Where Can We Buy Your Beer?

The cover of the Beer Map of Great Britain, 1970s.

With (give or take – counts vary) something like 1,600 breweries currently operating in the UK a common complaint is the difficulty for smaller operators of getting those beers to consumers.

Big pub com­pa­nies, chains and super­mar­kets dom­i­nate the mar­ket, buy­ing beer from a cho­sen few brew­eries will­ing to meet their demand­ing terms. In many regions one or two large play­ers (e.g. St Austell) con­trol many of the pubs leav­ing a fist­ful of free­hous­es to fight over. And, so we gath­er from inter­views and off-the-record chat, new small brew­eries can some­times find them­selves mus­cled out by bet­ter-estab­lished play­ers of more or less the same size.

Yes­ter­day we got involved in some Twit­ter chat about beer from Devon (there’s a poll, actu­al­ly, if you feel like vot­ing) and a ver­sion of what seems to us to be a com­mon con­ver­sa­tion unfurled. To para­phrase:

A: There’s no good beer in [PLACE]!

B: Yes there is – brew­eries X, Y and Z are awe­some!

A: But I’ve nev­er actu­al­ly seen those beers for sale any­where.

B: Ah.

In this con­text we’re begin­ning to think the sin­gle most impor­tant bit of infor­ma­tion a small brew­ery can share is intel­li­gence on where we can actu­al­ly buy their beer, if it’s any­thing oth­er than fair­ly ubiq­ui­tous.

It might be in the farm­ers’ mar­ket in Fulchester every third Sun­day of the month; it might be in the del­i­catessen in Dufton; the bot­tle shop in Barch­ester; or the Coach & Hors­es in Cast­er­bridge. We will go out of our way (a bit) to find a beer that sounds inter­est­ing, or to try some­thing new on our beat, but we need a few hints, ide­al­ly with­out hav­ing to email or direct mes­sage the brew­ery. (And some­times, even when we do that, we get ‘No idea, sor­ry’, or ‘It’s should be in a few pubs round Borset­shire this month’.)

A dai­ly updat­ed page on the brew­ery web­site, Face­book page or Twit­ter would prob­a­bly work best.

We cer­tain­ly appre­ci­ate that in the case of cask ale, even if a brew­ery knows a pub has tak­en deliv­ery, it can be hard to say exact­ly when it’s going to go on or, equal­ly, if it’s already sold out. Even so, would­n’t a quick exchange of info between pub­li­can and brew­er – a text mes­sage or social media nudge – be mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial here?

But per­haps there are good rea­sons why this does­n’t often seem to hap­pen.

In the mean­time, if you don’t know where your beer is on sale, and can’t tell peo­ple who want to buy it, then it almost might as well not exist.

The Craft Beer Life on a Budget

Is craft beer in the UK (definition 2) hopelessly exclusive to those on a budget or are there ways in?

We got think­ing about this in response to two Tweets, the first from Mark Dex­ter…

…and the sec­ond from Tony Nay­lor who writes about food and drink for the Guardian and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions:

Mark (for­mer blog­ger, actor, does­n’t like 330ml bot­tles) went on to argue that those who sug­gest­ed pay­ing it was rea­son­able to ask more for a bet­ter prod­uct were essen­tial­ly say­ing, ‘Screw poor peo­ple. Let them drink piss.’ (His words.)

This is some­thing that nags at us some­what. A few years ago we sug­gest­ed that brew­eries might con­sid­er find­ing a way to offer an entry lev­el beer at a rea­son­able price by, for exam­ple, being prag­mat­ic about hops and shoot­ing for a low­er ABV.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Craft Beer Life on a Bud­get”

The A‑Team

Illustration: the A-Team.

Without quite meaning to we’ve acquired some habits – a line-up of bottled beers that we always have in the cupboard or fridge.

What fol­lows is prob­a­bly as near as you’ll ever get from us to an X Beers Before You Y list.

Bit­ter (pale ale) or pale and hop­py ses­sion beers we tend to drink in the pub. We’re spoiled for choice, real­ly, even in Pen­zance, and even more so if we take the bus out to the Star at Crowlas. Still, it’s worth say­ing that St Austell Prop­er Job is our default pub drink these days. It’s for the more unusu­al styles that we resort to bot­tles.

Anchor Porter from the US which goes at around £2–3 per 355ml bot­tle in the UK is our go-to beer in the stout fam­i­ly. We arrived at this deci­sion after prop­er test­ing. When the urge for a dark beer that real­ly tastes dark over­comes us, this is the one we reach for, know­ing it will be great every time.

There are lots of great Bel­gian beers but one that nev­er gets bor­ing, because it’s the best beer in the world, is West­malle Tripel. There are always a cou­ple of bot­tles of this in every order we place.

Orval is our favourite exam­ple of… Orval. We went from being scep­ti­cal to puz­zled to devo­tees over the course of a cou­ple of years. We love it in its own right – it’s always dif­fer­ent, yet some­how the same – but we also like to play with it. It’s our house stock ale if you like.

We don’t often need a stout more robust than Anchor Porter but when we do it’s Har­vey’s Impe­r­i­al Extra Dou­ble Stout. It tastes its strength, coats the tongue, and comes with a trac­tor-trail­er of funky weird­ness that real­ly does ensure a sin­gle glass can last all evening. One case every oth­er year seems to do the job, though.

This is both our most bor­ing choice and like­ly to be most con­tro­ver­sial: we’ve yet to find a flow­ery, aro­mat­ic Amer­i­can-style IPA that is bet­ter val­ue or more reli­ably enjoy­able than Brew­Dog Punk. Every time we open a bot­tle or can we say, ‘Wow!’ which is exact­ly what we want from this kind of beer. Nine times out of ten Prop­er Job at the Yacht Inn is all the hops we need but this is the one we keep at home when our blood-humu­lone lev­els drop to dan­ger­ous­ly low lev­els.

When we want some­thing sour and refresh­ing we con­sis­tent­ly turn to Mag­ic Rock Salty Kiss. It’s not over­ly strong, not over­ly acidic, and is just the right kind of acidic for us, too. (But we won’t say too much – it’s com­ing up in the cur­rent round of Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Pour.)

But there are still vacan­cies – styles where we play the field. When it comes to lager, we cur­rent­ly cycle through St Austell Korev (great val­ue, easy to find), Thorn­bridge Tzara (yes, we know, not tech­ni­cal­ly a lager, but tech­ni­cal­ly bril­liant) and Schlenker­la Helles (the smoke is just enough of a twist to keep us excit­ed). Even though we tast­ed a load of them we still don’t have a bot­tled mild we feel the need to have per­ma­nent­ly at hand – it’s a pub beer, real­ly. We tend to buy Sai­son Dupont or Brew­Dog Elec­tric India but that’s not a lock – we’re still active­ly audi­tion­ing oth­ers and sai­son isn’t some­thing we drink every week. When we get the urge to drink wheat beer, we’re still hap­py with Hoe­gaar­den, and most Ger­man brands do what they need to do, so we just pop to the shops.

So, that’s us. A ten­den­cy to con­ser­vatism, to the safe option, and to the famil­iar. (Which is, of course, what Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Pour is intend­ed to counter.)

But what about you – do you have any go-to beers? What are they? Or does the whole idea of drink­ing the same beers over and again just bore you to death?

How We Choose What to Drink

You walk into a pub or bar and are faced with, say, eight or more beers. Which do you go for, and why?

We were try­ing to work out if we have a sys­tem, sub­con­scious or oth­er­wise, and here’s what we reck­on our order of pref­er­ence is.

  1. Any­thing that’s on our wish list.
  2. Some­thing new by a favourite brew­ery.
  3. An old favourite we don’t see often.
  4. A beer we’ve tried but want to give more thought to.
  5. Some­thing from a new brew­ery we’ve heard is inter­est­ing.
  6. Any­thing new that does­n’t ring alarm bells.
  7. An old favourite we have all the time.
  8. What­ev­er vague­ly OK but bor­ing cask ale or ‘craft beer’ they’ve got.
  9. Guin­ness, or gin and ton­ic.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “How We Choose What to Drink”

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.