Deus and polypin conditioned beer

polypin.jpgWe saw in the New Year at a friend’s party, with a bottle of Deus and a polypin of home-brewed stout.

First, the Deus. There’s no denying that this is a very special beer. It has an incredibly complex production process and shares some champagne maturing techniques — hence the epithet “Brut de Flandres”. If you want to find out more about how it’s made you can visit their site here.

It’s absolutely lovely, with a wonderful perfumy aroma. It’s light on the tongue initially, but with a long complex aftertaste, and ginger and apple notes, amongst others. But is it worth £15? There are even lovelier beers available for a lot less. Still, a nice one to pull out for a special occasion, and the bubbles were fantastic.

As saddo homebrewers, however, we were just as interested in seeing how our polypin-conditioned stout would work. This was the first time we’d used a polypin (essentially a strong collapsible plastic bag with a tap) so we were worried as to how it would turn out. We couldn’t find a lot of guidance on the internet about using one in homebrewing, but it’s quite common for UK breweries to offer polypins for home use, so we figured the end product would probably taste OK.

We were slightly perturbed when it expanded ready to burst after just a day of secondary fermentation, so we decided to vent it. We continued to vent it 2 or 3 times a day until the day before it was due to be served, when it was transferred to our hosts’ house to settle. At that point, we started worrying about whether it would be carbonated enough, or off, or explode in their garage.

And wonder of wonders, it worked. It was extremely interesting (well, for us anyway) to compare the polypin version of our stout with the bottled one. The one in the polypin was “flatter”, but no flatter than most cask ales in pubs. They had a different mouthfeel (perhaps due to the carbonation) and the faux-cask ale had a softer aroma. The cask ale also tasted “fresher” — it’s difficult to describe exactly what we mean by that, but hopefully it’s clear to those who’ve compared cask and bottle. The bottled version tasted like it wasn’t quite ready, whilst the cask ale had definitely matured in the same period (two weeks).

This is a useful discovery as (a) it saves on bottling (b) it’s probably as close as we’re going to get to the condition of cask ale at home — more so than bottle-conditioning.

Incidentally, we also discovered that smoked paprika doesn’t *really* work in stout…

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 Alcoholscreening.org. 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.

Boak

What’s in a name?

There’s a common stereotype that real ales have silly names. You can see this stereotype in action in Viz‘s “Real Ale Twats” sketches kindly uploaded by Stonch back in September.

Actually, this isn’t as true today as it used to be — I was looking through a couple of festival programmes recently, and the truly daft names were few and far between.

But look hard enough and you can still find the Old StoatWobblers, Tiddly Vicars, and the famous Piddle in the Wind. You can groan at terrible puns like “Santa’s Claws”, and “Smoking – then they bandit”. Then there are the “ha-ha, aren’t we being politically incorrect” names such as “Dry hopped Naked Ladies” and “Top Totty”, usually with a highly amusing pump clip too. Very seaside postcard.

Why do brewers go to all that effort to produce what might be a good brew and then cheapen it with a lousy name? I’ve thought of three possible reasons;

  1. they think it appeals to the sense of humour of the average real ale fan
  2. it’s a way of catching the eye at a beer festival, when there are hundreds of others to choose from
  3. actually, the beer isn’t very good, but they’re hoping to sell it on its novelty value.

There might be something in (1) but it’s based on a generalisation which doesn’t hold true. I’m sure I’m not the only real ale fan to find silly names a bit tacky and an insult to my sense of humour. So, by extension, (2) doesn’t work for me either. It’s not that I won’t drink a beer such as “Cunning Stunt” because of the name, but I’m more likely to pick something with a sensible name and label, that suggests quality and integrity. This is because I’ve now started to believe in option (3) and associate stupid names with amateur gimmicks, and thus don’t expect the beer to be any good.

Incidentally, while “researching” this, I found an old article (from August 2003) on the subject. It makes pretty much the same points as above:

‘There are too many rather suggestive names in real ale, which I don’t think does the industry much good,” said Steve Reynolds, marketing director at Springhead brewery.

Do these silly, sexist or crude names actually appeal to *anyone*? Or am I just a prudish, po-faced stormtrooper of political correctness…?

N.B. I’ve never had any of the beers mentioned above — they might taste great!

Boak

The Greenwich Union – on the up again

Publicity photo of meantime coffee stoutTo Greenwich then, to visit the Union again. We haven’t been there much recently, maybe once every six months, as we weren’t too impressed with the service the last couple of times, and Greenwich is a bit of a hike from our gaff.

However, we are delighted to report that the Union is on top form at the moment, and well worth a visit. More than a couple of visits a year, in our case. Especially because Meantime always seem to be tinkering with their recipes, so the beers never taste quite the same from one visit to the next.

For the uninitiated, the Union in Greenwich is the main outlet for Meantime’s beers. Meantime seems to divide beer lovers; on the one hand, it has many fans, on the other hand, the fact that it serves most of its beers in keg form makes it a no-no amongst hard-core CAMRA types those who feel that cask is the best form of serving beers. [See comments]

After today’s visit, we would recommend a visit even if you despise Meantime beers. You can find excellent and well-priced food, plus a good range of bottled beers from other brewers. They’ve obviously taken on board previous negative comments about the service on sites such as Beer in the Evening — service was excellent, with bar staff keen to plug the Meantime beers, offer tastings and advice and generally look after the punters.

But onto the beers. The specials on today were a Strawberry beer, and a stout, which was called something like London Single Stout. The strawberry was very pleasant – not quite the thing for the bleak midwinter, but refreshing and fruity. The London Single Stout was definitely streets ahead of the Extra Dry Stout, reviewed here in May by Stonch, and here by us. It’s not too fizzy, it has a lovely big body with all sorts of vanilla and coffee flavours. Very impressive for 4.5%.

We also thought that the Wheatbeer and Raspberry beers had improved. These are also produced in “Grand Cru” versions in bottles, and we wondered whether this had helped improve the quality of the “base” product. The wheat tasted of bananas, as expected, but also had a fresh hop finish. The Raspberry has got much lighter over the years (it’s barely red at all now) but delivers a beautifully balanced fruit flavour. Unusually for a fruit beer, you can also taste the malt and hops. Clever stuff.

The Pale Ale tasted like a cleaner, more sparkling version of Young’s bitter. The Pilsener is now only available in bottles, but is absolutely delicious – it tastes herby and spritzy. To finish, we had a Chocolate beer and a Coffee beer (also in bottles). They’re both marvellously thick and creamy; the coffee porter is probably more complex, but it would be difficult to pick a favourite from the two.

Weirdly, they didn’t have any Winter Time, and the bar staff were as confused as us about why not.