Perfect Pride and the fear of the shred

Last night at our local, The Drapers Arms, we enjoyed perfect London Pride: solid foam, dry bitterness, a subtle note of leafy green, wrapped in marmalade, with a lantern glow.

Delight­ful as this was, it also trig­gered a sense of frus­tra­tion, because lots of peo­ple won’t believe us, because they don’t believe that Pride can be that good, because they’ve nev­er had a pint that isn’t half-dead.

The thing about beer, and cask ale espe­cial­ly, is that all the sub­tle vari­ables make rec­om­mend­ing or endors­ing any par­tic­u­lar prod­uct a risky busi­ness.

It’s as if you’ve told peo­ple about a great song…

…and then when they try to act on your advice and lis­ten to it they get, nine times out of ten, the shred:

Or like giv­ing a film five stars but the only ver­sion on the mar­ket is the stu­dio cut, pan-and-scan, VHS-trans­fer with burned in Dutch sub­ti­tles.

That’s why these days we tend to talk about spe­cif­ic pints or encoun­ters rather than say­ing “Pride is a great beer” or “Trib­ute is fan­tas­tic”.

Or, alter­na­tive­ly, give mild endorse­ments with mul­ti­ple caveats.

The best you can hope for, real­ly, is that a beer will more often be good than bad when peo­ple encounter it in the wild.

A foot­note: The Drap­ers had Pride’s beer miles list­ed as 6,120. It’s not as if it’s being brewed in Japan in the wake of the takeover, of course, but own­er­ship mat­ters.

Scotland #3: Tennent’s Lager

Tennent’s has been producing lager since the 1880s and Scotland became a lager drinking nation long before England.

We knew we want­ed to drink at least one pint of Ten­nen­t’s on our trip to Scot­land but did­n’t expect to like it quite as much as we did.

Despite the ubiq­ui­ty of Ten­nen­t’s brand­ing around Glas­gow – big red Ts jut out from pub fas­cias all over the place –it actu­al­ly took us a lit­tle while to find the oppor­tu­ni­ty: either the pubs we found our­selves in had some­thing else we want­ed to try, or they had no Ten­nen­t’s tap at all, replac­ing it with some­thing more upmar­ket from brew­eries such as Innis & Gunn or Williams Bros.

We had our first taste at The Pot Still in cen­tral Glas­gow, served in tall, brand­ed glass­ware with a whip of shav­ing-cream foam, and bub­bling furi­ous­ly.

What were our expec­ta­tions? Low, if we’re hon­est. We’d noticed a cou­ple of oth­er fussy bug­gers express­ing affec­tion for it but won­dered how much that might be down to con­trari­ness or sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty.

But we liked it.

Now, we choose our words care­ful­ly: liked, not loved. It’s good, not great. We enjoyed it but it did­n’t make our toes curl with delight.

Isn’t that enough, though? To be able to go into almost any pub and order a pint of 4% lager for a rea­son­able price and enjoy drink­ing it?

We asked our Twit­ter fol­low­ers what they thought and their col­lec­tive judge­ment, though it falls on the wrong side of the mid­dle line to ours, feels fair:

Espe­cial­ly com­pared to Fos­ter’s:

Tast­ing notes feel redun­dant as it’s hard­ly a deep or com­plex beer, but we’ll try: it’s more sweet than bit­ter but in a whole­some way that sug­gests grain, not sug­ar; the high car­bon­a­tion stops it feel­ing sticky; and there’s some­times a wisp of lemon zest about it.

After our ini­tial encounter, we found our­selves order­ing it even when there were oth­er options. After a long day walk­ing in the sun, it was per­fect – gets to your thirst, fast. In a ques­tion­able pub which looked like it need­ed hos­ing down, it was a safe option, and tast­ed just as good. It cer­tain­ly suit­ed watch­ing Scot­land v. Eng­land on a big screen in a pub in Fort William. In Spoons, it beat Carls­berg’s relaunched ‘Dan­ish Pil­sner’ hands down, though the lat­ter was just fine.

Of course this pos­i­tive reac­tion is part­ly down to us tak­ing plea­sure in drink­ing a local prod­uct on hol­i­day but, look, you know us by now – these days, we don’t force our­selves to drink things that aren’t actu­al­ly giv­ing us plea­sure.

And Ten­nen­t’s Lager did.

The thrill of the new

For ages, we’ve thought the trick to showing Ray’s parents a good time was taking them to proper pubs. It turns out we should have been going to craft beer bars.

Now, we’ve had some bloody good fun with them in places like the Mer­chan­t’s Arms and the Annexe, play­ing euchre and shar­ing bags of pork scratch­ings over pints of But­combe or Lon­don Pride.

The oth­er week­end, though, as we crawled around cen­tral Bris­tol with them, we were inspired to take them to Small Bar.

The spe­cif­ic trig­ger was a round of awful, but­tery Sam Smith’s Old Brew­ery Bit­ter at the William IV – a pub which rarely has any atmos­phere at all but does at least usu­al­ly have cheap, decent beer.

We left feel­ing down in the dumps, the ses­sion in jeop­ardy, and Small Bar, Bris­tol’s craft beer cen­tral, seemed as if it might be the anti­dote – a short, sharp shock to jolt us all back to life.

You might not like it,” we got in, pre­emp­tive­ly.

Ray tried to iden­ti­fy some­thing vague­ly like Dad’s usu­al bit­ter and the staff react­ed rather weari­ly, as if they get asked this all the time. In the end, it was two-thirds of Lost & Ground­ed Keller­pils that did the job. Ray’s Mum, who drinks lager when she’s not on whisky, got a murky pale ale – the kind of thing we don’t real­ly enjoy, as a rule. And do you know what? She loved it.

In fact, they both thought Small Bar was great. It had a vibe, a bit of a crowd, and despite being the old­est peo­ple there by some stretch, they did­n’t get looked at twice.

After that we thought we’d try them on Brew­Dog, which they also liked a lot: Punk IPA, it turns out, is a decent sub­sti­tute for But­combe. (Not sure Brew­Dog will be pleased to hear this, mind.)

They’re now plan­ning to bring a cou­ple of friends up for a craft beer crawl lat­er in the sum­mer.

For our part, we’ve learned a les­son: don’t make assump­tions about what peo­ple will enjoy based on what they’ve enjoyed in the past, or based on their age.

Next time, we might take them on a tap­room crawl – they’re prob­a­bly cool enough to enjoy it, unlike us.

Sparklers, in summary

The Grey Horse, Manchester.

So, to sum­marise:

  • Sparklers work best with well-con­di­tioned beer, bring­ing some of c02 out of sus­pen­sion to form a denser head, but leav­ing plen­ty in the body of the pint.
  • But if a beer is low on con­di­tion, a sparkler might well rob it of what lit­tle CO2 it has, leav­ing it with a head, but even flat­ter beneath.
  • There­fore, sparklers might equal­ly be used to make beer in poor con­di­tion look bet­ter than it is, or to give a beer in good con­di­tion a par­tic­u­lar pre­sen­ta­tion.
  • But there’s no way for a drinker to know until they taste it.
  • Sparklers may also mute or oth­er­wise affect per­cep­tion of cer­tain flavours and aro­mas. Some beers are brewed with this in mind.
  • Oth­er­wise, it’s a mat­ter of per­son­al pref­er­ence.
  • So sparklers are nei­ther pure­ly good, not pure­ly evil.

Is that about it?

Hazy Beer Due Diligence

A pint of hazy beer.

When you’re order­ing a beer, what more can you ask for than this?

Now, before I pull a full pint, I’m going to put a bit in a glass so you can see how it looks. It’s just gone on, and it’s hazier than we were expect­ing. But we got some pho­tos up from the brew­ery’s tap­room, and this is how it looks there. It tastes great to me, but do you want to try it before you com­mit?”

As we did­n’t know the beer (North­ern Monk Eter­nal) and are used to being served pints of hazy pale ale these days, we would­n’t have bat­ted an eye­lid. But it was nice to have a dia­logue.

It’s a weird facet of beer cul­ture in 2019 that this new bit of eti­quette is nec­es­sary, but here we are.

At any rate, we did­n’t both­er try­ing the beer, we just went for it, and it did taste great.