50 best beers

Today’s Independent has an article on the 50 best beers available in the UK.  It’s a surprisingly decent piece, although a couple of the choices are a bit odd (as you’d expect). Estrella Damm…? Marks and Spencer’s Italian lager!? And Badger bloody Golden Glory, which I think is disgusting.

I was pleased to see the CO-OP’s Strong Ale in the list. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine: full of dodgy caramel, clear bottle, pasteurised, filtered. But it’s very tasty anyway — sweet and malty, somewhat like a strong mild.

Their number one? St Peter’s IPA, which I’ve never had. I’ll have to get my hands on some and give it a go.

Smoking Ban — landlords like it

nosmoking.gifIt’s early days yet, but research from the Publican magazine and soft drinks company Britvic suggests that three quarters of pubs are happy with the smoking ban which kicked in the UK in July. They’re selling more food and more soft drinks — there are more kids and pregnant women going to the pub.

I know I’ve certainly found pubs more pleasant in the last few months, and it’s been nice to get friends out who would normally avoid the pub because of the smoke because they’re asthmatic, pregnant, or just don’t like it. For me, at least, the atmosphere of most pubs has got better in part because I’ve got better company.

The article says that the winter will be the real test of the ban, when people are faced with the prospect of standing out in the rain, snow or frost to smoke. I’ll be interested to see how this goes, but my guess is that it will work out OK for pubs. After all, the lure of a cigarette is surely nothing compared to the lure of booze.

M&S get real

norfolk_bitter.jpgIn 2006, we wrote to British supermarket chain Marks and Spencers to tell them how impressed we were that they’d started stocking some decent beer, namely their OK IPA and excellent Irish Stout.

But we also had some suggestions:

1. Real ale bores, just like serious foodies, like to know who is making their beer. The standard M&S practice of concealing their suppliers didn’t enhance the appeal of the product but rather seriously reduced it. Couldn’t they tell us who was making their booze for them, as ASDA, Sainsburys and others do?

2. Given that everything else in their range is supposedly of the finest quality, why weren’t these beers bottle conditioned? It seemed odd to us that they would sell hand-reared, free-range, 21-day aged beef next to pasteurised, filtered beer.

I’m delighted to see (in the latest issue of What’s Brewing) that CAMRA were also pursuing the same line of enquiry — as I’m sure were many other individual consumers — and that it’s paid off. M&S are now to stock four new bottle-conditioned beers from around the UK, each attributed very clearly to its home brewery (Woodforde’s, Vale, Cropton and Black Hills).

Last night, I tried their Norfolk Bitter (Woodforde’s) and was very impressed. Tons of citrusy hop flavour and aroma, and a lovely thick, persistent head

Nice one, M&S, and nice one CAMRA! Now to get that fantastic Irish Stout bottle conditioned too…

UK to stay with imperial and metric muddle

On the BBC, it´s been announced that there will no longer be pressure from the EU for the UK to standardise its measurements.

The imperial v metric debate was always very impassioned, and I could never work out why. I couldn´t understand why the EU thought it was worth the energy to force us Brits out of our crazy system, nor could I understand why market traders and the like got so inflamed about changing over. I´ve lived on the continent and have no problem whatsoever with buying half a kilo of apples instead of a pound. Nor a half litre of beer instead of a pint (though interestingly, this was one of the sacred measurements that we were always going to be able to keep!)

On the one hand, I´m pleased this has come to an end of sorts. The debate always seemed to throw up the most petty and ignorant comments — like the idea that the metric system is something Johnny Foreigner cooked up to diddle us, when actually it was invented by British scientists. Or the idea that it enables us to better trade with America, when many of the US imperial measurements are different from ours.

On the other hand this leaves us with the same muddle we´ve had for the past thirty years. I know my weight in stones and my height in feet and inches, measure short distances in centimetres and metres and long distances in miles. I struggle to remember how many ounces there are in a pound, or how many pounds there are in a stone, and I have absolutely no idea what an acre of land represents. Some metric measurements seen to have taken well — I reckon most people measure temperature in Celsius here – but others just refuse to stick.

Where´s the beer relevance? Try homebrewing when your references are American and your equipment is a mixture of British and European. Working out how many litres an American quart is to add to your pounds of grain and grams of spices. Or working your way through the mash temperature debate but having to translate everything into Celsius so you understand it. Thank God for spreadsheets and internet ready-reckoners.

Boak (in Spain, not struggling to cope with metric measurement)