QUICK POST: Alphabet Brewing Co Flat White Breakfast Stout

Flat White Breakfast Stout.

This beer was part of a batch ordered from Beer Ritz and paid for by Patreon subscribers like Simon Branscombe and Jared Kiraly – thanks, chaps!

We chose this par­tic­u­lar beer because it came up as a sug­ges­tion in last year’s Gold­en Pints. A 330ml can at 7.4% ABV cost £3.19.

The can is rather cool look­ing and the name is appeal­ing: break­fast is a love­ly word for starters, and flat white (a small amount of smooth steamed milk over espres­so) is just about hang­ing in there as the hip cof­fee prepa­ra­tion of the day even though you can now get them in Greg­gs.  We can imag­ine this crop­ping up in cafes and delis, appeal­ing to peo­ple who might not oth­er­wise be that into beer.

We don’t know much about Alpha­bet oth­er than that a friend of a friend who was in the process of set­ting up a brew­ery in Man­ches­ter tells us they’re nice peo­ple, and that cans of their Hoi Pol­loi pil­sner we tried ear­li­er this year were decent enough.

The name hints at the styl­is­tic gim­mick at the heart of this beer: it is a stout but not black as we’ve come to expect. This is idea with some his­tor­i­cal basis pre­vi­ous­ly mined most notably by Durham Brew­ery. One imme­di­ate prob­lem, though, is that, though pale for a stout, it is by no means white. In fact, it is red­dish brown – the least remark­able colour for beer oth­er than yel­low. So an excit­ing propo­si­tion – Won­der At the Freak­ish White Stout! – is any­thing but in exe­cu­tion. ‘Pale’ might bet­ter have set our expec­ta­tions but even that would be push­ing it. Still, it did look appetis­ing enough on its own terms, clear and gleam­ing.

The sec­ond prob­lem, unfor­tu­nate­ly, was a big stale aro­ma that caused us to recoil rather than to smack our lips in antic­i­pa­tion. Where there ought to have been per­haps a touch of smoke or fruit there was a sort of damp, dirty base­ment stink – the wrong kind of dank alto­geth­er.

Once we’d got past that (aro­mas recede after the ini­tial encounter) the taste was inter­est­ing, def­i­nite­ly dark-tast­ing (because dark is a flavour in beer), slight­ly spicy, with some sug­ges­tion of cher­ry, and a lot of burnt cream. The resem­blance to cof­fee, in oth­er words, was specif­i­cal­ly to those sweet­ened, flavoured, very milky dessert cof­fees that abound at this time of year. We did­n’t par­tic­u­lar­ly like it, just as we don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly like that kind of cof­fee, but we can see how it might appeal to palates oth­er than ours.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly that stal­e­ness was a deal-break­er. This can was the­o­ret­i­cal­ly good for anoth­er few weeks, until 17 Decem­ber, and has been stored in the cool and dark since we bought it, but we’d say it actu­al­ly expired some time ago. And, once again, like a stuck record, we have to point the fin­ger at dodgy pack­ag­ing, or pack­ag­ing process­es. We’re get­ting more and more wary of cans from small­er brew­eries, espe­cial­ly when they cost as much as a pint of ale at our local. In this case, we feel a bit swiz­zed.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 June 2017: Markets, Marketing, Manchester

Here’s all the beer- and pub-related reading that’s entertained, educated or amused us in the last seven days, from football lagers to Mancunian tap-rooms.

Every now and then the Guardian does a real­ly great piece on pubs and this week it’s Jes­si­ca Furseth on the endan­gered sub-species of mar­ket pubs – long a sta­ple of Quirky Lon­don writ­ing with their per­verse open­ing hours and lin­ger­ing earth­i­ness in an ever glossier city.

Walk into a pub at 7am and you’ll meet con­struc­tion work­ers, police, nurs­es and para­medics, peo­ple from the media indus­try and oth­er office work­ers. Giu­lia Bar­bos, who tends bar at the Fox and Anchor [in Lon­don], says the ris­ing price of a stout and full Eng­lish has meant the crowds have moved from mar­ket work­ers towards office work­ers, who might have a bit more mon­ey to spend. ‘Now, peo­ple some­times come in just to have break­fast,’ she says.

Red Devil Lager
SOURCE: Latas Fute­bol Clube

For Vice Sports Ryan Her­man has unearthed the sto­ry of how sev­er­al Eng­lish foot­ball clubs attempt­ed to launch their own lagers in the 1980s only to face a tabloid back­lash:

On 1 Decem­ber 1987, Man­ches­ter Unit­ed held a launch par­ty for Red Dev­il Lager at Old Traf­ford. Mem­bers of a team famed for its drink­ing cul­ture, includ­ing Kevin Moran, Nor­man White­side and Paul McGrath, turned up along­side a col­lec­tion of celebri­ties ‘du jour’… Indeed no par­ty at that time and in that venue would have been com­plete with­out Coro­na­tion Street stars Michael Le Vell (aka Kevin Web­ster), Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts) and Nigel Pivar­ro (Ter­ry Duck­worth)… What could pos­si­bly go wrong?

(Via @JimbaudTurner)

If you found this inter­est­ing then note that the site from which we took the pic­ture, Latas Fute­bol Clubeis run by a col­lec­tor of foot­ball-club-brand­ed beer pack­ag­ing. It’s in Por­tugese but easy enough to nav­i­gate.

The Black Jack tap room.

It’s Man­ches­ter Beer Week (23/06–02/07) and a cou­ple of posts from Man­cun­ian blog­gers caught our eye. First, from Kaleigh, there comes a use­ful guide to the city’s brew­ery tap­rooms which looks worth book­mark­ing for future ref­er­ence. ‘If I find myself in Man­ches­ter city cen­tre on a Sat­ur­day, I gen­er­al­ly end up in a brew­ery’, she says, which we know to be true from fol­low­ing her on Twit­ter.

Sec­ond­ly, there’s a bit of PR from the event organ­is­ers. We nor­mal­ly shrug at press releas­es but this has some inter­est­ing num­bers based on com­mis­sioned research:

The Man­ches­ter Beer Audit 2017 found 411 dif­fer­ent cask ales on sale in venues through­out the Man­ches­ter City Coun­cil area, beat­ing near­est rival Sheffield, which boast­ed 385 beers in its last sur­vey, as well as Not­ting­ham (334), York (281), Nor­wich (254), Der­by (213), and Leeds (211)… The sur­vey also con­firmed that Man­ches­ter is lead­ing oth­er cities in kegged “craft” beers too, with 234 dif­fer­ent beers on sale through­out the city, an increase in vari­ety that has been sparked by the recent boom in craft brew­ing.

This was prompt­ed, we assume, by sim­i­lar claims made by Sheffield last year and greet­ed with some con­ster­na­tion by Leo­den­sians, Man­cu­ni­ans, Lon­don­ers… In oth­er words, a piss­ing match has com­menced. Instinc­tive­ly we groan at this – ‘My city’s bet­ter than your city’ is a tedious, more or less unwinnable argu­ment – but, actu­al­ly, a bit of com­pe­ti­tion prob­a­bly won’t do any harm, and cer­tain­ly gen­er­ates atten­tion.

Charles from Ards Brewing.

We’re always nag­ging peo­ple to write about small­er, less well-known, basi­cal­ly shy brew­eries, which is why we pounced on this piece by the Dirty Hal­lion. It pro­files the the Ards Brew­ing Com­pa­ny of North­ern Ire­land which ‘has no web­site for… and a very lim­it­ed social media pres­ence’. We’d cer­tain­ly nev­er heard of it. There’s not much dra­ma here but the ori­gin sto­ry is inter­est­ing­ly typ­i­cal and refresh­ing­ly free from Grand Pas­sions:

Charles… was a suc­cess­ful archi­tect but like many peo­ple involved in the con­struc­tion indus­try, myself includ­ed, the reces­sion forced a career change… A friend actu­al­ly sug­gest­ed brew­ing and despite no real expe­ri­ence in brew­ing, he was inter­est­ed. The same friend taught him the basics and that was it, he was hooked. Short­ly after he bought the equip­ment and start­ed home­brew­ing. From there he expand­ed and built the brew­ery he now uses.

(This was actu­al­ly post­ed last week but we only spot­ted it on Sun­day.)

BrewDog Beers on a shelf.

Fresh­ness con­tin­ues to be the hot top­ic among antipodean com­men­ta­tors. This week Luke Robert­son at Ale of a Time asks a fun­da­men­tal ques­tion: is the long shelf-life demand­ed by the indus­tri­al beer dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­el fun­da­men­tal­ly at odds with excit­ing, zingy beer? Well, that’s our read­ing, but here’s a bit of what he actu­al­ly says:

The dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­el and mar­ket­place for beer sim­ply isn’t designed for volatile IPAs or unpas­teur­ized lagers. The his­to­ry of this mod­el is all tied into pas­teur­iza­tion and refrig­er­a­tion. While refrig­er­a­tion is still just as impor­tant, pas­teur­iza­tion is a dirty word amongst small brew­ers. When send­ing your beer out of the brew­ery you can almost guar­an­tee that your beer is going to end up old, and prob­a­bly on a warm shelf.

Painting of a bearded Victorian.
William Ever­ard

Only a few weeks after Charles Wells announced that it was sell­ing its brew­ing oper­a­tion and most brands to Marston’s comes anoth­er jolt: Ever­ard’s of Leices­ter is hand­ing off pro­duc­tion of its beer to Robin­son’s and Joule’s. You won’t find many beer geeks – even the tra­di­tion­al­ists – with a lot of gush­ing kind words for Ever­ard’s beer but this is nonethe­less anoth­er wor­ry­ing devel­op­ment in the health of Britain’s fam­i­ly brew­ing tra­di­tion. (Via @robsterowski.)

And, final­ly, here’s a thought-pro­vok­ing Tweet from Joe Stange which is of course a gen­er­al­i­sa­tion and a sim­pli­fi­ca­tion but…

Smoke Signals: We’re Not Stuck in the Mud, Honest!

Moor brewery wall sign: 'No fish guts.'

In recent weeks the Campaign for Real Ale has been sending coded signals: it isn’t hidebound or dogmatic, it can change, it is hip to where it’s at, Daddy‑O.

First there was this press release ref­er­enc­ing an arti­cle in the lat­est edi­tion of the Good Beer Guide:

A grow­ing num­ber of brew­ers are look­ing at alter­na­tives to isin­glass as a clear­ing or ‘fin­ing’ agent in their beers, the 2017 Good Beer Guide (GBG), pub­lished by the Cam­paign for Real Ale, CAMRA, reports. Isin­glass is made from the swim blad­ders of fish – and as more and more drinkers today are veg­e­tar­i­ans and veg­ans, brew­ers are look­ing at alter­na­tive ways to serve crys­tal clear pints.

The press release, and the arti­cle to which it refers, aren’t call­ing for more unfined beer (though the for­mer does quote Roger Protz seem­ing to do so) but that’s cer­tain­ly how the BBC and oth­er out­lets report­ed it. (Lat­er cor­rect­ed.) The rea­son, we sus­pect, that CAM­RA’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions staff got so espe­cial­ly annoyed at this mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion is because they laboured hard behind the scenes to get a mes­sage that all the key play­ers were hap­py with. This is the kind of thing politi­cians deal with all the time: ‘I think it’s time to con­sid­er whether oranges might not deserve a place in the fruit bowl along­side apples, in cer­tain cir­cum­stances,’ says the Min­is­ter; MINISTER SLAMS OUR GREAT BRITISH APPLE reads the head­line. Because care­ful­ly com­posed, nuanced mes­sages are rarely news.

The real point was intend­ed to be, we think, that (a) CAMRA knows about this stuff on the out­er fringes of ‘craft beer’; (b) it acknowl­edges that good beer can be made this made way; and © it is watch­ing with keen inter­est and an open atti­tude.

On a sim­i­lar note was last week’s announce­ment that, for the first time, a canned beer has been cer­ti­fied as ‘real ale’ by the Cam­paign’s tech­ni­cal com­mit­tee. At the most basic lev­el this is a state­ment of fact – the TC count­ed yeast cells in the pack­aged prod­uct and gave it the thumbs up – but of course it’s much more than that. In 2016, cans are a ‘craft’ thing, and cer­tain­ly seem to dom­i­nate the crafty end of our Twit­ter feed, and this is about CAMRA find­ing a way to con­nect with that con­stituen­cy. We don’t think it’s too much to describe it as a ges­ture of friend­ship. (But craft cyn­ics might see it as co-opt­ing or Dad danc­ing, while real ale hard-lin­ers will see pan­der­ing.)

Here’s some­thing we said in our big Brew Bri­tan­nia fol­low-up blog post in 2015, in rela­tion to the deci­sion that beer in key-keg could be con­sid­ered real ale under cer­tain cir­cum­stances:

[That’s] how we expect CAMRA to play this in the years to come – slow change with­out big announce­ments – mere­ly the occa­sion­al sound­ing of a dog whis­tle through select­ed chan­nels. That way, they will hope to avoid scar­ing away con­ser­v­a­tive mem­bers many of whom (not all) also hap­pen to be old­er and there­fore, for var­i­ous rea­sons, make up the bulk of the active mem­ber­ship.

That still holds true but per­haps the whis­tles are get­ting more fre­quent and more audi­ble?


Label for Partizan X ale w. crossed dinosaurs.
Art by Alec Doher­ty. SOURCE: Par­ti­zan Brew­ing Archive.

We’re working on an article about mild in the 21st century, research for which prompted this statement in an email from Andy Smith at Partizan:

The beer was orig­i­nal­ly sim­ply called mild… We then decid­ed to rebrand as X… This worked OK but not as well as we’d hoped. It was at this stage we put dinosaurs on the label and sales rock­et­ed! I kid you not. It sells as well if not bet­ter now as our oth­er dark beers. Dinosaurs! Now we spend our week­ends hear­ing how cute the dinosaurs are (recent­ly changed) and  answer­ing the ques­tion what is X?

That’s fun­ny, of course, but also made us think, ‘Huh. So craft beer drinkers are like chil­dren?’

We’ve observed before, as has almost every­one else who’s writ­ten a tedious think-piece on the sub­ject, that craft beer in cans has been suc­cess­ful part­ly because they are tac­tile and colour­ful, bright and toy-like. Beaver­town Brew­ery’s car­toon-laden designs in par­tic­u­lar sug­gest mate­r­i­al for an (admit­ted­ly slight­ly weird) ani­mat­ed series and also make them look like a bit like soft drinks. (Gam­ma Ray more so than this exam­ple we have at hand.)

Beavertown Smog Rocket design.
Art by Nick Dwyer. Source: Beaver­town Brew­ery.

And some­times, with fruit and resid­ual sweet­ness and nov­el­ty flavour­ings and high­er car­bon­a­tion, the hippest beers can taste a bit like soft drinks too.

Of course we checked our­selves fair­ly prompt­ly: one per­son­’s infan­tile is, of course, anoth­er per­son­’s fun, and we under­stand that you humans enjoy this emo­tion fun is good.

And even if it is infan­tile, is that a bad thing? One key rea­son peo­ple drink is to reduce the pres­sures of adult life and the pub is where grown-ups go to play.

This is a ques­tion we’re going to have in mind from now on, though, espe­cial­ly when we find our­selves con­sid­er­ing the gen­er­a­tion gap between real ale cul­ture and craft beer. (Def 2.)

One Year On, One Month on

There have been a few developments on ‘the scene’ since we wrote our long post updating on Brew Britannia at the start of July.

The Ker­nel Brew­ery tap room, which gave birth to the ‘Bermond­sey Beer Mile’, will no longer be open­ing on Sat­ur­days from 5 Sep­tem­ber. Mean­while, Man­ches­ter has gained its own week­end crawl – ‘The Pic­cadil­ly Beer Mile’.

→ Matthew Cur­tis has man­aged to whee­dle a lit­tle more infor­ma­tion about the Unit­ed Craft Brew­ers from its founders.

→ Man­age­ment at Bate­man’s of Lin­colnshire have gone beyond com­plain­ing about Pro­gres­sive Beer Duty: they’re plan­ning (or at least threat­en­ing) to down­size to get under the thresh­old, as Roger Protz report­ed.

Har­bour Brew­ing of Corn­wall have their can­ning line up and run­ning; Dark Star launched canned beers at the begin­ning of July; and Mag­ic Rock have their can­ning line almost ready to go. Mean­while, John Keel­ing of Fuller’s had this to say:

→ And, final­ly, anx­i­ety over con­sol­i­da­tion and pre­da­tion was kept bub­bling by Duv­el Moort­gat’s merg­er with (or take over of, or syn­er­gis­ing with, or some­thing) US brew­ery Fire­stone Walk­er.

* * *

Tempt­ing as it is to fol­low this in sev­en days’ time with ‘One Year On, One Month On, One Week On’, we’ll resist the urge…