Beer Review: Wiper and True

Beer from Wiper and True Brewing Company.

Wiper and True are a new ‘brewing company’ based in Bristol, and, for now, making their beer on the premises of various friendly breweries. Their first three beers are unashamedly and self-consciously ‘craft’ — talk of evangelism on the website, rye and blackberries in an amber ale and porter respectively, beer label copy in the style of sleeve notes by Andrew Loog Oldham c.1966, and so on.

We started with the lightest and weakest (or, rather, least strong) — ‘The Summer’ pale ale at 5.4% ABV. On cracking the bottle, we were hit with a very Moor-like bloom of hop aroma, not unlike the effect of dropping sliced oranges into steaming hot mulled wine. With effort, we coaxed a head from it — a touch more carbonation wouldn’t hurt — and tucked in, smacking our lips. Very generous hopping with varieties we don’t know well (Galaxy and Summer) hit us with apricot jam aroma up front, followed by a bitterness which developed like chilli burn, building in the mouth and throat.

We decided, finally, despite the colour and the talk of tropical fruit on the label, that it reminded us of blackcurrants or elderberries. We also thought of the syrup from a jar of stem ginger.

There was, somewhere in the middle of all that lusciousness, a touch of something stale and woody, but that we can forgive in Batch #1. (We’ve had worse from much longer established and well respected ‘craft’ breweries.)

Winter Rye amber (5.6%) as, in all honesty, less successful, with some nail-polish remover going on in the aroma; and, without a ton of hops, a plasticky tang had nowhere to hide.

Blackberry porter (6%) was rough around the edges but ultimately very likeable. With a malt bill including pale, brown, munich, crystal and black, cut across with a touch of tannic fruit dryness, it brought to mind dark chocolate with cherry liqueur, and puckering red wine. Again, though, a hint of something ‘off’, coming and going, kept us on our toes.

We’d like to try The Summer from cask at some point and look forward to trying later batches, perhaps when the lingering imperfections have been smoothed out. All in all, they go into the ‘ones to watch’ file.

A quick note on transparency: their website is very clear about where each beer was brewed and what is in them (hooray!), and they’re not shy, exactly, but, still, we’re not one hundred per cent sure who is behind W&T, or its relationship, if any, with Ashley Down.

These beers were free (gasp!) because Bailey’s little brother got them for us for Christmas. He said the people on the stall were ‘really, really nice’. If you can unpick how that might have influenced our review, let us know…

The accidental science of beer

Beer is alive I tell you! Alive!
Beer is alive I tell you! Alive!

Our post on Friday prompted some needling from Alan at A Good Beer Blog: brewing great beer isn’t hard — it’s a ‘simple, traditional skill’. Then today, as promised, Ed chipped in with a typically sharp post querying how we ended up in what seems a topsy-turvy world where stainless steel automation is ‘craft’ and beer brewed using traditional methods isn’t. (It is to us, but our attempts to reclaim the word to include cask ale seem to have failed.)

With all that in our minds, it was odd that, from beyond the grave, Michael Jackson should chip in from the pages of an issue of The Times from 1980, reminding us that brewing’s status — art, craft, science, or something else? — has been confused for a long time, and is far from settled:

For all the painstaking research that has been done on the subject, brewing remains less of an exact science that it is an art. “Only recently have we begun to understand what a remarkable art it really is”, Professor Anthony Rose, a microbiologist wrote in the Scientific American some years ago. “The brewmaster, by trial and error, has been manipulating some of the subtlest processes of life.”

(Rose’s article, ‘Beer’, appeared in the June 1959 edition of the magazine, and lives behind a paywall here.)

Do brewers with degrees, labs and reference libraries, who understand why they do what they’re doing, make better beer than those who just knew it worked?

Beer halls and duelling in Heidelberg

Beer hall: German student society c.1897.

Mark Twain on drinking and duelling clubs at Heidelberg University in A Tramp Abroad (1880).

Nine-tenths of the Heidelberg students wore no badge or uniform; the other tenth wore caps of various colors, and belonged to social organizations called ‘corps’. There were five corps, each with a color of its own; there were white caps, blue caps, and red, yellow, and green ones. The famous duel-fighting is confined to the ‘corps’ boys. The ‘Kneip’ seems to be a specialty of theirs, too. Kneips are held, now and then, to celebrate great occasions, like the election of a beer king, for instance. The solemnity is simple; the five corps assemble at night, and at a signal they all fall loading themselves with beer, out of pint-mugs, as fast as possible, and each man keeps his own count — usually by laying aside a lucifer match for each mug he empties.

The election is soon decided. When the candidates can hold no more, a count is instituted and the one who has drank the greatest number of pints is proclaimed king. I was told that the last beer king elected by the corps — or by his own capabilities — emptied his mug seventy-five times. No stomach could hold all that quantity at one time, of course — but there are ways of frequently creating a vacuum, which those who have been much at sea will understand.

[…]

There seems to be no chilly distance existing between the German students and the professor; but, on the contrary, a companionable intercourse, the opposite of chilliness and reserve. When the professor enters a beer-hall in the evening where students are gathered together, these rise up and take off their caps, and invite the old gentleman to sit with them and partake. He accepts, and the pleasant talk and the beer flow for an hour or two, and by and by the professor, properly charged and comfortable, gives a cordial good night, while the students stand bowing and uncovered; and then he moves on his happy way homeward with all his vast cargo of learning afloat in his hold. Nobody finds fault or feels outraged; no harm has been done.

Text adapted from Project Gutenberg etext edition; illustration from ‘Duelling in German Universities’, by ‘An English Student’, The Strand Magazine, Vol 13, 1897, p.149.