The Beer War of 1380

wroclaw.gifWrocław, Poland, is a fas­ci­nat­ing place. It’s been part of Bohemia, Poland, Ger­many, and prob­a­bly a few oth­er coun­tries I’ve for­got­ten. It also has a decent brew pub, Spiż, in the town square – prob­a­bly on the same site as a Ger­man bierkeller from its days as the Ger­man city of Bres­lau.

What I didn’t realise until today is that it was also the home of some­thing called “The beer war of 1380”. The city’s web­site says:

The dual­i­ty of munic­i­pal gov­er­nance – eccle­si­as­ti­cal and sec­u­lar – gave rise to the famous ‘beer war’ of 1380. The City Coun­cil defend­ed the city’s monop­oly on the sale of beer against the Cathe­dral canons, who lived in Ostrów Tum­s­ki (Cathe­dral Island). As a result, an inter­dict (a church dis­ci­pli­nary mea­sure) was imposed on the city’s church­es, which were sub­se­quent­ly pil­laged. It took a papal bull to end the con­flict.

Now, hav­ing a war about beer real­ly is tak­ing it too seri­ous­ly.

I read about the beer war in Nor­man Davies’ Micro­cosm, a his­to­ry of the city of Wrocław/Breslau. In the same book, he also talks intrigu­ing­ly about the two dom­i­nant beers in Wrocław in the mid­dle ages. One was called “Schöps” – Davies says it was a brand name and was first men­tioned in 1392. It came to be the most pop­u­lar brand in the area in the late 15th cen­tu­ry, superced­ing some­thing called “Schwei­d­nitzer”. I’m adding both to the list of weird his­tor­i­cal beers, along with Pim­li­co Ale.

Also see a much old­er post, “Why isn’t Pol­ish beer good?”


The Great British Beer Festival – highlights


A quick post on the high­lights of GBBF for us. More posts to come on some of the beers we had there in the next cou­ple of days…

Things we liked about GBBF

  1. The diver­si­ty of the pun­ters. You get a lot of peo­ple here who would not nor­mal­ly come to beer fes­ti­vals. The ratio of women to men is con­sid­er­ably high­er here than at oth­er fes­ti­vals, and it’s not uncom­mon to see groups of women enjoy­ing the beers. OK, so there’s still a queue for the gents but none at all for the ladies… but each time we come back to GBBF (we were last here a cou­ple of years ago) it becomes more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the UK pop­u­la­tion as a whole.
  2. Obvi­ous­ly, the huge num­bers of beers, from some quite obscure brew­eries. Nice to see so many milds, porters and stouts – even real ale pubs don’t tend to stock these as much as “plain” bit­ters styles. Our favourites from the UK were “Old Fred­die Walk­er” from the Moor Beer Com­pa­ny in Som­er­set – a dark strong ale (7.3%) with a love­ly rich, raisiny flavour, and Glen­coe Wild Oat Stout, made by the Bridge of Allan Brew­ery in Scot­land. This lat­ter packed in a huge amount of flavour for its 4.1% – and it’s organ­ic too.
  3. We liked the lay­out by region, and the “new” stalls, such as the veg­e­tar­i­an / organ­ic beer, and the “Bar Nou­veau” – handy for help­ing you organ­ise your ses­sion!
  4. The Bieres Sans Fron­tieres stalls. The beer-tast­ing high­light of the evening was prob­a­bly a cou­ple of Amer­i­can beers – Pen­nichuk Hal­li­gan RyePA (5.1%) and the Portsmouth Brewery’s “Bot­tle­Rock­et” IPA (6.something I think). Both full of aro­ma and flavour­ing hops, but beau­ti­ful­ly bal­anced.
  5. The third-of-a-pint mea­sure. Real­ly nice lit­tle glass­es, fab­u­lous for tast­ing as much as pos­si­ble – and eco­nom­i­cal too. And you didn’t feel bad about tip­ping 60-pence worth of beer down the sink.
  6. The pro­gramme was extreme­ly help­ful to beer-geeks and non-beer-geeks alike, and help­ful­ly priced at £1. The tast­ing notes, basic infor­ma­tion about beer, and inter­est­ing arti­cles about beer and food, and the “local” nature of cask beer, will sure­ly help raise inter­est in good beer amongst the casu­al pun­ters.
  7. The fact that we found some Baltic porters! We bought these for take­away (and lat­er blog posts). Seri­ous­ly impressed that GBBF can deliv­er what even spe­cial­ist beers shops and Russ­ian delis can­not…
  8. The food selec­tion – we thought this was pret­ty decent, with a range of meat prod­ucts, Thai & Indi­an food, and of course “snacks to beer” (pork scratch­ings and pies). Not too over-priced either, con­sid­er­ing this was a “pre­mier venue” in the mid­dle of Lon­don.

Devel­op­ment points

It seems churl­ish to point to weak­ness­es when we had such a good time, but as my line man­ag­er would say, there’s always some­thing you could do bet­ter.

  1. The con­di­tion of the beers. This is prob­a­bly our biggest gripe – let’s face it, a beer fes­ti­val is not the best place to store cask ale, and a lot of the beers we tried (par­tic­u­lar­ly low ABV British styles) were slight­ly off – had to tip a few down the sink. To return to the point of yesterday’s post, it seems a shame to get so many poten­tial new pun­ters in one spot and then serve them stuff that smells like farts and tastes like cider. No, I wasn’t at the cider and per­ry bar at the time!
  2. More seat­ing – or at least make sure the floor’s a bit clean­er. If I was being real­ly lah-di-dah, I’d sug­gest more umbrel­las for the tables – this would help the venue feel more like a large beer gar­den and less like an air­craft hangar.
  3. It would be great to have some water points. You need some­thing to (a) cleanse your palate (b) cleanse your glass © help stave off the hang­over.

All in all, we had a great time, and well done to CAMRA for excel­lent organ­i­sa­tion. Spe­cial men­tion of the pre-fes­ti­val pub­lic­i­ty on the Tube and in the Lon­don papers for rais­ing aware­ness out­side the beer-geek world.

Don’t just take our word for it!

Oth­er blog­gers have some good per­spec­tives on GBBF. Stonch gives us a fab­u­lous descrip­tion of the atmos­phere, togeth­er with a roll-call of the great and the good in UK brew­ing. We loved Pete “the sec­ond-best beer drinker in Britain ” Brown’s view on GBBF, which chal­lenges the insis­tence on cask ale but still rec­om­mends you go. Melis­sa Cole (“Girls Guide to beer”) seems to have had a good time as well.


The GBBF is on until Sat­ur­day at Earls Court, Lon­don. We’ve found that a lot of the beer runs out by Fri­day, so go as soon as you can! Link to GBBF page on CAMRA web­site.

How do you win converts to real ale?

Thanks to Stonch, for post­ing this link to a BBC arti­cle on CAMRA’s bid to make ales women-friend­ly.

“Paula Waters [CAMRA’s first ever chair­woman] said most adverts for beer were biased towards male drinkers: “When is the last time you saw any press or TV advert for beer which is meant to attract women?

At best they are inof­fen­sive­ly aimed at men and at worst they are down­right patro­n­is­ing to women.”

She has a point – although I wouldn’t say I’d noticed that many adverts for real ale out­side of spe­cial­ist mag­a­zines and beer fes­ti­vals. And I won­der what an advert aimed at women would look like (would I find it more patro­n­is­ing, like the idea of “girls’ bars” at beer fes­ti­vals?)

Does mar­ket­ing play that big a part in attract­ing peo­ple (male or female) to real ale? I think it can have a part to play, based on my own expe­ri­ences.

fixed_perspective.jpgWhy did I get into real ale? Well, I almost didn’t – it took a long time because, frankly, so many of the pints were bad. At the time, I just assumed that’s what real ale tast­ed like. Now I can see that the kind of places I was drink­ing were not look­ing after their beer ter­ri­bly well.

Why did I keep per­sist­ing with ale? It was because I liked the idea of drink­ing some­thing tra­di­tion­al and “real” (and so did the crowd I was with) This seemed much cool­er than drink­ing Guin­ness or mass-pro­duced lager – even if I didn’t enjoy it at first.

So per­haps mar­ket­ing does help in arous­ing the ini­tial inter­est. The “real ale” con­cept is a great asset to start with – even more could be made of this to empha­sise how nat­ur­al and tra­di­tion­al real ale is. The “local” angle is impor­tant here, too – peo­ple are increas­ing­ly try­ing to eat local­ly-sourced food, and there’s no rea­son why this shouldn’t help sell real ale too.

How­ev­er, a mar­ket­ing cam­paign on its own is no good if you go into a pub for your first pint (or half) of real ale and it’s stale or off. So per­haps CAMRA could put more effort into pro­mot­ing knowl­edge amongst land­lords and bar staff on keep­ing and serv­ing real ale (I’m sure CAMRA already does this, but there’s def­i­nite­ly still work to be done)

Here are my thoughts on how you intro­duce peo­ple (male or female) to real ale .Proper Job!

  1. Make sure it’s a good beer, in a pub where they know how to keep it! Sounds obvi­ous, but you don’t want their first pint to be the last. You also want there to be a range avail­able, so they don’t have to stick to the one drink, and so that they get a sense of the fan­tas­tic vari­ety in real ale.
  2. Alter­na­tive­ly, con­sid­er intro­duc­ing your vic­tim to a range of bot­tle-con­di­tioned beers in the com­fort of your own home (or theirs). Bot­tle-con­di­tioned beers are often less vari­able, fresh­er, and if you’re serv­ing it at home, you have the advan­tage of con­trol­ling the glass­ware (which we’re very keen on) and the serv­ing tem­per­a­ture.
  3. I’d usu­al­ly start with some­thing pale, but def­i­nite­ly not bland – a well-bal­anced IPA for exam­ple. I’ve got a friend com­ing round tonight, and I’m going to try her on a St Austell “Prop­er Job” IPA (bot­tle-con­di­tioned, of course). Then pos­si­bly Hop­back Sum­mer Light­ning.
  4. Resist the temp­ta­tion to demon­strate all your knowl­edge about hop vari­eties and malt com­plex­i­ty. Unless you are try­ing to con­vert a nerd, in which case go in all guns blaz­ing – even if they don’t like the beer, it’s some­thing to else to be nerdy about.
  5. Be patient! You prob­a­bly aren’t going to con­vert some­one to real ale overnight – it may take a pro­longued cam­paign.

Has any­one got any suc­cess sto­ries in con­vert­ing peo­ple to real ale? Is a beer fes­ti­val, such as the Great British Beer Fes­ti­val, the place to do it?


Beer Glasses

SAHM’s tradition gobletWilson’s com­ment on the beer glass we used for the pho­to of our black­ber­ry wheat beer yes­ter­day got me think­ing: is every­one else as weird about beer glass­es as us?

We’ve got box­es of dif­fer­ent glass­es stacked around the house. The idea is that we’ve got the right style of glass, in the right size, for almost any­thing that gets chucked at us. In a lot of cas­es, we’ve even got glass­es with the right brand­ing.

I think, as a bare min­i­mum, you need:

  1. Two half-pint stem glass­es – for shar­ing 500ml bot­tles.
  2. A straight-sided pint glass.
  3. A “gob­let” for Bel­gian beer.
  4. A tall wheat beer glass.
  5. A half-litre “krug” for drink­ing Ger­man stuff.
  6. A litre stein for drink­ing Ger­man stuff in the sum­mer…

Option­al extras would be a tiny US pint glass; a koelsch glass; a tall “pils” flute… I could go on.

Of course, like a lot of peo­ple, I have a favourite glass that I use more than all the oth­ers. Mine’s a nice, stur­dy, straight-sided pint glass from the George Inn, Mid­dle­zoy, Som­er­set, which hon­ours the Queen’s Gold­en Jubilee with an inscrip­tion in Com­ic Sans. Ha.

So, who else is fussy about their glass­ware? And if so, do you know where I can get a Marston’s glass…?

The August Session – Blackberries & beer

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s ses­sion was set by Beer, Beats & Bites, and the chal­lenge is to write about fruit beer.

As this coin­cides neat­ly with the start of the black­ber­ry sea­son in the UK – or at least in our part of East Lon­don – we thought we’d focus on black­ber­ries and beer for this post. (By the way – is it me or is the black­ber­ry sea­son get­ting ear­li­er and ear­li­er?)

We’ve often won­dered why black­ber­ries don’t fea­ture more in beer. They’re fair­ly sim­i­lar in struc­ture / tex­ture to rasp­ber­ries, and are eas­i­er to grow. It seemed nat­ur­al to us to try and use last year’s haul in one of our brews. But how? We looked around for inspi­ra­tion.bramble_stout.jpg

One idea was to add the juice to some stout. We found out the Bur­ton Bridge Brew­ery had beat­en us to it. Their “Bram­ble Stout” is an excel­lent stout – but if you didn’t know that there were black­ber­ries in it, you prob­a­bly wouldn’t guess. It has a sour­ness that could be attrib­ut­able to the black­ber­ries, and the choco­latey aro­ma is per­haps also a bit fruity. We’ve just had anoth­er bot­tle in hon­our of The Ses­sion, and enjoyed it just as much as last year, and we would def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend it, even to“serious” beer drinkers who don’t like fruit beers.

When it came to our own brew, we want­ed some­thing where the black­ber­ry flavour came out more, and so we decid­ed to try and brew it with a wheat­beer. The inspi­ra­tion for this came part­ly from the Mean­time Rasp­ber­ry beer, which we think man­ages to achieve a full fruity flavour with­out being an alcopop.

blackberry_wheat.jpgOur recipe was easy enough – pret­ty much a stan­dard Ger­man wheat beer recipe, except that, when we trans­ferred into sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion, we threw in a slight­ly over-the-top 7lbs of black­ber­ries. (We had pas­teurised them by cook­ing them for 20 min­utes and then we strained them through a ster­ilised sieve when they were cool) This kicked off a fair­ly vig­or­ous sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion – there’s a lot of sug­ar in 7lbs of black­ber­ries.

The fin­ished prod­uct is very pop­u­lar with our friends. We’re quite hard on our­selves, though, and will prob­a­bly work on the recipe some more. For one thing, our fan­cy-pants Ger­man wheat beer yeast didn’t real­ly get going, so we end­ed up using dried lager yeast, which didn’t exact­ly impart a lot of char­ac­ter. We might also try to keep a bit more malt sweet­ness – it’s quite sour. But the colour is great… like Calpol. Alto­geth­er, it’s very refresh­ing, and looks spec­tac­u­lar, but needs to be more com­plex if it’s going to knock anyone’s socks off.

tayberry.jpgAnd, as a “bonus track”, in hon­our of this Session’s top­ic, we also tried a bot­tle of the Williams Bros Brew­ing Company’s “Roisin” tay­ber­ry beer. Tay­ber­ries are a cross between a black­ber­ry and a rasp­ber­ry, but this beer is prob­a­bly accent­ed more towards the rasp­ber­ry flavours. Like oth­er British fruit beers – notably Cain’s excel­lent raisin beer – it’s an ale first, and a fruit beer sec­ond. You can taste the malt, and par­tic­u­lar­ly the hops, and is only slight­ly red­der than a stan­dard bit­ter (unlike our black­ber­ry effort). The hop bit­ter­ness is per­haps rather over­pow­er­ing, although it seemed to mel­low as we got down the glass. It has a very pleas­ing fruity after­taste. It’s worth a look – again, even for those who aren’t par­tic­u­lar­ly into fruit beers. It’s avail­able in Odd­bins in the UK, and is plas­tered all over with US import infor­ma­tion, so must be avail­able there, too.

Note: more fan­cy beer pho­tos, although a bit rough and ready this time. The “Roisin” pic has a grey back­ground because try­ing to white out around the base of a stem glass was beyond me… for now.

#UPDATE# Ses­sion round up post­ed here.