back in the water with a return to Švy­tu­rys. Would it be as good as we remem­bered, or might our tastes have evolved? The good news is that, as a lager we can pick up on the way home from work for well under £2 a bot­tle, it’s still got it. Our mem­o­ries were of a more bit­ter beer but it still has a remark­able clean, fresh qual­i­ty that some ‘craft’ lagers swing at but miss.

Thus warmed up we returned to our clos­est shop and tried to work out some way to tack­le the wall of beer. It stocks prod­ucts from Rus­sia, Lithua­nia, Latvia, Slo­va­kia, Poland and Roma­nia. (And pos­si­bly some oth­ers we missed.) It’s an intim­i­dat­ing­ly huge range though the vast major­i­ty are vari­a­tions on pale lager or strong pale lager, and most of them are things we tried years ago. Since we last looked Radler seems to have tak­en off out that way and there are now any num­ber of fruit-flavoured refresh­ers on offer but, frankly, that’s not our bag, so we dis­count­ed those, too. What we were drawn to was the odd­i­ties in two cat­e­gories: first, a new strain of takes on world beer styles (Bel­gian Wit, Munich Helles); and, sec­ond­ly, a bunch of unpasteurised/unfiltered prod­ucts pre­sent­ed as upmar­ket, ‘nat­ur­al’ vari­ants on the stan­dard lagers.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Taste-Off: Inter­est­ing East­ern Euro­pean Cor­ner Shop Beers”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 31 December 2016: Kids, Krakow and Koelschips

We took last week off for obvious reasons so here’s everything in the world of beer and pubs that got us thinking or smiling in the past fourteen days.

First, a bit of news that got rather lost in the fuss around Christ­mas: Heineken has tak­en over a large chunk of pub com­pa­ny Punch’s estate, as reflect­ed upon by the Pub Cur­mud­geon:

The Beer Orders were revoked in 2003, so since then there was been noth­ing to pre­vent the major inter­na­tion­al brew­ers rebuild­ing tied estates in the UK. How­ev­er, the dire state of pub com­pa­ny finances has prob­a­bly put them off until now. Heineken retained the rump of the for­mer Scot­tish & New­cas­tle pub oper­a­tion under the ban­ner of Star Pubs and Bars, and so were always the best placed to make a move. Sell­ing out to a brew­er with deep pock­ets is prob­a­bly going to be the best exit strat­e­gy for long-suf­fer­ing pub­co investors.

A baby in the pub.

Here’s one to book­mark if you have kids, or friends with kids – a prac­ti­cal guide, both gen­er­al and spe­cif­ic, to child-friend­ly pubs in East Lon­don, from the ever-thought­ful Beard­ed House­wife:

Some­times it’s just not appro­pri­ate, for the feel of the pub as much as any­thing, to have kids there. For instance, I once had a bit of time to kill in cen­tral Lon­don and tried to take the prog­e­ny into the Harp, near Covent Gar­den. As I attempt­ed to wres­tle the bug­gy back out the nar­row door after being polite­ly rebuffed by the staff, I won­dered what I’d been think­ing. It’s hard to elu­ci­date clear­ly why exact­ly this would have been a bad idea, but chil­dren in a pub like the Harp is an incon­gru­ous con­junc­tion, like a rave in a library, not bad in the sense of wrong, or self­ish, or unjust, but rather more like an uncom­fort­able jux­ta­po­si­tion.

(See also this post on ‘The New East Lon­don Pub Crawl’ from Rebec­ca Pate.)

Weathered wood with cyrillic text: KBAC.

Via Zach Fowle for Draft mag­a­zine the obscure semi-beer kvass rears its ugly head once again – will 2017 final­ly be the year our ter­ri­ble pre­dic­tion that it’s The Next Big Thing comes good?

To make their kvass, Scratch’s brew­ers soak toast­ed left­over loaves in hot water overnight. In the morn­ing, the liq­uid is sep­a­rat­ed from the sog­gy bread, moved into a mash tun and com­bined with stan­dard brew­ing malt (unlike most his­tor­i­cal ver­sions). From there, it’s treat­ed like a typ­i­cal beer, though brew­ers don’t add hops and they fer­ment the wort with the same sour­dough yeast cul­ture used in Scratch’s bread.

Various books and magazine from the last 40+ years of CAMRA.

On Twit­ter John West has giv­en some blog­gers a nudge: where’s the com­men­tary on CAMRA’s Revi­tal­i­sa­tion report? We haven’t got round to it yet, part­ly because of weari­ness with the sub­ject and the lack of any­thing much new to say, but Jeff Alworth, who has been observ­ing British and world beer for years, brings an outsider’s per­spec­tive:

Beer has become some­thing like a sacred bev­er­age to peo­ple all over the globe. And of course, any time you have some­thing sacred, it means there’s a vast world out there of the pro­fane. Beer must be made and con­sumed in a par­tic­u­lar way. To do any­thing else vio­lates this sense of the sacred. This dichoto­my doesn’t emerge arbi­trar­i­ly, though. Sacred things are those which pro­tect and nur­ture the group; pro­fane ones endan­ger it. In the case of cask ale, CAMRA issued an edict about the nature of British beer. They did this to cre­ate a very clear inner cir­cle of pro­tec­tion: this is the thing we’re talk­ing about, and these are the things that endan­ger it.

(The exchange between Jeff and Nick in the com­ments is also worth your atten­tion.)

A beer menu in Krakow.

Mar­tin Tay­lor reports from Krakow where craft beer is fast becom­ing ‘a thing’. This espe­cial­ly caught our eye because, for one rea­son or anoth­er, we spent a fair bit of time in Krakow between 2000–2003, before we were espe­cial­ly into beer, and remem­ber when C.K. Browar was the cool place in town – the equiv­a­lent of Mash in Lon­don, we guess.

Here’s some seri­ous his­toric brew­ing from Ron Pat­tin­son: a recipe for a Truman’s 1917 Gov­ern­ment Ale, AKA Lloyd George’s Beer, which Ron observes was actu­al­ly some­what improved by rationing as its malt con­tent was boost­ed in lieu of hard-to-get sug­ar.

Mark Tranter

Here’s one that we prob­a­bly should have includ­ed in our last round-up but some­how missed in the ear­ly morn­ing bleurgh when these things are most­ly put togeth­er: an inter­view with Mark Tran­ter of Burn­ing Sky by James Bee­son for Bee­son on Beer. It’s inter­est­ing pri­mar­i­ly because it con­tains a gen­uine scoop about a devel­op­ment which Chris Hall, among oth­ers, has sug­gest­ed is a defin­ing moment in British brew­ing:

When’s this piece going out again?’ He asks, paus­ing as if weigh­ing up a deci­sion in his head, ‘Oh, and we’re installing a cool­ship in Janau­ry.’ Exhal­ing deeply, he leans back in the rick­ety wood­en chair on which he is sit­ting. ‘That’s the first time I’ve told any­one that.’

Final­ly, here’s an image to enjoy, via @iamreddave:

Baedeker on Schöps

We men­tioned schöps beer in a post about the beer war of 1380 ages ago. This week, we came across anoth­er tit­bit in Baedeker’s North­ern Ger­many (1893) in the entry for Schwei­d­nitz (now Świd­ni­ca):

Schweidnitz (Thamm, at the station; Krone, Scepter, both in the market-place; *Deutsches Haus, R., L., & A 1.5km,;Riedel's; Gruener Adler), a town with 24,700 inhab., formerly the capital of a principality of the name (since 1741 Prussian), is prettily situated on the left bank of the Weistritz. in the Wilhems-Platz, near the station, are the handsome Law Courts. The tower (328 ft.) of the Roman Catholic Church commands an admirable prospect. The old fortifications were removed in 1862 and partly converted into handsome promenades. The beer of the place (*Bierhalle, with garden, in the Wilhelms-Platz) is famous, especially the 'Schwarze Schoeps' (in autumn only), which was largely exported in the 16th century.

As Evan Rail incu­bates grodziskie yeast in his fridge; and Ron Pat­tin­son and John Keel­ing brew Fuller’s beers to recipes from the archives; does it mat­ter if beer is all played out?

We think these folks are brew­ing and sell­ing a ver­sion of schöpscan any­one with bet­ter Ger­man than us con­firm that?

Snacks to beer part 2 – schmaltz/smalec

I have very hap­py mem­o­ries of vis­it­ing Poland. Chief among them is the great joy I expe­ri­enced in Wroc?aw when pre­sent­ed with a free – yes, free! – plate of bread and drip­ping with my first pint at Piwni­ca Swid­nic­ka.

Since then, I’ve also enjoyed it at as ‘schmaltz’ in var­i­ous places in Ger­many, most notably Kloster­bräu in Bam­berg which has sev­er­al vari­eties, includ­ing goose fat.

They say you shouldn’t eat greasy food with beer and, yes, if you’re car­ry­ing out any kind of for­mal tast­ing, it’s prob­a­bly a bad idea. But, in the real world, noth­ing makes a wheat beer zing like a piece of rye bread spread thick­ly with spicy, salty, onion-laced lard.

These days, it’s thank­ful­ly very easy to get schmaltz/smalec in the UK in any shop which stocks Pol­ish foods.

The one I bought to eat with my beery bread had a high­er meat con­tent than some (try say­ing “mechan­i­cal­ly recov­ered chick­en and pork” with­out say­ing “mmm­m­m­mm”…) and was very sat­is­fy­ing indeed. Some­times, you’ll find it in tins; in blocks like but­ter or lard; or in glass jars. It’s cheap how­ev­er it comes.

Let’s be clear, though: it is not health food.

That sal­ad I had with it can­cels out the fat, though, right? Right? And it’s nor­mal to have shoot­ing pains in your left arm, isn’t it?

If you like your grease cut with oth­er fats, why not give Obaz­da a go?


Definitely not beer of the week


Our local Turk­ish-run cor­ner shop sells some sur­pris­ing­ly good beer but, on the flip­side, they make most of their mon­ey flog­ging nasty ciders and strong lagers to tramps. Which is Lech Pils?

Lech Pils caught our eye because we’ve got a soft spot for Poland and because, unlike Lech Pre­mi­um, it isn’t that com­mon­ly seen in the UK. There was also the thought in the back of our minds that, if Pre­mi­um is a bor­ing lager (and it is) then maybe Pils would actu­al­ly be some­thing more inter­est­ing – per­haps dri­er, hop­pi­er and more bit­ter? It cer­tain­ly looked the part, being as pale as a beer can be, and quite gen­tly car­bon­at­ed.

Sad­ly, it’s rub­bish.  It smells a bit like WD40 and tastes like mouth­wash. It remind­ed us of Fos­ters, and that’s not a good thing. Straight after­wards, we had a Pil­sner Urquell for the sake of com­par­i­son, and it was streets ahead. Could this be the least sur­pris­ing con­clu­sion to a beer review ever?

When Boak lived in Poland, Lech Pre­mi­um was her beer of choice, being the least like­ly of all the Pol­ish beer brands to give her a migraine. “Best of a bad bunch” would be the phrase…