News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 January 2017: Bucharest, SIBA, Tasting Beer

This week we have been reading various bits of what may or may not be clickbait, notes on beers from Romania and Norway, and ponderings on the nature of taste. There’s also been some less sexy but nonetheless important industry news.

For the Guardian Vic­to­ria Coren-Mitchell expressed a sel­dom-heard point of view: pubs are ter­ri­ble and beer is dis­gust­ing. This caused some irri­ta­tion either because the very idea struck peo­ple as offen­sive, or because they per­ceived it as a delib­er­ate attempt to bait beer- and pub-lovers for the sake of dri­ving traf­fic. We were just inter­est­ed to find put into words (with humor­ous intent, by the way) how a lot of peo­ple must feel:

Peo­ple real­ly love the pub. I say peo­ple. I mean my hus­band. Noth­ing makes my hus­band hap­pi­er than set­tling down in the cor­ner of some reeky-car­pet­ed local booz­ing house for a good old sit. Maybe a chat. And, obvi­ous­ly, a beer. A sit and a chat and a beer. Beer and a chat and a sit. Sit, chat, beer. Chat, sit, beer. Sit, sit, beer beer, chat chat chat, sit sit sit… And noth­ing else is hap­pen­ing! It’s a dif­fer­ent mat­ter if you’re hav­ing some lunch or play­ing a pub quiz; that makes sense. I’m hap­py if there are board games or a pool table… But just sit­ting there, doing noth­ing, just slurp­ing away at a beer and wait­ing for the occa­sion­al out­break of chat: this is the pas­time of choice for lit­er­al­ly mil­lions of peo­ple!


Beer O'Clock, Bucharest.

The Beer Nut has been on hol­i­day again, this time in Bucharest, Roma­nia, and has done his usu­al thor­ough job of track­ing down all the beer of note from super­mar­ket lagers to brew­pub IPAs:

[The] oth­er Hop Hooli­gans IPA, by the name of Shock Ther­a­py… looks the same as the beer next to it, except for that hand­some mane of pure white foam. It does­n’t smell fruity, though; it smells funky: part dank, part old socks. That’s how it tastes too, with a kind of cheesi­ness that I don’t think is caused by old hops. When I look up the vari­eties I dis­cov­er that Waimea and Rakau are the guilty par­ties, and I’m not sur­prised. I’ve picked up an unpleas­ant funk from those high-end Kiwi hops before

Part 1: Craft Beer
Part 2: Big Indies/Contract Brew­ers
Part 3: Main­stream Brands

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Discomfort Beer – Saison, Tripel, Brett and Kriek

‘Access01’ by David Bleas­dale from Flickr under Cre­ative Com­mons.

These are our instructions from Alec Latham, the host of this edition of the monthly beer blogging jamboree:

For Ses­sion 119 I’d like you to write about which/what kind of beers took you out of your com­fort zones. Beers you weren’t sure whether you didn’t like, or whether you just need­ed to adjust to. Also, this can’t include beers that were com­pro­mised, defec­tive, flat, off etc because this is about delib­er­ate styles. It would be inter­est­ing to see if these expe­ri­ences are sim­i­lar in dif­fer­ent coun­tries.’

The exam­ple Alec gives in his own post is Thorn­bridge Wild Raven, the first black IPA he’d ever tried, and in the broad­est terms, there’s the answer: any new style will prob­a­bly wrong-foot you the first time you come across it. You might even say the same of entire nation­al brew­ing tra­di­tions.

Dis­com­fort’ is an inter­est­ing word for Alec to choose because the feel­ing we think he’s describ­ing is as much social anx­i­ety as it is pure­ly about the beer: oth­er peo­ple like this, but I don’t – am I being stu­pid? Am I miss­ing some­thing?

Partizan Lemongrass Saison.

We grap­pled with sai­son for years, for exam­ple. Michael Jack­son wrote about it so elo­quent­ly and enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly, as did Tim Webb and Joris Pat­tyn, and many oth­ers, but we did­n’t get it. How could we match up those tan­ta­lis­ing tast­ing notes with the fizzy Lucozade beers we kept find­ing in Bel­gian bars in Lon­don? Maybe the experts were just wrong – a wor­ry­ing thought. We could have sim­ply giv­en up but we kept try­ing until some­thing clicked. Now we not only under­stand sai­son (with, say, 65 per cent con­fi­dence) but also know which par­tic­u­lar ones we do and don’t like.

Over the years we’ve been sim­i­lar­ly dis­gust­ed or non­plussed by Bel­gian tripels, specif­i­cal­ly Chi­may White which just tast­ed to us like pure alco­hol back in 2003; and also by Bret­tanomyces-influ­enced beers – Har­vey’s Impe­r­i­al, now one of our favourites, appalled us the first few times we tried it, and Orval left us cold until quite recent­ly. (We are now fan­per­sons.)

In each case, the dis­com­fort was worth it, like prac­tis­ing a musi­cal instru­ment until your fin­gers hurt, because it opened up options and left us with a wider field of vision.

The flip­side to Alec’s propo­si­tion, of course, is that some beers are imme­di­ate­ly appeal­ing but per­haps become tar­nished with expe­ri­ence. The first time we were ever dragged to an obscure pub by an excit­ed friend it was to drink Tim­mer­man’s fruit beers from Bel­gium which we now find almost too sweet to bear. Com­fort turns to dis­com­fort, delight to queasi­ness.

The sense of taste is an unsta­ble, agile, mis­chie­vous thing that you can nev­er quite tame.

What is a Twang?

Judge with beer.

Ever had a beer with a twang to it? A quality so subtle it transcends language?

The oth­er week in Birm­ing­ham we ploughed through many issues of the high­ly enter­tain­ing and par­ti­san Licensed Trade News. In the issue for 10 Decem­ber 1904 we found this sto­ry tak­en from the Dai­ly Tele­graph with some added com­men­tary, recount­ing events at South­wark Police Court on (we think) 6 Decem­ber that year.

A pub­li­can who was sued at South­wark for beer sup­plied said he returned some of the stuff because it was very poor.

Judge Addi­son: How did you judge of that?

Defen­dant: I am a prac­ti­cal brew­er.

Judge Addi­son: But did you judge it by its taste, because that is the way I should test it? (Laugh­ter.)

Defen­dant: Yes, and there was a ‘twang’ about it.

Judge Addi­son: That is some­thing we object to in people’s voic­es. (Laugh­ter.) What do you mean by a ‘twang’ in beer?

Defen­dant: It left an unpleas­ant taste in the mouth.

Judge Addi­son: That is what good beer does if you take too much – at least, that is what I am told. (Laugh­ter.)

Defen­dant: I thought it had a ten­den­cy to acid­i­ty.

Judge Addi­son: But what is this ‘twang’?

Defen­dant: Well, it did not go down easy. (Laugh­ter.)

Judge Addi­son: I sup­pose beer does not go down easy if you do not like it. (Laugh­ter.) It goes down easy enough if you do like it.

Defen­dant: If beer is palat­able it goes down easy. (Laugh­ter.)

Judge Addi­son: Yes, with most of us. (Laugh­ter.)

Defen­dant: You can’t drink a lot of it when it has got a ‘twang’.

Judge Addi­son: But why; What is this ‘twang’? If I had some here I could sam­ple it for myself. (Laugh­ter.)

Defen­dant: Well, it has an unpleas­ant taste.

Coun­sel: The ‘twang’, your hon­our, is so sub­tle that it tran­scends lan­guage.

What­ev­er would [tem­per­ance cam­paign­er] Sir Wil­frid Law­son say if the Judge put his very prac­ti­cal sug­ges­tion of test­ing the beer by taste into fact, and there and then quaffed some glo­ri­ous or inglo­ri­ous beer as the sequel might prove in the fierce light of a police court? One thing is cer­tain, viz., that Judge Addi­son is per­fect­ly sat­is­fied that it should be known that in the words of the old dit­ty he

Likes a drop of good beer.’

A few obser­va­tions:

  1. The pub­li­can is an advo­cate of easy-drink­ing ses­sion beer, evi­dent­ly.
  2. Said pub­li­can could do to go on an off-flavour iden­ti­fi­ca­tion course.
  3. Judge Addi­son does­n’t believe in tast­ing with eyes alone. Wise.
  4. His Judgi­ness was right to chal­lenge the word twang: did the pub­li­can actu­al­ly mean tang? That would chime with his men­tion of acid­i­ty.
  5. Look at tast­ing notes all over Untappd/Ratebeer – twang remains a pop­u­lar word!
  6. Either His Judge­wor­thi­ness had fun­ny bones or this audi­ence was eas­i­ly pleased. (Laugh­ter.)

News, Nuggets & Longreads 23 April 2016 – Takeovers, Spruce, Helles

Here’s what’s grabbed our attention in beer news and writing in the last week, from spruce beer to brewery takeovers, via brewery takeovers and, er, more brewery takeovers…

→ Let’s get AB-InBev’s acqui­si­tion spree out of the way first: Ital­ian web­site Cronache di Bir­ra broke the news yes­ter­day that the glob­al giant as acquired Bir­ra del Bor­go. Here’s the most inci­sive com­men­tary so far:

→ Relat­ed: remem­ber when we pon­dered what it must feel like to sell your brew­ery? Well, we’ve now been treat­ed to two sub­stan­tial pieces in which the founders of brew­eries absorbed by AB-InBev reflect on the expe­ri­ence. First, Jasper Cup­paidge of Cam­den Town was inter­viewed by Susan­nah But­ter for the Evening Stan­dard, per­haps express­ing more inse­cu­ri­ty than he intend­ed or realised:

Every­one has their opin­ions. We’re more craft than ever because that gives us the abil­i­ty to brew more beer our­selves. The beer tastes as good as last week, if not bet­ter. Some peo­ple want to remain inde­pen­dent but it’s like, Mike there wears Con­verse, I like Vans. Every­one has their cool thing.”

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Bottle Milds 4: Old & Dark

This time, we’re tasting two beers that weren’t on our original list, one from Glamorganshire, the other from Sussex.

There was a bit of angst on Twit­ter and else­where when we said we had­n’t been able to get Brain’s Dark for this tast­ing. We real­ly did try, check­ing six or sev­en dif­fer­ent super­mar­kets, and online. We’d giv­en up and moved on when, sud­den­ly, it appeared in our local Tesco. It was­n’t on dis­play prop­er but hid­den in a plas­tic-wrapped slab on top of the shelv­ing from where a chap with a lad­der had to retrieve two bot­tles. We paid £1.50 per 500ml in a four-for-six deal.

Despite the cryp­tic name the label trum­pets a ‘best mild ale’ award from the World Beer Awards. The ABV is 4.1%, nudg­ing above where most milds sit. It’s not bot­tle-con­di­tioned or self-con­scious­ly arti­sanal so there were no gush­es or quirks on pour­ing and it pro­duced a glass of black topped with a thick wedge of beige with­out fuss. This is the black­est mild we’ve tast­ed so far – a real light-stop­per.

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