News, Nuggets and Longreads 06 April 2019: Berlin, Brett, Better Lager

Here’s all the news, commentary and thinking about beer that’s seized our attention in the past week, from Berlin to Peckham, via Huddersfield.

First, some interesting news: BrewDog has acquired the brewery American outfit Stone launched in Berlin a few years ago. Stone says Germans didn’t take to their beer or brand; BrewDog, which already has a bar in the city, cites a need for a post-Brexit continental brewing baseJeff Alworth offers commentary.


Close-up of the CAMRA logo from the 1984 Good Beer Guide.

It’s fitting that the new leadership at the Campaign for Real Ale should use an interview by veteran beer writer Roger Protz as an opportunity to make a statement of intent:

Nik [Antona] and Tom [Stainer] are quick to point out that a proposal to allow CAMRA beer festivals to include key kegs was supported by the necessary majority and many festivals are now supporting this change.

“A number of festivals have key kegs with explanations that are not dogmatic about the different ways beer can be served. I accept that we’ve poor about explaining this in the past,” Tom says. “We need to represent all pubgoers.”

“We may revisit Revitalisation in a few years,” Nik adds, “but in reality we’re doing it now. Younger people are drinking cask but they want to try different things – they want to drink good beer but not necessarily from casks.”

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Brett In Unexpected Places

When is a quality control problem not a problem? When it makes a good India pale ale into a great one.

The Windjammer in the centre of Dartmouth is a funny pub — quiet on both our visits, despite friendly people behind the bar and a well-worn, cosy interior. The counter is literally ship-shape, the walls are papered with nautical charts, and the back wall is covered in at least 30-years’-worth of yacht club pennants from around the world.

What caught our eye, once we’d dismissed the house bitter and guest ale as boring-going-on-bad, were bottles of Goose Island IPA. We used to trek across London in search of it but now, it’s everywhere. But, at the Windjammer, we were offered something that swanky craft beer bars could do well to copy: a choice of bottles from the shelf (room temperature), cellar (recommended ‘for this particular beer’) or fridge.

We went with a cold one and asked for a large wine glass to go with it; it cost £4.75.

It poured hazy and, at first, we just thought it was ‘off’. It took a moment for our palates to recognise what we were tasting: Brettanomyces, plain as day.

We didn’t think we were ‘Brett-heads’ or even that we were entirely confident in spotting it in beer unless cued by packaging but this was so pronounced that there could be no mistake. It tasted like one of our Orval blending experiments, and was utterly delicious. The Brett provided a wild top note, like a Gypsy fiddler sneaking into the violin section of a symphony orchestra. Where GI IPA can sometimes, these days, seem rather on the candied side, this was bitter, lemon-pithy and bracing.

If Goose Island was still a tiny one-man-band as it was at its founding in Chicago in 1988 then this oddity might not be all that surprising, but it is now owned by AB InBev (as in Anheuser-Busch, as in Budweiser) — a company which, if nothing else, is famed for the consistency of its products and the rigour of its quality control. How could this have happened?

Our first thought was that it might not be GI IPA at all but another of the same brewery’s beers mislabelled — Matilda, maybe? — but that seems less likely than that some Brett simply got where it shouldn’t have been, migrating from one part of the brewery to another, perhaps stubbornly lingering in a pipe.

We came back for more a couple of nights later and enjoyed it just as much, perhaps all the more so for the knowledge that it was an un-repeatable experience: a few bottles of this one batch, packaged a year or so ago, are probably the only ones with this particular ‘problem’. If you want to try to find them yourself, though, look out for a best before date of 17 July 2015 and what we think is a batch number of 0947.

UPDATE 09/04/2015: Mike Siegel, Brewing Innovation Manager at Goose Island, has emailed to say: ‘The IPA you had was brewed July 17, 2014 in Chicago at our Fulton Street Brewery.  This batch was actually flagged as having an elevated micro count and held back.  After re-plating and a thorough analysis and tasting, it rechecked as clean and ready to go.  I would love to get my hands on some of these bottles to see exactly what has happened over the past nine months.’ So, not a confirmation based on a QC sample as we’d hoped for, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s impossible.

Sorry for the quality of the photo, which was snapped on a smartphone under ‘intimate’ lighting.

Awkward second date

Detail from the label of St Petersburg Stout (via Thornbridge website)

Do you ever avoid a special beer you’ve really enjoyed in the past because you have a feeling it just won’t excite you the same way second time around?

We have wondered why we haven’t got round to having a second bottle of Thornbridge’s St Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout and perhaps that was the reason, as we really did enjoy it last time, back when Thornbridge were up-and-coming and causing a buzz.

Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint, although we detected a more pronounced, pleasantly funky brettanomyces and tobacco character this time, reminding us of Harvey’s or even that 1983 Courage we enjoyed in Antwerp. Complex yet comforting, a perfect, slow-sipping Christmas beer, despite it’s tasteful label and reindeer-pun-free name.