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News, Nuggets & Longreads for 30 July 2016: Belgians, Bark, Berlin

Here’s all the beer and pub news, opinion and pondering from the last week that’s made us sit up and take notice, from eccentric Belgians to Berliner Weisse.

For Draft magazine Kate Bernot has taken an in-depth look (1,700 wds) into the use of roots, bark and other bits of tree in the outer limits of brewing experimentation:

Wood is not uncommon in a brewhouse; beers aged on fresh oak or made with spruce tips are familiar. But brewers, especially those in arborous domains, have recently begun to eye entire trees—bark, leaves, sap, needles and all—as ingredients. Juniper, cedar, birch, Ponderosa pine, white fir and other timbers all confer their own distinct flavors, from vanilla to citrus to herbs. More than that, brewers say the final beers express the rusticity of their surroundings, that desirable sense of place that has led to a revival in foraging and local sourcing.

Dany Prignon portrait.
By Breandán Kearney from Belgian Smaak.

At Belgian Smaak British Guild of Beer Writers’ Beer Writer of the Year Breandán Kearney has profiled the enigmatic Dany Prignon of Brasserie Fantôme. It’s an interesting long read (2,000 wds) altogether but it was this bit that really made us spit out our cocoa:

And it’s odd that as the owner and production manager of a brewery, he doesn’t even drink beer. “I don’t like it,” he says, as if this assertion were completely normal. “I taste it, but I prefer soft drinks.”

beer reviews Beer styles london

A Cattle-Prod to the Taste Buds

Berliner Kindl Weisse.

Magic Rock Brewing have been in experimental mode lately, augmenting their core range of hop-driven ales with forays into the far corners of European beer styles.

Circus of Sour pump clip.While we share some of Ed’s concerns about British brewers playing around with styles before they’ve really got to know them, Magic Rock’s Gose-style beer with grapefruit juice (unfortunately named ‘Salty Kiss’) is a front-runner for our beer of the year.

With that in mind, we were excited to come across Circus of Sour, their attempt at a Berliner Weisse. It isn’t flavoured with fruit and hasn’t been cross-bred with any other styles: it’s a more-or-less straight up attempt at a style which scarcely needs any tinkering with to shock British palates. Classical, but still quite mad to those of us brought up on brown bitter and Foster’s.

At 3.5%, Circus of Sour is a touch stronger than Berliner Kindl Weiss — a beer which, merely by outliving its competitors, has become the standard for the style. COS tasted much fresher than any bottled Kindl we’ve ever tried, and seemed a more vibrant shade of yellow. It has a sherbet, popping candy quality, reaching into the back of our mouths and tightening all the screws. Like a grown-up version of sour home-made lemonade, perhaps. (Oh — Pete Brown’s already said that.)

We enjoyed watching our not-especially-beer-geeky companions taste it. Each of them in turn expressed disgust, puckering their lips and scrunching their eyes, as if taking cough medicine. Then, a moment later, their eyes popped open: ‘Actually, that’s not bad.’ The consensus was that it was summery and truly refreshing.

Could Berliner Weisse, then, have more mainstream appeal than our instincts might lead us to expect?

We found it on sale at the Stormbird in Camberwell, South London — a craft beer bar which we remember from its days as an overcrowded, DJ-led ‘style bar’ called the Funky Monkey. Though some of the kegged US IPAs on sale seemed a bit flat and past their best, and wouldn’t go out of our way to visit, we liked the place well enough and will certainly pop in again if we find ourselves in the area.