The Beer of the Future, 1924

More lager, daintier glassware, beer at the dinner table… These were some of the predictions made by  brewing scientist Herbert Lloyd Hind in a talk given to a meeting of Scottish brewers on Burns Day 1924.

We came across this paper while research­ing our big two-parter and thought it deserved a bit of atten­tion in its own right.

As every­one knows, mak­ing pre­dic­tions is a mug’s game, but Mr Hind, as you’ll see, did pret­ty well.

Detail from a Whitbread advertisement, 1937, showing beer with food.

1. Beer must get prettier

The days are past when meals could be eat­en from wood­en bowls, and the days of the old pint pot are num­bered. There was noth­ing like the pewter pot when it was nec­es­sary to hide the drink from the eye to make its con­sump­tion pos­si­ble. Devel­op­ing taste demands that food be served with greater del­i­ca­cy, and that beer be offered in shin­ing glass which sets off its attrac­tive sparkle and con­di­tion to the utmost, and under con­di­tions in which it has noth­ing to suf­fer when com­pared to cham­pagne, or dark red wine.”

This might seem like a pre-echo of the so-called ‘wini­fi­ca­tion of beer’ – more an aspi­ra­tion than a reflec­tion of real­i­ty – but think about how beer has been pre­sent­ed in the last cen­tu­ry: glass became the norm, and even quite ordi­nary com­mod­i­ty beers have their own brand­ed glass­ware and pre­scribed pour­ing meth­ods.

Hind goes on to argue that British beer suf­fers in beau­ty con­tests because it lacks the sub­stan­tial, sta­ble foam of the Con­ti­nen­tal rivals. Which brings us to…

1937 adver­tise­ment for Bar­clay Perkins lager.
2. More lager, and a drift away from ale

In this coun­try beer drinkers have become so wed­ded to the flavour of top fer­men­ta­tion beer that they pre­fer it, and in many cas­es express dis­like for lager. The great major­i­ty, how­ev­er, of those who decry lager have nev­er tast­ed it as it should be, and gen­er­al­ly say they do not like such thin stuff, ignor­ing the fact that such a descrip­tion does not apply to good lager any more than it does to good Eng­lish beer.

Hind was cau­tious on lager but essen­tial­ly called it: tastes can change, he argued – British drinkers had already ditched “that acid beer that used to have a great sale in sev­er­al dis­tricts” – and Den­mark was an exam­ple of a coun­try sim­i­lar in cli­mate to Britain where lager had oust­ed top-fer­ment­ed beer.

In fact, he point­ed out, Britain was the odd­i­ty in hav­ing not embraced lager, and that per­haps the decrease in beer con­sump­tion in Britain could be put down to the fact that brew­ers weren’t giv­ing peo­ple beer they want­ed to drink:

[Those] coun­tries show­ing an increase [in beer con­sump­tion] were all lager-drink­ing coun­tries, or coun­tries where lager was grad­u­al­ly oust­ing top fer­men­ta­tion beers. If there is any­thing in this argu­ment it must fol­low that lager is bet­ter than ale

Oof!

He cer­tain­ly got this right, any­way: Britain did even­tu­al­ly embrace lager, and in a big way. Only now in the 21st cen­tu­ry is there any evi­dence of re-bal­anc­ing.

Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

3. Cleaner, more stable beer

Typ­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of British beers are their hop aro­ma and the flavours pro­duced by sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion. Chill­ing, fil­tra­tion and pas­teuri­sa­tion tend to remove these very much-desired flavours, so that chilled and fil­tered beer gen­er­al­ly suf­fers in com­par­i­son with nat­u­ral­ly con­di­tioned beer.

This is par­tic­u­lar­ly astute and sets up a debate that would dom­i­nate the fol­low­ing cen­tu­ry: how do we retain the essen­tial char­ac­ter of British beer while also tam­ing it for ease of pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion and dis­pense?

Hind goes on to argue that the British beer ought to be fer­ment­ed with pure yeast strains – that it was time to do away with the super­sti­tion and sen­ti­ment around Eng­lish brew­ing yeast:

[The] sweep­ing con­dem­na­tion some times passed on any sug­ges­tion to adapt pure yeast to Eng­lish con­di­tions is not jus­ti­fied. The only tri­als I know of were made many years ago and in con­nec­tion with beers whose dis­tinc­tive palate depend­ed on a sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion. This dis­tinc­tive Bur­ton flavour I have seen pro­duced in beers as dif­fer­ent from nor­mal Bur­ton beers as bot­tom-fer­ment­ed stout by an inoc­u­la­tion in the bot­tle of pure cul­tures of Bre­tan­no­myces, as its dis­cov­er­er, Clausen, called the par­tic­u­lar Toru­la employed. Con­di­tions are now entire­ly altered. Sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion in far the greater num­ber of brew­eries is a thing of the past, and the desider­a­tum now is to pre­vent the devel­op­ment of sec­ondary yeast. Under con­di­tions such as these, sure­ly it is time to reopen the inves­ti­ga­tion and endeav­our to put fer­men­ta­tion on a sounder and more cer­tain basis.

This point of view cer­tain­ly won out in the indus­try but, of course, drinkers did notice when Adnams changed and Bod­ding­ton’s lost its com­plex­i­ty.

"Traditional Country Ales" window livery.

4. Traditional English methods don’t work for session ales

I think it will be admit­ted on all hands that the typ­i­cal Eng­lish nat­u­ral­ly matured pale ales left very lit­tle to be desired. They had a delight­ful appetis­ing flavour, and poured from the bot­tle with beau­ti­ful appear­ance and con­di­tion. The cask beers of sim­i­lar type were also excel­lent, but low­er grav­i­ties have been forced upon us, and the ten­den­cy towards a lighter kind of beer seems so def­i­nite that it is hard­ly like­ly that there will be any return to the old style. Endeav­ours to brew these lighter beers on the old lines are not alto­geth­er a suc­cess, as is evi­denced by the amount of beer on the mar­ket lack­ing in bril­liance or con­di­tion.

This is some con­tro­ver­sial stuff, or at least seems that way from this side of the real ale rev­o­lu­tion of the 1970s.

It’s become a point of faith that British brew­ing meth­ods are par­tic­u­lar­ly well suit­ed to pro­duc­ing low ABV beers, adding com­plex­i­ty to make up for the lack of oomph.

The answer to this con­tra­dic­tion – the desire for beers to be both lighter and clean­er – is, Hind argues, to adopt lager brew­ing meth­ods even for beers that aren’t pre­sent­ed as lager.

Which is exact­ly what, for exam­ple, Thorn­bridge does, using lager yeast for its pack­aged prod­ucts and tra­di­tion­al ale yeast for casks. (At least this is what we think Rob Lovatt, Thorn­bridge head brew­er, told us in a pub about four years ago.)

Keg fonts at a central London pub.

5. Keg!

Even though our meth­ods of man­u­fac­ture were ide­al, there is no pos­si­bil­i­ty of the invari­able appear­ance of the beer in the cus­tomer’s glass in con­di­tion that will sat­is­fy a con­nois­seur, or even a man with ordi­nary stan­dards of taste and per­cep­tion. The meth­ods of retail are hope­less­ly out of date. Though the brew­ers do all that is human­ly pos­si­ble, there are all too many chances of the beer being ruined in the pub­li­can’s cel­lar or at the bar… While bars are fit­ted with the usu­al types of pumps, and unlim­it­ed air is allowed to pass into casks, flat­ten­ing and destroy­ing the flavour of the beer, how can it be expect­ed that beer will serve well to the end of the cask ? The pos­si­bil­i­ties which are offered in this direc­tion by com­pressed CO2 col­lect­ed in the brew­ery have hard­ly been explored at all in this coun­try…

He real­ly nailed this one.

Almost a hun­dred years lat­er the same con­ver­sa­tion is still going, keg bit­ter hav­ing arrived then retreat­ed, while gas remains the key flash­point in Britain’s beer cul­ture wars.

It’s all about qual­i­ty, every­one agrees, and cask ale at point of ser­vice does­n’t always make a good show­ing for itself. “Look after it bet­ter!” say the purists; “Reduce the oppor­tu­ni­ty for user error!” answer the prag­ma­tists.

Mean­while, most peo­ple car­ry on drink­ing lager, obliv­i­ous and unin­ter­est­ed.

* * *

Hind’s pre­dic­tions are inter­est­ing because they’re not out­landish – robot bar­tenders! Pow­dered beer! – but care­ful, based on obser­va­tion, and on a knowl­edge of things already afoot in the beer indus­try in the UK, and espe­cial­ly abroad.

It would be inter­est­ing to read sim­i­lar papers from brew­ers active in 2018.

BREAKFAST DEBATE: Is the Cloudwater News the End of the World?

Eggs with sriracha chilli sauce.

The highly-regarded Manchester brewery Cloudwater is to stop producing cask ale – is this a portent of doom, or a drop in the ocean?

The news dropped this morn­ing in a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly open blog post from brew­ery boss Paul Jones:

We wor­ry that cask beer has backed itself into a cor­ner that risks becom­ing unat­trac­tive to mod­ern brew­eries. Where we can just about tol­er­ate today’s mar­ket pric­ing for our keg and bot­tled beer… we see lit­tle sense in con­tin­u­ing to accept the labour of rack­ing, han­dling, and col­lect­ing casks whilst we make insuf­fi­cient mar­gin… When we take into con­sid­er­a­tion the sort of beer the cask mar­ket laps up we see high demands for tra­di­tion­al beer, albeit with a mod­ern twist. In com­par­i­son, the keg and bot­tle mar­ket demands our most inno­v­a­tive and pro­gres­sive beer… There’s anoth­er often encoun­tered set of issues we face with the cask beer mar­ket – if cask beer isn’t bright the qual­i­ty is often ques­tioned (and in some cas­es our slight­ly hazy casks are flat­ly refused, regard­less of flavour), but if casks are still con­di­tion­ing out, and because of that, or because of inad­e­quate VDK re-absorp­tion at the end of fer­men­ta­tion, tast­ing of diacetyl, then it’s all too often good to go.

In oth­er words, for a brew­ery like Cloud­wa­ter, pro­duc­ing cask is fair­ly thank­less task, offer­ing poor finan­cial returns, lit­tle sat­is­fac­tion for the brew­ers, and huge risk to rep­u­ta­tion because of point-of-sale issues beyond their con­trol.

We read it bleary-eyed with our morn­ing tea and then dis­cussed over break­fast with this par­tic­u­lar ques­tion in mind:

Boak: This does wor­ry me. My impres­sion – and it is just an impres­sion – is that younger drinkers are less inter­est­ed in cask than our gen­er­a­tion was, and that this is part of an increas­ing diver­gence in the  mar­ket where­by cask is about price and keg is where the real­ly good beer is. I keep think­ing about that pub in Bolton that was sell­ing some well-kept but pret­ty ter­ri­ble cask ale pure­ly, as the land­lord admit­ted, to reach a price point his cus­tomers demand­ed, while at the same time my broth­er tells me [he works at Tap East] that some cus­tomers won’t drink cask at gun­point even if the beer is bet­ter and cheap­er than the near­est keg alter­na­tive.

Bai­ley: I think there’s some hys­te­ria here, though. How many keg-only craft brew­eries do we actu­al­ly have? Off the top of my head it’s Brew­Dog, Lovi­bonds, Cam­den, Bux­ton (kind of) and now Cloud­wa­ter. Let’s say there are a few more I don’t know about, or even let’s say the top twen­ty coolest craft brew­ers (def­i­n­i­tion 2) go keg-only – that’s still only a hand­ful of the 1,800 total. Most brew­ers are real­ly into it. And I don’t think we can equate the era of the Big Six with what’s going on today. Cloud­wa­ter’s keg beer isn’t Wat­ney’s Red Bar­rel.

Boak: No, although there’s a dif­fer­ent kind of homo­gene­ity in craft beer. And your first point… That sounds com­pla­cent to me. I can eas­i­ly see this being a tip­ping point for some brew­eries that have been con­sid­er­ing going keg-only. Cloud­wa­ter is a role mod­el for a lot of small­er, new­er brew­eries – more so than Brew­Dog who have tend­ed to alien­ate peo­ple. And I reck­on we could quick­ly slip into a sit­u­a­tion where the places that are known for good beer ditch cask alto­geth­er. Or where more dis­trib­u­tors start to find it too much has­sle to han­dle cask when keg is eas­i­er and more prof­itable so that even pubs that want to stock cask can’t get a steady sup­ply of the good stuff.

Bai­ley: But that has­n’t hap­pened! Peo­ple are bor­row­ing trou­ble. Cask ale is every­where and, admit­ted­ly with a bit of research, you can reli­ably get good cask ale almost every­where in the coun­try. Sure, chalk this up as a warn­ing sign and be wary, but do you real­ly think we’re worse off for cask now than around 2005 when we start­ed tak­ing an inter­est?

Boak: I think maybe Lon­don is worse than it was, and I think it’s on the verge of get­ting much worse again. I love Fuller’s but the fact that we can have such a vari­able expe­ri­ence of cask ale in Fuller’s own pubs wor­ries me. Oh, I don’t know… Maybe it’s not worse but cask in Lon­don has­n’t made much progress and I still find it hard to get sat­is­fy­ing pints there which sure­ly can’t be right in the age of the Craft Beer Rev­o­lu­tion.

Bai­leyOK, so if this is one warn­ing sign, what might be some oth­ers?

Boak: If a big region­al went keg-only, I would be very con­cerned – Fuller’s, Adnams, one of the brew­eries that’s been exper­i­ment­ing with craft beer in keg. Or Oakham. Or Thorn­bridge! If they went keg-only, that would real­ly freak me out.

Bai­ley: Me too but I can’t see that hap­pen­ing any time soon. I’d be more wor­ried if Doom Bar or Greene King IPA sud­den­ly became keg-only beers because I bet there are a lot of pubs that would ditch cask alto­geth­er with­out those – would lit­er­al­ly, 1975-style, rip out their beer engines and lose the capac­i­ty to sell cask. The infra­struc­ture would dis­ap­pear.

Boak: If the Craft Beer Com­pa­ny stopped sell­ing cask that would be a real­ly bad sign. They seem pret­ty com­mit­ted to it at the moment – lots of pumps – but who knows? I’d love to know how much they actu­al­ly sell and what the split is with keg.

Bai­ley: That microp­ub in New­ton Abbot sells 60 per cent keg, 40 per cent cask.

Boak: Hmm. Relat­ed to that, I guess microp­ubs might be the coun­ter­bal­ance, because (that one in New­ton Abbot aside) they’re so cask-led, and so flex­i­ble when it comes to pur­chas­ing, that they might give that side of the indus­try a boost. But they’re not, to gen­er­alise, pop­u­lar with young peo­ple, are they? So they don’t do much to win the next gen­er­a­tion over to cask.

Bai­ley: There’s Wether­spoon’s, too – they’re play­ing with craft keg and cans and what have you but there’s no indi­ca­tion that they want to ditch cask. If any­thing, they seem more com­mit­ted to it now than ever. Maybe what we need is a big chart with plus and minus columns for the health of the cask ale mar­ket in the UK.

Boak: That’s our home­work, then. On bal­ance, the reac­tion to this par­tic­u­lar news does seem over the top, but I have to say I’m less con­fi­dent in my view that The Bat­tle has Been Won than I was when we wrote the book. I think it’d be pret­ty cat­a­stroph­ic if the only cask ales you could get any­where were Doom Bar and GK IPA.

Bai­ley: Me too, I sup­pose, although I’m only a tiny bit con­cerned. As I’ve said before, we can’t be on a per­ma­nent war foot­ing–

Boak: But we have to be ready to remo­bilise if the threat re-emerges and, at the risk of invok­ing God­win’s Law, make sure that the next gen­er­a­tion is edu­cat­ed in the dan­ger signs so that they don’t repeat the mis­takes of his­to­ry.

This has been edit­ed to make it vague­ly coher­ent. We actu­al­ly ram­bled a lot more and you don’t need details of our dis­cus­sion about what to have for tea.

QUICK ONE: BrewDog and Real Ale

BrewDog has just announced LIVE beer (their capitalisation) – a version of their session-strength Dead Pony Club packaged with live yeast and conditioned in the keg.

Of course they are oblig­ed to present it as a great break­through, and deny that it’s any­thing like CAMRA approved real ale, for the sake of pride, just as CAMRA could only grudg­ing­ly approve of cer­tain keg beers after much soul-search­ing. (See Chap­ter 14 of Brew Bri­tan­nia for more on that.)

Live beer being poured.
SOURCE: Brew­Dog. Pho­to by Grant Ander­son.

The thing is, quite apart from the fact we’ve been hear­ing gos­sip about this for months – tales of Mar­tin Dick­ie and team earnest­ly study­ing cask ales with note­books in hand in Scot­tish pubs, a false rumour of cask ale’s immi­nent rein­state­ment at cer­tain Brew­Dog bars – it was inevitable Brew­Dog would do some­thing with live yeast at some point.

Imag­ine the pick­le they’ve been in since they made a big deal of drop­ping cask half a decade ago just as Amer­i­can brew­ers decide it’s the cut­ting edge of alter­na­tive beer cul­ture.

Imag­ine how annoy­ing it must be to know, in your heart of hearts, that beers with live yeast are inter­est­ing, are a part of tra­di­tion with a com­pelling sto­ry, are the beer equiv­a­lent of stinky cheese and sour­dough bread, but that you’ve made it a point of prin­ci­ple not to do it in large part because your ‘brand val­ues’ (mod­ern, hip) are at odds with the Cam­paign for Real Ale’s (tra­di­tion­al, cur­mud­geon­ly), as well as for con­ve­nience. Not very ‘craft’.

Now CAMRA are find­ing a way to live with kegs (of a sort), and Brew­Dog are find­ing a way to live with real ale (of a sort), is it too soon to start dream­ing of demo­bil­i­sa­tion and street par­ties? And might we see a Brew­Dog stand at the Great British Beer Fes­ti­val in 2017?

Draught Guinness in the 1960s

1970s photograph of two men in horn-rimmed glasses inspecting beer.
Tom­my Mar­ling takes the tem­per­a­ture of draught Guin­ness watched by Mr Bill Steggle, licensee of the Cock at Headley near Epsom.

When we picked up a few editions of Guinness Time, the brewery’s UK-focused in-house magazine, one thing that leapt out at us was an account of the roll-out of draught Guinness after WWII.

It appears as part of an arti­cle called (rather long-wind­ed­ly) ‘The Men Who See That Draught Guin­ness Runs Smooth­ly… The Ser­vice Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ from the Spring 1971 edi­tion.

First, there are some help­ful num­bers:

In 1970 we sold more than 16 times as much draught Guin­ness as in 1956. Fif­teen years ago the num­ber of out­lets could be count­ed in hun­dreds. In 1962 there 3,200 and now in 1971 there are over 40,000 pubs and clubs where devo­tees of draught Guin­ness can get their favourite brew.

By way of con­text, in those mid-1960s Bats­ford pub guides we’ve been trawl­ing through draught Guin­ness is fre­quent­ly men­tioned as a sign of an inter­est­ing pub in much the same way, say, Brew­Dog Punk IPA might be today. That is, by no means obscure, but still note­wor­thy, and a wel­come sight for many beer geeks.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Draught Guin­ness in the 1960s”

St Austell Experiment With Kegs

Admiral's Ale keg font.

We were inter­est­ed to see this Tweet from St Austell, the most dom­i­nant of our local brew­eries: “Admi­rals and Smug­glers craft keg ale on sale at St Austell vis­i­tor cen­tre”.

For some, that phrase ‘craft keg ale’ will cause con­ster­na­tion but, ter­mi­nol­o­gy aside, this is an inter­est­ing devel­op­ment. Admi­ral’s and Smug­gler’s are two of St Austel­l’s stronger bot­tled beers, the lat­ter hav­ing been brewed in one form or anoth­er for at least fifty-six years as a strong spe­cial. They’re cur­rent­ly seen in shops more often than in pubs, which is a shame, because Admi­ral’s in par­tic­u­lar is a favourite of ours.

If brew­eries start keg­ging their bot­tled beers and thus increase the vari­ety of draught beer on offer to British drinkers, with­out reduc­ing the num­ber of cask ales, isn’t that some­thing most peo­ple could live with?

The St Austell beer that would suit keg­ging best, though, is sure­ly their Cloud­ed Yel­low wheat beer – one which calls for high lev­els of car­bon­a­tion and low tem­per­a­tures.

And if Prop­er Job turns up in kegs… well, then we might start to get wor­ried.

Pic­ture nicked from the St Austell Twit­ter feed and edit­ed. Hope they don’t mind.