‘Beer Gets the Connoisseur Treatment’, 1968

For the Observer Magazine published on 7 July 1968, Cyril Ray (who we wrote about yesterday) assembled a crack team to taste beer.

Cover of The Observer Magazine, 7 July, 1968.The tone of the feature as a whole is a little uncertain: Mr Ray’s text argues that beer is really worthy of respect only to be undercut by an illustration (Watney’s pale in a wine basket) and sub-headline (borrowed for this post) which suggest there is something faintly ridiculous in the exercise.

Because he didn’t think it would be fair to ask professional tasters from brewery quality control departments to take part, he recruited Michael Broadbent, head of the wine department at Christie’s auctioneers, and Douglas Young, a professional tea-taster.

Michal Broadbent learned after a couple of lagers… to taste in mouthfuls rather than in his customary sips, realising that beer is meant to be quaffed, and that this is how it best shows its character. Douglas Young was soon isolating specific characteristics of each beer, and asking the brewer who looked after us, in Whitbread’s hospitable tasting-room, for the brewers’ phraseology with which to define them.

Continue reading “‘Beer Gets the Connoisseur Treatment’, 1968”

Limited Edition Beer Madness, 1968

In 1968, the Observer‘s wine critic Cyril Ray wrote about an exciting new limited edition beer, Eldridge Pope’s Thomas Hardy Ale.

The headline was A POUND A PINT, with an exclamation mark implied:

[Its] high strength caused loss from excessive frothing during fermentation, and this, together with the extra duty and long maturing in oak, is why it costs £1 a pint. I have bought some myself to put away — it will pay for keeping — and there may still be some left, in pints, half-pints or nips, at pubs and off-licences in the Hardy country…. Supplies, though, are limited, and I do not suppose that this remarkable beer will be brewed again — not yet awhile, anyway.

Along with the Coronation beers we wrote about here, this has to be one of the earliest examples of this phenomenon, and that’s certainly one of the earliest instances we’ve come across of a wince-inducingly high price (about £16 in today’s money) being justified by reference to the costs of manufacturing, the difficulties of a limited run, and so on.

It would be interesting to know whether the board at Eldridge Pope ever considered absorbing the costs and selling at a more reasonable price given that this was essentially a one-off marketing exercise.

In the same article, Mr Ray also made a recommendation for ‘amateurs of strong beer’ with less cash to splash: Tennant’s Gold Label, which he says is ‘lighter in colour and crisper in style’ but

one must not be deceived: the under-taste is rich and full, and the six-ounce nip packs the punch of two and a half whiskies.

The article appeared in the 14 July edition of the Observer if you want to read the whole thing, though it is only short.

Main image adapted from ‘Thomas Hardy’s Ale’ by Bernt Rostad from Flickr under Creative Commons.

Artyfacts from the Nyneties #4: Meet Pete

Pete's Wicked Ale ad, 1994.
Click to enlarge.

The advertisement above appeared in the Campaign for Real Ale’s monthly What’s Brewing in November 1994.

The year before, ‘Pete’s’ had sponsored the Bieres Sans Frontieres programme and it was on its way to becoming the best-known American brewery among British drinkers.

In the Daily Mirror on 27 January 1995, Nick Kent wrote:

THE coolest beers in America are hitting Britain – and some of them are OK when they’re warm! Microbrewery beers are fashionable in the US but may become an endangered species as hype and big business start to get a hold… Pete’s Wicked Lager is a fine example; hops predominate and it has a clean, sharp, dry taste even though it is on the strong side (4.8 per cent alcohol).

Then, on 21 July the same year, Kent announced an exciting competition:

HE’S loud, proud, thirsty-something, and he could be heading your way… American Pete Slosberg, founder of Pete’s Brewing Company, is coming to the British Beer Festival, and he wants a brace of Mirror readers to go with him… So prepare to be sloshed with Slosberg. It will be a swill party… Modest, quiet, polite, a tasteful dresser — Pete is none of these, as the two competition winners will soon discover… They will accompany Pete as he pint-ificates his way around the festival at London’s Olympia, on Thursday, August 3… Dispensing views on other people’s wares, he will be looking out for any beer daring to rival Pete’s Wicked Lager and Pete’s Wicked Ale for taste… Pete will also take his Mirror guests for a taste of the Belgian beer and food at Belgo Centraal… This top restaurant is the trendiest thing to come out of Belgium since Tintin.

By 1996, Pete’s beers were in Majestic, Waitrose, Tesco, Morrison’s and Oddbins (Independent on Sunday, 17 November).

The flagship beer was a brown ale, Pete’s Wicked Ale, which was reviewed by ‘Sparks’ for the Oxford Bottled Beer Database in around 1998:

This is one of the easier American breweries to get hold of in the UK… The beer is ruby-coloured with a thick, reasonably tenacious head. The nose is quite light, but with noticeable sugary malt notes and a little background hoppiness (aroma hops only). On the tongue, it is quite fizzy and fairly malty, but not as sweet as you might expect from the aroma – in fact it is much drier than many brown ales. There is burnt caramel in the back of the throat, becoming more pronounced towards the finish. The aftertaste is more hoppy, but also with bitter, burnt sugar flavours. This is a pleasant example of a brown ale, with a pleasing dryness not often encountered in the genre.

It doesn’t sound terribly exciting — as Jeff Alworth put it in 2011, ‘In the 1990s, lots and lots of people drank and enjoyed brown ales… I mean really, brown ales. What the … ?’ — but it had a whiff of the exotic about it, and was cleverly marketed with a big personality front-and-centre, e.g.

In the UK, it seems to have occupied a similar space to Newquay Steam Beer, come to think of it — a bit outside the narrative of the ‘craft beer revolution’ (unless we’re mistaken, the last 20 years hasn’t seen a ton of Pete’s Wicked clones among UK brewers, unlike, say, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) and different without being too different.

Bottled Milds 1: Norfolk

It’s odd that we should end up with enough bottled milds from Norfolk to justify giving them their own post in this series.

As people keep telling us in comments, draught mild has a lingering popularity in the Cambridge area and there were lots of people happily drinking Adnams Old Ale (a mild, to all intents and purposes) when we visited Southwold last year. So perhaps the East Country is mild territory after all?

Or perhaps it’s just because Beers of Europe, the online retailer with the largest selection of bottled milds, from which we bought most of the beers for this project, is based in Norfolk?

The three beers we tasted, in ascending order of alcoholic strength, were:

  • Panther Brewery Mild Panther (3.3%, £2.95, 500ml)
  • Norfolk Brewhouse Moon Gazer Dark Mild (4.9%, £2.79, 500ml)
  • Elmtree Nightlight Mild (5.7%, £3.19, 500ml)

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TOP TIP: Putting Life Back into Flat Beer

A while ago, we got involved in a conversation on Twitter about how to put a head on flat beer.

You can buy a fancy-pants sonic foamer (they tried to send us a sample, it got impounded by Customs, we never retrieved it) but what lots of people recommended was a syringe. There’s more on how it works here but, basically, you squirt a mix of air and beer into the glass which introduces nitrogen into the mix like the widget in a can of Guinness.

We struggled to get hold of a syringe, though — for some reason, Penzance chemists look askance at you when you ask for one — and forgot about it. Then we realised that a testing kit we’d bought for home brewing came with a load of these small plastic pipettes:

Plastic pipettes. CREDIT: King Scientific, via Amazon.

As you can see, they turned out to be a pretty effective substitute (no sound):

It might seem a bit daft but it’s really handy when you’ve just slightly misjudged the pour, or had to leave a beer for 10 minutes to take a phone call or something.

We so often get served headless pints when we’re out and about but, realistically, we wouldn’t want to do this in the pub. You could, though, if you’re without shame, and it’s not as if the pipette weighs much.

Plus it is kind of fun: WHOOSH!