One reason for the decline of mild..?

dad_ipa.jpgHere’s my Dad enjoy­ing a glass of our IPA. He and my Mum used to run a pub in Exeter. Last night, they told us about a pop­u­lar belief in the 1970s and 80s that mild was “the slops”, which might have been part of the rea­son for its dis­ap­pear­ance from many pubs. My Dad:

Jack the Rat was one of our cus­tomers – he used to wear a flat cap and had a beard like Catweazel. We once sug­gest­ed to him that he should try a pint of Whit­bread mild and he turned it down because he thought it was a bar­rel made up of the slops from the drip trays at the bar.

It actu­al­ly was com­mon for land­lords to keep all that sur­plus and serve it up to cus­tomers as ‘mild’. We used to get our Whit­bread Mild from the brew­ery at Tiver­ton [for­mer­ly Starkey, Knight and Ford]. By that time, demand for mild was so low we could only get one ten gal­lon impe­r­i­al firkin at a time, so ours was always fresh. Jack the Rat tried it and nev­er drank any­thing else again after that.

I used to go Tiver­ton for a new firkin twice a week, and it was get­ting more pop­u­lar with our cus­tomers, but by then it was a bit late – the brew­ery was­n’t push­ing it and it was just out of fash­ion gen­er­al­ly. I’ve seen more mild on tap recent­ly, but for twen­ty years, I hard­ly saw any. Shame.”

So, a per­cep­tion that mild was poor qual­i­ty beer, part­ly based on fact, was one rea­son why peo­ple stopped drink­ing it, and why the sup­ply began to dry up.


Dis­claimer: any resem­blance between my Dad and the man from the Sam Smith’s Alpine Lager pump is pure­ly coin­ci­den­tal and does not rep­re­sent a trade­mark infringe­ment.


The etiquette of taking your pint back

Real ale can be a beau­ti­ful thing – noth­ing can beat it for its fresh taste and fruiti­ness. But when it’s bad, it’s hor­rid – sour and far­ty. So what do you do?

(a) exer­cise your rights, take it back and ask for some­thing else

(b) leave the pub, nev­er to return.

I bet most read­ers of this blog go for (a) where­as most Brits go for (b) or pos­si­bly even © – con­tin­ue to drink it coz it’s a vehi­cle for alco­hol on a Fri­day night.

It took me years to progress to option (a). Why? Well, part­ly because for the first cou­ple of years of drink­ing ale, I real­ly was­n’t sure if I had a bad pint, or if that was just how it was sup­posed to taste. Ale is an acquired taste – more acquired than it ought to be, in fact, because it’s off more than it ought to be.

Also, I’m British, and there­fore not one to make a fuss or cause any pos­si­ble awk­ward­ness.

How­ev­er, as my ale-drink­ing has pro­gressed, I now have no prob­lem tak­ing back a dodgy pint. And every time I do it, it’s the same rit­u­al:

Me (choos­ing a qui­et moment if pos­si­ble, using max­i­mum pos­si­ble “indi­rect” lan­guage):
Er.…I think this might pos­si­bly be a bit off.

Bar­tender (shrugs and/or feigns per­plex­ion): Are you sure?

Me: Yes. Try it your­self.

Bar­tender: Tastes fine to me.

Me: Well, it def­i­nite­ly tastes off to me.

At this point, the bar­tender usu­al­ly shrugs, caves in and asks what you want instead. But they always try to con­vince you you’re wrong. As if you’ve got over your doubts about your own judge­ment, and your typ­i­cal British reserve, just to walk away at this point. Must be some­thing they learn in pub school? Or maybe the per­plex­ion is gen­uine – maybe not that many peo­ple com­plain?

I’ve come to think you should always take a bad pint back. First­ly, they nev­er refuse to give you a new one, once you’ve gone through the rit­u­al. Sec­ond­ly, you’re doing them a favour – lots of barstaff don’t like ale, remem­ber, and have no way of know­ing if it’s off unless you tell them.  In the case of the chain bar in cen­tral Lon­don where they had­n’t rinsed the bleach out of the pipes prop­er­ly before serv­ing me my Pride, maybe I even saved a life by fight­ing my way to the front of the queue to com­plain…


Duesseldorf part five – Frankenheim and further pontification on the nature of Alt

frankenheim2.jpgWe’re almost there. We end­ed up hav­ing Franken­heim twice. First, on Sat­ur­day night, after Schu­mach­er and Schloess­er, in a restau­rant / pub called Brauerei Zum Schif­fchen. It’s alleged­ly Dues­sel­dor­f’s old­est, going back to 1628. It does­n’t brew its own now, stock­ing Franken­heim instead.

Franken­heim was OK – good malt flavour with hints of choco­late, not much bit­ter­ness. Suf­fi­cient­ly decent to make us decide to vis­it their enor­mous brew­ery tap, which is about 20 min­utes walk from the old town on Wieland­strasse. This place was con­sid­er­ably qui­eter than the old town pubs, pos­si­bly because of the dis­tance, and pos­si­bly because it was Sun­day after­noon, and even the Dues­sel­dorf par­ty ani­mals have to rest some time. We also com­mit­ted some kind of faux pas by sit­ting on a reg­u­lar’s table. (Why else would they have sat on our table when the pub was two-thirds emp­ty?)

So those were all the alts we got to try. There are a few oth­ers that we did­n’t try – Diebels, Gatzweil­er and Rhenania, to men­tion a few. Enor­mous thanks to Ron Pat­tin­son for both­er­ing to put togeth­er his Dues­sel­dorf pub guide, as it cer­tain­ly saved us con­sid­er­able effort in plan­ning this trip.

So, some con­clu­sions. As a “style”, alt is very var­ied – the beers we tried had dif­fer­ent bit­ter­ness lev­els, dif­fer­ent malt flavours, dif­fer­ent bod­ies. It’s cer­tain­ly more var­ied than var­i­ous Koelsches (more on that soon). Our favourites from the trip were Schu­mach­er and Zum Schlues­sel, but this did­n’t mean we did­n’t enjoy the oth­ers.

We’re look­ing for­ward to a return trip, par­tic­u­lar­ly as Dues­sel­dorf is well-placed to get to oth­er beer des­ti­na­tions (Muen­ster, Cologne, Dort­mund). Plus there’s the draw of the “Sticke” – the stronger ver­sion, pro­duced and sold on two days a year. See this arti­cle on Ron Pat­tin­son’s Dues­sel­dorf pages for more.

But, and this is per­haps the sacre­li­gious part – the alt itself would not be the key draw. It’s not that we did­n’t enjoy it enor­mous­ly, but you can get sim­i­lar beers in the UK.* It’s the atmos­phere, the tra­di­tion and the live­li­ness. We’d hap­pi­ly move to Dues­sel­dorf for a year or two to call some of these places our locals.


*To recre­ate the Alt effect at home: Get a nice brown bit­ter that you like, chill it for a cou­ple of hours, and pour it care­less­ly into a 250ml tum­bler so that it even­tu­al­ly set­tles down to half beer, half head. We tried it – it works. A good alt is very like a cold, super bit­ter Eng­lish ale. In our hum­ble opin­ion, this bet­ter recre­ates the alt expe­ri­ence than buy­ing a tired bot­tle of bor­ing Diebels from your local spe­cial­ist beer empo­ri­um.

D’oh! Stupid tastebuds…

tongue.jpg Yes­ter­day, the BBC report­ed that wine drinkers test­ed by sci­en­tists thought a wine tast­ed bet­ter when they were told it cost $45 rather than its actu­al cost of $5.

I thought this was real­ly inter­est­ing.

I real­ly don’t think price has ever affect­ed my judge­ment – it cer­tain­ly did­n’t in the case of pricey Bel­gian ‘cham­pagne beer’ DEUS.

But I am hap­py to admit that beers some­times seem to taste bet­ter or worse to me depend­ing on con­text, pre­sen­ta­tion and my own expec­ta­tions.

I sus­pect that I might be suck­er enough to favourably review, say, UK-brewed Fos­ters, if it was pre­sent­ed to me in a big Ger­man stein and I was told it was tra­di­tion­al­ly brewed in Augs­burg.

I’m a mar­ket­ing man’s dream.


Are you an alcoholic?

allourbeers.jpgWell, that depends what you read and whose ques­tion­naire you do.

This post start­ed as a bit of a joke. A friend of mine who lives in the States was telling me about a ques­tion­naire her stu­dents have to do about alco­hol use which would have clas­si­fied most Brits as alco­holics. Ha ha, we all said. And I thought it might be fun to post a crazy puri­tan­i­cal ques­tion­naire com­pared with a “more sen­si­ble” one.

How­ev­er, as I start­ed going through var­i­ous ques­tion­naires I found online I found out that there was no par­tic­u­lar dif­fer­ence between Amer­i­can and inter­na­tion­al ques­tion­naires, and also that I drink too much accord­ing to most web­sites, and may be an alco­holic accord­ing to oth­ers.

In fact, the one ques­tion­naire that puts me in the clear is Amer­i­can web­site Although it thinks that I drink more than the aver­age (Amer­i­can) woman, I’m below the lev­els typ­i­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with alco­holism. Oth­er ques­tion­naires are not so kind, and I’ve been told I’m caus­ing myself health prob­lems and should see a spe­cial­ist imme­di­ate­ly.

So should I wor­ry? Part of the prob­lem with these ques­tion­aires is that they’re often designed so that any neg­a­tive answer indi­cates that you may have a prob­lem. The Alco­holics Anony­mous one is a good exam­ple. Basi­cal­ly, if you score yes to any of them, you MAY be an alco­holic. Appar­ent­ly, I’m def­i­nite­ly an alco­holic, because I’ve ticked three; yes, I have (once) lost my mem­o­ry, I have drunk alone once or twice, and I have felt remorse after drink­ing. Not because I’ve done (or failed to do) any­thing sig­nif­i­cant after drink­ing, but because I get awful hang­overs and I’m the kind of puri­tan that regrets wast­ing time being ill.

In fact, guilt and remorse are a recur­ring theme in these ques­tion­aires. Admit­ting to feel­ing guilty about drink­ing and want­i­ng to cut down occa­sion­al­ly are seen as indi­ca­tors of poten­tial alco­holism, which I find a bit weird. It’s as if just by doing the ques­tion­naire you’re admit­ting you have a prob­lem. That com­bined with the fact that “denial” is a key indi­ca­tor is enough to con­demn any­body!

You may say that Alco­holics Anony­mous has a vest­ed inter­est in mak­ing peo­ple believe they are alco­holics. So I looked for some neu­tral author­i­ties. The World Health Organ­i­sa­tion has sev­er­al diag­nos­tic tools, which appear in var­i­ous forms on var­i­ous web­sites. Here’s the ver­sion I did. I actu­al­ly thought it was pret­ty good, as it goes through the amount you drink, but then seeks to analyse whether this is a prob­lem or not. My result? I don’t have any alco­hol relat­ed prob­lems at the moment, but;

Alco­hol is prob­a­bly slight­ly too impor­tant in your life and you may have the ear­li­est signs of a devel­op­ing alco­hol depen­den­cy.”

Well, brew­ing is my hob­by and I have a beer-blog, so yes, alco­hol is impor­tant in my life. Or rather, beer is. That leads me onto anoth­er point. One of my per­son­al indi­ca­tors has always been that if there isn’t any nice beer, I tend not to drink at all. No shite lager, no vod­ka and ton­ic – I stick to the soft­ies and spare the liv­er. If some­one told me I could nev­er drink beer again, I’d be gut­ted. If they told me I could nev­er drink beer, but could drink oth­er alco­hol, this would not be a con­so­la­tion. Oh, there goes the denial again.

Should­n’t there be some recog­ni­tion of these types of fac­tors, rather than straight num­ber crunch­ing? Well, yes. If you look up tech­ni­cal def­i­n­i­tions of alco­holism, they focus very much on your behav­iour, not how much you drink. The Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion defines alco­holism as;

a pri­ma­ry, chron­ic dis­ease with genet­ic, psy­choso­cial, and envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors influ­enc­ing its devel­op­ment and manifestations…It is char­ac­ter­ized by impaired con­trol over drink­ing, pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the drug alco­hol, use of alco­hol despite adverse con­se­quences, and dis­tor­tions in think­ing, most notably denial”

To fin­ish with, I want to hearti­ly rec­om­mend a bril­liant arti­cle in the Observ­er, via Guardian Online (by Euan Fer­gu­son) from ear­li­er this month. As well as say­ing extreme­ly sen­si­ble things about the cur­rent pan­ic in the UK about binge-drink­ing, it has some “from the heart” guid­ance from an alco­holic as to how you real­ly know. The dif­fer­ence between drink as a treat, and drink as a neces­si­ty. The impor­tance of “the first drink of the day” to the alco­holic. The need to lis­ten to the morn­ings, not gov­ern­ment guide­lines. There are just so many quotes that I want to repro­duce here, as I feel it is bang-on about so many things.

The great dan­ger, sure­ly, is that by telling every­one they drink too much (when, as we have seen, we have been fol­low­ing spu­ri­ous guide­lines for decades) we are left bereft of prop­er guid­ance. The tac­tics leave us more con­fused than ever. When are we drink­ing too much? Should I feel guilty? What’s wrong with a cou­ple of glass­es? Am I an alco­holic? Is there a dif­fer­ence? Oh yes. Yes, there is still a dif­fer­ence, between those who enjoy a drink and those who tip into hell. Our stud­ies today show the dif­fer­ence, and it is, I would argue, supreme­ly irre­spon­si­ble for a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter to attempt to blur the scare-lines.”

I can’t speak for how accu­rate­ly he describes the life of the alco­holic (for­tu­nate­ly) but I can say that this arti­cle is also the best analy­sis of British drink­ing cul­ture I’ve ever read.  Do go and read it.