American Craft Beer Week


The gen­tle­men at Hop Talk have kind­ly remind­ed us that it’s Amer­i­can Craft Beer Week.

This set me think­ing about (a) how much I’d like to be able to get hold of more Amer­i­can beer in the UK and (b) what a nice term “craft beer” is.

There’s some­thing a bit sanc­ti­mo­nious about the term “real ale”. And it’s also a very vague term – you need to know a lot more to under­stand what qual­i­fies a beer as “real”. “Craft beer”, on the oth­er­hand, is a qui­eter term, and also tells you some­thing spe­cif­ic about the beers it’s applied to – that they’re “craft­ed”. In oth­er words, some care has gone into their design and man­u­fac­ture.

I’m not both­ered, espe­cial­ly, whether my beer comes from a cask; whether it’s bot­tle-con­di­tioned; or even whether it’s ale.

All I ask is that it shows evi­dence of some­one hav­ing thought about it, tast­ed it, and changed the recipe to make it taste nice or at least taste inter­est­ing. I’ve had plen­ty of “real ale” which did­n’t have much craft in it (a load of pale malt, a ton of fug­gles hops, hand-drawn label) and some which was, as a result, bare­ly drink­able. Equal­ly, I’ve had beers from very big brew­eries which indi­cate that some­one, some­where in the organ­i­sa­tion, still cares about their craft.

Surviving in a beer desert

These days, it’s eas­i­er than ever to get a wide range of decent beer in bot­tles. There are super­mar­kets every­where, almost all of whom have a range of drink­able beer. But what do you do if there isn’t a spe­cial­ist beer shop in your area, and you’ve tried every­thing in every super­mar­ket?

1. Make sure you try *all* the shops in your area. I only realised by chance that what I had thought for five years was an organ­ic veg shop near my house was actu­al­ly a pret­ty big organ­ic super­mar­ket, with the full range of Pit­field­’s organ­ic bot­tled beers.

2. Co-op have some inter­est­ing beer, includ­ing a cou­ple from Freem­iner. CO-OP’s “Strong Ale” (brewed for them by Thwait­es) isn’t that strong, and is full of caramel, but I like it any­way.

3. My local Londis (see their vir­tu­al store, pic­tured above) stocks a real­ly good range of St Austel­l’s beers, includ­ing the bot­tle-con­di­tioned ones. They are inde­pen­dent retail­ers who can choose what to sell, so they some­times have weird and inter­est­ing beers, depend­ing on how inter­est­ed the man­agers are.

4. Some nice beers don’t have nice bot­tles – they look like tramps’ brew. Those are the ones you’ll find in your local cor­ner shop. Guin­ness For­eign Extra, a world clas­sic impe­r­i­al stout, is avail­able in almost every grub­by cor­ner shop in Lon­don. There’s quite a trend, too, for import­ing czech lager from small­er brew­eries. Cor­ner shops often have “Lobkowitz”, “Ostravar” and oth­er beers which are less well known than Bud­var. Most of them are noth­ing to write home about, but they’re often bet­ter than tins of Stel­la. Roger Protz rates Svy­tu­rys Ekstra from Lithua­nia. My local Turk­ish super­mar­ket stocks the unpas­teurised ver­sion, which is even bet­ter. But the label is in Lithuan­ian, and it’s in a fridge next to Pol­ish tramp brews (War­ka Strong and Okocim Moc­ne).

5. Take away from pubs. Lots of Young’s pubs in Lon­don offer take away bot­tles, in nifty car­ri­ers, at about £1.50 a bot­tle. Lots of oth­er pubs are also “off-licensed”. Try ask­ing.

6. Order from the inter­net. Onlyfinebeer hard­ly ever have the stuff I order in stock, but the fact that you can pay for beer online and have it turn up behind your wheel­ie bin a few days lat­er is great. Or try CAM­RA’s beer club.

7. Read about beer. This is also bet­ter for your health than drink­ing it. Michael Jack­son’s 500 Great Beers and Roger Protz’s 300 Beer’s You Must Drink Before You Die! have lots of pho­tos of exot­ic for­eign beers in provoca­tive pos­es.

8. Brew your own. Get a decent book (I like this one) and order some kit (from these nice peo­ple, for exam­ple) and give it a go. I can’t describe the joy when, after a year of tin­ker­ing and read­ing, we man­aged to brew some­thing which tast­ed as good as a real beer from an actu­al shop. Not just pass­able, but real­ly good. We’ll nev­er be thirsty again.

Meantime Extra Dry Stout

Publicity photo of meantime coffee stout

After a vis­it to the Green­wich Union, I can con­firm that Mean­time’s sea­son­al “Extra Dry Stout” isn’t all that excit­ing, as Stonch has already said. It was too fizzy on the tongue, and a lit­tle thin-bod­ied.

I fol­lowed it up with a bot­tle of cof­fee stout, which has always been, and remains, incred­i­ble. They’d run out of choco­late stout, but there were enough choco­late flavours in this to do the job for me. Smooth, chewy, bit­ter.… just per­fect. And Coop­er’s Aus­tralian “Best Extra Stout” was just slight­ly bet­ter again. The extra 1.5/2% alco­hol – they’re both just over 6%, while the dry stout is 4.5% – and the extra body real­ly makes a dif­fer­ence in their impact.

But I trust Alas­tair Hook to get it right. I think we can expect to see the recipe tin­kered with for some time to come. Mean­time’s wheat beer was pret­ty dull at first, but has evolved into a thing of beau­ty (espe­cial­ly in its strong 6.5% grand cru incar­na­tion).

I also sus­pect that we’ll see a “Taste the Dif­fer­ence” stout in Sains­bury’s in the next year or so, based on this recipe.

Pimlico Ale – update

We found anoth­er book that men­tions Pim­li­co Ale, which I spoke about in this post a few days ago.

William Carey, in his weird, lim­it­ed edi­tion his­to­ry of the area, pub­lished in 1986, writes:

The most pop­u­lar ale drunk in Lon­don between 1570 and 1700 was ‘Pim­li­co Ale’ oth­er­wise known as ‘Der­by Red Cap’ from the pink tinge of its frothy head. At first pro­duced only in Der­byshire at a farm loca­tion named “Pim­li­co”, it was brought to Lon­don in huge bar­rels down the Watling Way.

This is very inter­est­ing. What makes the head pink/red? Fruit could, but the head on some impe­r­i­al stouts is red­dish brown. More research need­ed – in books on Der­byshire, per­haps…?

How to order a beer in Spain

Bai­ley and I said we’d try to keep this blog pos­i­tive, so I’m not going to start with a rant about the poor qual­i­ty of Span­ish lager. Tempt­ed as I am.

Instead, some cul­tur­al notes on order­ing beer. “Dos cervezas, por favor” will work, but you won’t sound like a native.

First­ly, the Span­ish rarely say “por favor”. They’re not being rude, we’re just over­ly polite.

Sec­ond­ly, as in Eng­land, you don’t order “a beer”; instead you spec­i­fy the mea­sure, or rather, the type of glass.

To con­fuse things fur­ther, there’s no such thing as a stan­dard mea­sure, and the var­i­ous glass­es have dif­fer­ent names, depend­ing on what part of the coun­try you’re in. In Andalu­cia, the fol­low­ing gen­er­al­ly works;

  • Una caña – (CAnya)- a mea­sure of around 200 / 250 ml, can be small­er;
  • Un tubo – (Too-bo)- a tall glass, usu­al­ly holds around 330ml;
  • Una jar­ra – (HAr­ra – the “j” sounds like “ch” in “loch”, and you should roll the “r“s) – if they have them, this will usu­al­ly be a pint mea­sure, some­times in a dim­pled mug.

Dos canas
Dos cañas

There is no shame in order­ing a caña, even if you’re a bloke.

Also to note – bot­tled beer is more expen­sive than stuff from the tap (de gri­fo), and it’s more expen­sive to drink out­side on the ter­race than inside. Sit­ting at the bar itself can be even cheap­er.