Patreon’s Choice: Bottled Beers From Siren

Oat Couture

This is another in an occasional series of posts about beers suggested to us by our Patreon supporters. Tim Thomas (@timofnewbury/@UllageBeer) wanted us to try some bottled beers from one of his local breweries, Siren, so we did.

First, though, we want to set out where Siren sits in our mental rankings of UK breweries. We’ve encountered its beers fairly frequently over the last few years in cask, keg and bottle, and have sometimes enjoyed them. Most recently we were delighted by Kisetsu, a ‘Japanese Saison’, and had a very pleasant night on QIPA, a barely boozy cask-conditioned ale at 2.8%. Some of the bigger, stranger beers aren’t quite to our taste — we found Caribbean Chocolate Cake too sweet, and Limoncello too intense to drink in any great volume — but we can tell they are basically decent, properly made beers constructed around interesting ideas.

And the middle-ground, core range pale ales and IPAs have always seemed fine, if perhaps a bit rough and oniony, with not much to commend them over many other examples of the same style.

When we walk into a pub or bar and see a Siren beer on offer, we often order it, but, at the same time, they’re not a brewery that springs to mind when we’re asked to name favourites, which we reckon puts them somewhere in the second division.

The four beers we looked at this time were all ordered from Beer Ritz back in October:

  • Oat Couture, 33oml, £2.72
  • Cerealist Manifesto, 33oml, £3.38
  • I Love You Honey Bunny, 33oml, £3.89
  • American Oak Brown, 33oml, £3.47

Oat Couture is billed as a hazy American pale ale at 4% ABV and was brewed in collaboration with beer retailer Clapton Craft. It poured with only a slight mist and a pleasing gold glow. The aroma was good, all green leaves and orange fruit, suggesting some sweaty greenhouse at Kew. The taste was initially soapy and husky, more tonic than pleasure, but seemed to improve as it went down. It is essentially a light, rather dry pale ale, defined by bread-crust malt flavour and lingering bitterness, with a twist of lemon zest to liven it up. The bit of suspended yeast, we think, softened the edges and added a savoury hum we’d rather wasn’t there. Overall, we liked it without quite being impressed. A good-natured shrug of a beer.

American Oak Brown -- off-white foam.

American Oak Brown, being a big, dark beer at 5.8%, made a stronger impression. In the process of constructing its stack of off-white foam it threw out grassy aromas and vanilla scent, like a cinema bucket of Coke. We expected it to be thin after all that fizz and fuss but it was actually mouth-coating and sticky, like chocolate buttons. The flavours you might expect from a dark beer are there, especially coffee, but also more of that raw, green hoppiness which on this occasion really worked with the carbonation to lift the beer. We really enjoyed this one and would happily drink it again.

We’ll only give a brief note on I Love you Honey Bunny a 6.3% honey and oat IPA brewed in collaboration with The Other Half, because we let the bottle slip past its best before date. We wouldn’t say anything at all except that, BBE or not, it tasted like perfectly good, fresh and zesty bottled pale ale. (Perhaps if we’d got to it sooner there’d have been more of the advertised fruit smoothie quality.)

Cerealist manifesto was the biggest beer of the set — a 9% imperial stout brewed on collaboration with Slim Pickens using Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal — and a hit for us, just about. It’s a fat, beefy beer that smells of girders, cherry and rum. There’s something of root beer or botanical cola in the flavour, followed up by a distinct but subtle spicy burn, and some background earthy dirtiness acting as a mild spoiler. It’s somehow buttery without tasting like butter — Werther’s Originals? It’s certainly a strange, exotic dessert of a beer that’s a bit loud and could easily be obnoxious, but in the right mood, is just great fun. Perfect for the Midway at the State Fair, if you can find a way to fry it on a stick.

Overall, this leaves Siren about where they started in our eyes: a brewery that throws a lot of mud, some of which sticks, and some of which even glitters.

Everything We Wrote in March 2018: Devon, Michael Jackson, the Good Beer Guide

That was a pretty productive month with more posts than in any other month for some time, perhaps because the snow and cold kept us indoors near the books and the computer.

We started off gently with a bit of Pub Life, observing the dainty manoeuvres that take place around a communal pork pie which everyone wants to eat, but nobody wants to be seen to want to eat.


The topic of last month’s edition of The Session was ‘Hometown Glories’ so we separated into our constitutional parts to think about Walthamstow and Bridgwater respectively. It doesn’t look as if the host has put together a round-up of the entries yet but when he does, it’ll be here. (No pressure, Gareth.)


We flagged a new favourite book, 1949’s A Scrapbook of Inns, picking out some highlights, and then came back for another go at one of them in this post about the mysterious lost style ‘Ashburton Pop’:

There is a particular kind of beer brewed at Ashburton in Devonshire, very full of fixed air, and therefore known by the name of Ashburton pop, which is supposed to be as efficacious in consumptions as even the air of Devonshire itself…


BrewDog have been embroiled in some brouhaha every other day for the last month, it seems. We had some thoughts on the Pink IPA business, the reaction to which seemed like another win-win for the Scottish behemoth.


In a biggish post we looked back on what we learned about Devon’s beer scene while writing our Devon Life column for a year and a half:

If you think brown bitter is endangered, spend more time in Devon. Time after time we spoke to people who expressed mild frustration at the conservatism of the county – at the aversion to things pale, bitter or aromatic – and of the need to dial things back and down if they want to sell any of it in local pubs. There are too many potentially interesting beers that feel compromised, and too many brewers who know it.

This was one of our most popular posts for the month, though 99.9 per cent of the traffic was from one particular geographical region.


Women in work clothes smiling.
Women posing beside the bottling machine at Mitchells & Butlers bottling depot, Birmingham, c.1950.

For Internation Women’s Day we put together a gallery of images of women working in breweries and pubs from our collection of mid-20th-century in-house magazines.


One thing we weren’t very good at last month was tasting new beers and writing up the notes. We did get round to trying one of the beers suggested for us by our Patreon subscribers, though — De Molen Not For Sale Ale, about which we were rather enthusiastic.


While researching the IWD post (above) we came across several articles about malting and decided to put together a gallery of pictures from those, too.


Then came a cry of despair from the pub: what’s the point in breweries producing decent beer if it’s exactly the same as everybody else’s decent beer? What’s your thing?


Butting into somebody else’s mystery took us down an interesting line of research around Bristol’s mining history and take-away-only beerhouses. There’s a further update from the original poster in the comments on Instagram: “The Rock Tavern / Rock House appears around 1899 and disappears in the late 1960s. One of the entries is asterisked to indicate it was off-sales.”


There’s a whole lot of politics going on in and around SIBA, a lot of it rather hard to follow. We piped up to say that, actually, we understand why small brewers might not want medium-large brewers in their club. (Note: Neil from SIBA popped up on Twitter to point out that St Austell aren’t so much “muscling in” (our phrase) as trying to get back in, having been bumped out when they grew too big.)


Watney's Red -- detail from beer mat.

Nick Wheat acquired and uploaded a rare Watney’s training film from the launch of the reviled Red keg bitter in 1971 and kindly allowed us to share it. Do give it a watch if you have a spare 10-15 minutes, if only to marvel at the impenetrably plummy accents.


Last year CAMRA published our 2,500-word article on the origins of the Good Beer Guide, using only the words of those who were there. Now, so everyone can read it, it’s available here on the blog.


We weren’t expecting to like that beer, which we didn’t expect to find in such good condition, or in that pub, which we didn’t expect to find on that street, in that part of town. Surprises all round!


In 1983-84 Pitfield brewed a mild in support of the women of Greenham Common — was it the first ‘cause’ beer? Check out the comments for some other suggestions, and a telling off.


Illustration: Micheal Jackson peers from behind his glasses.

This was great fun to write, and a great example of where having two writers helps rather than hinders: someone asked us what Michael Jackson would have made of NEIPA so we invented two scholars and had them debate it using only his writings for ammo.


For a long time Orval was a beer alone; now, it has company, as a new style is in the process of being born. We’re calling it DHBA for now. And here’s a footnote via Twitter:


It was a long month which meant five rounds of News, Nuggets & Longreads, including one that was so full of good stuff we resorted to a list of bullet points at the end to fit it all in:

3 March 2018 — Norway, Nitrogen, Nanas

10 March 2018 — Lemondrop, BrewDog, Hardknott

17 March 2018 — London Drinkers & Bristol Dockers

24 March 2018 — Glitter, Ilford, AK

31 March 2018 — Moorhouse’s, Memel, Mellowness


There was also an email newsletter (sign up!), lots of Tweets, photos of pubs on Instagram, a bit of Facebook stuff, and a three-hour Reddit AMA.

If you think all this lot is worth anything please consider signing up to support us via Patreon (where there are also exclusive posts for $2+ subscribers) or maybe just buy us a pint via Ko-Fi.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 31 March 2018: Moorhouse’s, Memel, Mellowness

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past seven days, from ongoing developments in the discussion around sexist beer branding to the ever-expanding BrewDog empire.

Katie Taylor has an interesting run-down on Moorhouse’s rebranding exercise. Packaging re-designs are usually among the world’s most boring topics but this case sees a longstanding problem solved as poorly rendered ‘sexy’ witches in flimsy frocks are out, replaced by more abstract, modern designs that come with an unambiguous statement of intent:

“When I joined, Moorhouse’s was a strong brand, tied into the provenance of the local area,” said Lee [Miller] when I met with him a couple of weeks ago. “But we are guilty as charged. Our branding was indefensible and really could have happened sooner. What I wanted to make sure of was that when we did this, we did it right. I wanted Moorhouse’s to set out its stall, to bring in a new brand ready for the future. We hold our hands up.”

But the stuff about the temperance influence on their new range of beers is almost as interesting.


Illustration: lambic blending.

Returning to his favourite topic Roel Mulder gives us‘Eight Myths About Lambic Debunked’, with plenty of reassuring references.

Quite a lot is made of the fact that lambic is made out of wheat, today usually 30% to 40%. In the 19th century, that was even more: a 1829 recipe specifies no less than 58% raw wheat.[15]However, at that time all-barley beers were only just starting to gain popularity in Belgium. In fact, at the start lambic was quite modern for not having any oats, spelt or buckwheat in it…. only in the 20th century did it become special for not being an all-barley beer.

A reminder, this, that snappy stories and simple explanations in beer history are usually the work of storytellers and marketing people; the truth is almost always more complicated and, frankly, less fun.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 31 March 2018: Moorhouse’s, Memel, Mellowness”

Hoover, Google, Orval?

Orval label.

For a long time, Orval was the only Orval, not quite belonging to any particular style. Now, it has company.

In their 100 Belgian Beers to Try Before You Die Tim Webb and Joris Pattyn classified it as a pale ale; Stan Hieronymus, in Brew Like a Monk, mentions that it shares flavour characteristics with “the saison-style beers of the surrounding region”; Beer historian Ron Pattinson has often referred to it as an India Pale Ale; while Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson effectively dodged the question altogether by classifying it simply as an Abbey/Trappist beer, observing that “Orval is one of the world’s most distinctive beers”. The American Beer Judging Certification Program (BJCP) also concedes defeat, citing Orval as an example of Belgian Speciality Ale, “a catch-all category for any Belgian-style beer not fitting any other Belgian style category”.

While it’s possible to make all sorts of clever, heavily footnoted arguments for Orval belonging to one category or another (“Die Hard is a Christmas movie!”) none of them are quite convincing. The fact is that if someone who knew nothing about bought it expecting a pale ale, any kind of IPA, Saison Dupont, or Westmalle Brune, they would be confused and possibly disappointed. Sure, the base beer might bear some resemblance to others, but that Brettanomyces that stamps over everything, marking its territory with layers of dust and leather. (But not sourness.)

In the last decade or so there have been more beers made with Brettanomyces, often with the word ‘Bretted’ on the packaging or point-of-sale display, but few of those we encountered resembled Orval. IT seemed to us that they tended to be modern-style IPAs with lots of New World hop perfume and flavour, or big stouts. Perhaps there was a sense that Orval was off limits for commercial homage? Sacred, somehow. Or perhaps it was simply unapproachable — unless your Orval clone is as good as the real thing, or better than, why bother?

Bruxellensis label.

Then we encountered Brasserie de la Senne’s Bruxellensis. It was first released, we think, in June 2016, and when we came across it last year we didn’t need to do any reading to get the idea: it’s Orval, but not quite. The same funkiness, the same balance of dryness and fruitiness, but brasher, brassier and brighter. Like a punk cover version.

It turns out there are others, though — beers that we missed because we weren’t paying attention, didn’t have access (most are American), or maybe simply because we hadn’t got to know Orval well enough to recognise them as clones. Heather Vandenengel rounded up a few for All About Beer back in 2015, including Goose Island Matilda. This is one we did try, as long ago as 2010, when it struck as nothing more than a bog standard Belgian-style blonde. On Twitter Andrew Drinkwater mentioned Hill Farmstead Dorothy as another example.

What made us think about all this now is a Tweet from Chris Hall announcing the arrival of British brewery Burning Sky’s take:

We’re going to have to get hold of this one, ideally in a bottle, ideally to be tasted alongside the real thing, Bruxellensis, and any others available in the UK that you lot might be able to tell us about.

But we can’t keep calling these beers Orval clones forever, can we? We like Pete Brissenden’s suggestion of dry-hopped Bretted ale, or DHBA. It looks ugly but it does rather roll off the tongue, and is purely, precisely descriptive. It’ll do for now.

Two Jacksonian Scholars Debate NEIPA

In the imposing Inner Temple of Beer Writers’ Hall in the City of London two scholars sit beneath a vast portrait of the Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson, who died in 2007. They wear Guild robes and are surrounded by leather-bound volumes. A small group of acolytes sits nearby, waiting for the debate to begin. On her throne the Grand Imbiber, who everybody had thought asleep, clears her throat: “What might the Master–” She salutes the portrait of MBHJ, dipping her eyes respectfully. “–have made of this ‘NEIPA’, one wonders?” The scholars reflect for a moment and then open their books, scanning the pages with their fingers.

SCHOLAR #1
The NEIPA, or New England India Pale Ale, is defined by its haziness, is it not? And Jackson wrote, “The possibility of hazy beer is only one of the difficulties encountered when working with newly harvested barley and hops.” [1] If haze is characterised as a difficulty, we can conclude with certainty that NEIPA would displease him.

SCHOLAR #2
No. It is clear that his suggestion here was that haze would be a difficulty for those particular brewers, brewing that particular beer. Did he not also write of Cooper’s, the bottle-conditioned Australian pale ale, “Sparklilng or opaque, It would enliven the most Boycottian innings”? And did he not also call it “a ‘wholefood’ of the beer world”? [2]

SCHOLAR #1
When reading the sacred texts we must always remember the Master’s love of irony. The passage you quote quietly mocks faddish young drinkers and their “more clumsy” pouring technique; it by no means marks approval of their preference. “Generally speaking, sedimented beers…. should be poured without the sediment”, he wrote on another occasion, when asked directly whether yeast should be mixed with beer. [3]

SCHOLAR #2
Again, you treat His words as a blunt tool. Who was more aware of the variations between beer styles, and beer cultures, than Jackson? He did not use the word “generally” carelessly — this was no commandment! He had no objection to cloudy or hazy beer in the right context — approving comments of German and Belgian wheat beers appears abound — but I will concede that a concern is evident in His words when describing the mingling of distinct beer cultures.

SCHOLAR #1
You refer, of course, to his comments on English cask wheat beers? [4]

SCHOLAR #2
Quite so. But he does not condemn or deny, only observes: “Doubt about the willingness of British drinkers to accept cloudy beer remains the biggest worry of brewers making this style.” He does not say that British-style beers ought to be clear, only that they generally are. This might be interpreted as a criticism, especially of older people, set in their ways — “the young, prefer the hazy versions of wheat beer”.

Illustration: Micheal Jackson peers from behind his glasses.

SCHOLAR #1
Or not. He was himself old when this was written and, as I have already pointed out, viewed the crazes of the young with scepticism. I detect nothing in his writing on Young’s Wheat Beer to suggest wholehearted delight and, indeed, detect between-the-lines a lack of faith in the very idea.

SCHOLAR #2
Ah, as so often he presents us with a mirror reflecting our own prejudices. We know, at least, that he believed it was possible for “yeast… to add a little texture, but no bite”. [5]

SCHOLAR #1
Though we are told the haze of an NEIPA is not generally the product of suspended yeast, but hop matter, aren’t we? Appearance aside, what of the flavour? He insisted, always, that India Pale Ale should be “above average in… hop bitterness”, but NEIPAs are characterised by low bitterness. This would have been a black mark against them in his eyes.

SCHOLAR #2
But NEIPA is not IPA. Perhaps he might have questioned the terminology, but that does not mean he would have disputed the right of the style to exist, or disliked the beers that fall within it. He preferred mango lassi to beer with curry, I mention as an aside [6], and once lauded a beer with elderflower essence. [7]

SCHOLAR #1
I contend that he was essentially conservative, nonetheless. When asked to choose his top ten American beers he picked pilsner, dortmunder, imperial stout, Belgian-style beers, steam beer… [8] He pleaded for authenticity in IPA and porter, not reinvention. When what might have been seen as new styles emerged, such as golden ale, he was able to embrace them only by connecting them to the traditions of the past. [9]

SCHOLAR #2
And yet he was among the first to notice and laud the extreme beers of Sam Calagione! [10]

SCHOLAR #1
Laud? Again I detect more interest then admiration in his words — the attitude of an observer at a circus freakshow.

The Grand Imbiber rises from the throne, staff aloft, and the scholars fall silent.

GRAND IMBIBER
I believe we have heard enough. Here is my judgement: there is nothing in his teachings to suggest that NEIPA would displease the Master, and much to suggest that it would have intrigued him. Whether it, or any individual example therein, would have delighted him, we cannot presume to say. Certainly the Master would never have publicly denounced NEIPA, even had he felt it in his heart, for first among his teachings was this: “If I can find something good to say about a beer, I do… If I despise a beer, why find room for it?” [11]