The Session: Brew Zoo X2

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This month’s session is hosted by Lyke2Drink:

Have you ever noticed how many animals show up on beer labels? We have lions and tigers and bears, plus various birds, reptiles, fish, assorted domesticated and wild animals, plus a few mythical creatures. For whatever reason brewers have a tradition of branding their beers using everything from pets to predators. The Brew Zoo will celebrate these lagers and ales.

A couple of Sessions back, we dropped the ball and ended up reviewing Sri Lankan Lion stout instead of a local beer as we were supposed to. We’re making up for it this time by reviewing the beers of a local brewery which also happen to fill an entire bird sanctuary. And with a whole bonus post about a bird-themed beer from Spain.

Cotleigh is a brewery based in Wiveliscombe, Somerset — a county most famous for being where Bailey was born and grew up, hence the claim to locality.

The beers in their range include Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, Buzzard and Peregrine Porter, amongst many other birds of prey.

We’ve tried them all at one time or another. Peregrine Porter is a lovely bottle conditioned porter/stout, which tastes similar to another fruity Somerset porter, RCH’s Old Slug. Tawny Owl is a bog-standard copper coloured bitter which we drank in a pub in Beer, Dorset, earlier this year whilst the locals discussed their haul from the wreck of the MSC Napoli (“I got two pair of Adidas”).

buzzard.jpgThe only one of their range we’ve got handy right now is a bottle of Buzzard (thanks, Bailey’s mum and dad). It used to be called “Old Buzzard” and is a bottle conditioned “strong ale”, although not really that strong at 4.8%. The ingredients include pale, crystal and chocolate malt, with Goldings, Fuggles and Northdown hops. It’s accented towards burnt coffee flavours, with some Rauchbier smokiness. It matures in the bottle, this one tasting much drier and smokier than the one from the same batch we drank in February. In the glass, it looks almost black, with a great big pillowy tan head which stays forever.

We guess it would go nicely with rich roasted meats… or with the big hunks of rotting flesh we’ll be feeding Cotleigh Buzzard in the Session zoo.

And, just in case we’re struggling to get a full set of animals for the Brew Zoo, Cotleigh’s Christmas beer is the cheesily named Reinbeer. Groan.

We got our bottle of Buzzard from the excellent specialist beer shop Open Bottles, in Bridgwater, Somerset (01278 459666).

++ STOP PRESS — BONUS POST FROM BOAK, OUR CORRESPONDENT IN SPAIN ++

My contribution from Spain is “Aguila” (eagle) from Amstel. I think this is still part of the Heineken group.

Two years ago in Cádiz (south west Spain) we ordered a couple of cañas and were taken aback by the tastiness of the beer — in contrast to the usual refreshing but bland fizz, this stuff had real body and flavour, rather like Meantime’s much lamented “Golden Beer”. We asked what it was, but because my Spanish was pretty crap then, I could only make out “a-GEE-la” or something like that. The next round he brought us something different.

A few days later, we spotted Águila (from Amstel) on tap (that´s AH-geela, a subtle pronunciation difference, possibly?), and obviously went for it. It was the usual bland fizz.

We couldn´t work out what had happened. Was it actually Águila we had in Cádiz? Was the stuff in this cafe just not right?

To this day, it is still a mystery. I´ve had plenty of drinks from an Águila tap but wouldn´t say there was anything special about it. Now, I´m not sure that there is a beer called Águila produced anymore — it´s not mentioned on Amstel´s official site, nor can you find it in bottles. But the pumps are quite cool, with a big eagle on top, so it´s not inconceivable that landlords decided to keep the pumps even if the specific product no longer exists.

I do still wonder what it was we had in Cadíz that day, because it was definitely different. I can´t think of any other beers that sound like “ah-GEE-la”, so I wonder if it was one of the last barrels of the old stuff? To further complicate things, I believe Águila was actually a brand taken over by Amstel, so maybe it was the original, which has now been replaced by the boring Dutch brew?

We might never know. Unless any of you guys can help…?

Weird cider/beer hybrid

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The latest issue of Marketing magazine brings news of the launch of an appalling-sounding half-beer/half-cider chimera from one of the big international brewers. It’s made with cider, barley malt and “sparkling water”. I can’t be bothered to give this foul-sounding product any publicity by naming it… so I won’t.

The interesting thing is that they claim to have devised the product based on research which shows that a significant number of women “don’t like beer and distrust the quality of wine in bars”.

For one thing, I’m not sure that the logical conclusion from that research is: “I bet those same women would just love a weird cider-beer hybrid!”

But I’d also observe, paraphrasing their line, that there are many people of both genders who “don’t like wine, and distrust the quality of real ale in pubs”, which explains the popularity of bland lagers and Guinness in the UK. Too often, the choice is between a corporate product which is boring but consistent, and a “real” product which stinks, tastes bad and looks bad because it’s not been well looked after. You can’t blame people for going down the bland route when that’s the choice.

In both cases, the solution is probably campaigning to improve the quality of the wine, beer, cider, whisky or whatever, in bars and pubs.

One way to do that would be for CAMRA to make the criteria for getting into their Good Beer Guide slightly more strict. At the moment, as far as I can tell, it lists every pub with any kind of cask ale on offer, although they say “only pubs with a consistently high standard of real ale are considered for entry”. Sadly, my experience has been that quite a few unwelcoming, grotty, smelly pubs get in because they’ve got an old, rank cask of Greene King IPA on one pump at the bar.

Microbreweries in the south of france?

Boak is on tour in France and Spain. This is the first update from “our foreign correspondent”…

Does anyone know anything about breweries in the south of France?

I’d assumed there wouldn´t be a lot, but in the tourist office in Beziers I noticed an advert for Brasserie d’Oc, between Beziers and Montpellier. Anyone had anything from them? They even offer a brewery tour, so if they´re any good, I´m tempted to take a detour and go and see.

I´m told there are others too, although a quick internet search has not turned up any names or places.

Have I totally misjudged the brewing scene in Languedoc, home of the most militant wine manufacturers in France?

Boak

Subtle = bland?

What’s the difference between a beer that’s subtle and one that’s bland?

There are quite a few terms used in beer writing which are imprecise.

The one that I agonise over most is “subtle”. There are some beers which, to me, have little or no flavour — certainly not a flavour worth trumpeting. They’re bland.

And yet I read articles by well-known beer writers waxing poetical about the subtle brilliance of the very same brews. Sometimes, the fine flavours are apparently so subtle that they only emerge when accompanied by, say, a particular type of bread, or at a certain temperature.

So, I think Commercial Lager X is bland; Big Shot Beer Writer thinks it “beguiles with a clean, malty palate, and a subtle hint of spicy hop in the aftertaste”. Huh?

Is my palate at fault? Perhaps. You might recall that it took a concentrated effort for us to discern what was, to us, a subtle distinction between Koelsch and bog standard lager.

Another possibility — could it be that these writers feel obliged to be nice about certain beers for political/commercial reasons? Possibly.

Most often, though, it’s probably just that most of us know when we like or dislike a particular beer and set about using words to justify our judgement.

So, what’s the difference between a beer with low-carbonation, and a beer that’s flat? A beer that’s subtle and one that’s bland? Or one with “crisp hop bitterness” and one that “is dry and astringent”?

Maybe nothing except that the critic likes the first beer, but doesn’t like the second.