It’s got cold in the UK this week. I’ve even thought about cracking out a coat or sweater, although I’ll probably stick to shirt sleeves until at least December.
But it’s not like I’m ignoring the cold – I’ve just started to drink an unusual amount of stout.
All the big breweries are wheeling out autumn beers, most of which seem (rather obviously) to be red. Despite a very nice pint of Moor Brewery’s Avalon Autumn at the Pembury Tavern on Sunday, it’s the thick black stuff I’m craving.
It was Sam Smiths Extra Stout on Saturday (great); Meantime’s London Stout last night (flat, sweet, boring); and a Guinness on the train back from the North this afternoon (free). A stout – even a mediocre one – is better than a blanket for keeping out the cold.
But what about when it gets really cold? you’re wondering. Well, that’s when the strong stouts will come out, I guess.
I’ve read before that Central London was well stocked with huge brewery buildings in the 18th and 19th centuries, but most of them were knocked down or blown up in the Blitz. Reading Pevsner’s guide to the architecture of Westminster, however, I noted this line:
Londoners also needed vast supplies of beer and from the late C18 breweries became the first civilian factories to be built on a giant scale. The chief survivor in Westminster is Combe & Co.‘s hulking 1830s premises of plain brick, N of Long Acre.
Now, I’ve walked up Long Acre twice in the last week without noticing a single “hulking” brewery building. I’ll have to look harder next time. Nice to know that these relics of the great age of industrial brewing are still there to be found, though.
I occasionally drink Sam Smith’s Extra Stout (the one on the pumps) when I just want a half of something, and don’t fancy a “pure-brewed lager”. Usually, it’s a black and fluffy white Guinness clone, albeit one with marginally more flavour. But yesterday, I had a half in the Fitzroy which knocked my socks off.
1. It didn’t seem to have been nitro smooth-flowed to death – it was still creamy, but not like someone had put shaving foam on top.
2. The head was that pleasing tan you get on good stouts, instead of the usual glacial white.
3. It was warmer than usual (that is, several degrees above freezing).
4. The body wasn’t a scary, opaque, artificial black – it was dark red, and clear.
4. It was delicious: coffee, chocolate, a little note of sourness, and some salt – just perfect, to my mind.
What’s going on? Is there a cask variant which some pubs have and others don’t? (As is the case with some of Sam Smith’s bitters.) Or have they changed the recipe?
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find out. The brewery’s aversion to “modern ways” means they’re not online and don’t really do press releases. The bar staff in the pub were none the wiser, either. Hmm.
In my post two days ago, I reviewed two Pagoa beers – now the third,Â “Zunbeltz”, which describes itself as a stout.
Again, this seems to get real bad reviews on Ratebeer, and I can’t really see why. It’s got bags of flavour, toasted malt, coffee and chocolate notes and a lovely long finish. This is easily one of the tastiest beers in Spain and would stand up very well against a British mild like Oscar Wilde.
And perhaps this style “confusion” explains the bad reviews -Â itÂ hasn’t really got the body to be a stout, which is what the reviews seem to focus on.
While I can’t get as worked up as some bloggers about overclassification of beer – I think it’s quite useful for homebrewing if you’re trying to copy a particular favourite – I think in this case, it has resulted in a good beer getting some very bad reviews because it’s not “true to type”.
Or alternatively I’ve had a taste lobotomy since being out here…
Anyway, it is definitely worth trying, and I won’t even qualify that with “if you’re in Spain”.Â
In 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…