Training Day: pull it flat

Lots of drinkers in Bristol like their pints flat. That is, completely without foam.

We’ve writ­ten about this before but in the past week got more evi­dence when we saw a pub man­ag­er train­ing a new mem­ber of staff.

No, way too much head, bit more,” said the man­ag­er. “Just give it anoth­er pull.”

Like this?”

No, still too much head. You might get away with that up norf but not in Bris­tol, mate.”

It’s OK, we don’t mind a bit of a head on our pints,” we said and then took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask a cou­ple of fol­low-up ques­tions.

The man­ag­er told us that old­er Bris­to­lian drinkers espe­cial­ly real­ly appre­ci­ate pints where the beer is absolute­ly to the rim with as clear a sur­face as pos­si­ble.

He put it down to stingi­ness – “They’re afraid you’re doing them out of nine pence worf of beer.” – but con­firmed that it cer­tain­ly was a mat­ter of pref­er­ence, not the result of poor­ly-con­di­tioned beer.

In Bris­tol, we’re begin­ning to think the default flat­ness of the pints is a pret­ty good indi­ca­tor of how many born-and-bred locals drink in a par­tic­u­lar pub.

In the city cen­tre, where incom­ers, com­muters and daytrip­pers drink, it’s quite pos­si­ble to be served 450ml of beer with sev­er­al inch­es of head (“Could I get a lit­tle top up, please?”) but that’s much less like­ly in back­street pubs and the more down-to-earth sub­urbs.

The Drap­ers seems to strug­gle some­times, too, with bar staff get­ting mixed mes­sages from tra­di­tion­al­ist locals and beer geeks. A few weeks ago we got served beau­ti­ful pints, foam piled high, with an apol­o­gy: “Sor­ry, it’s very live­ly.”

Almost any­where else in the UK, it wouldn’t have seemed so.

The good news is that at the pub we vis­it­ed last week, the new mem­ber of staff even­tu­al­ly got the hang of it, pulling a string of pints with a per­fect­ly rea­son­able amount of foam – nei­ther exces­sive­ly north­ern nor too strict­ly Bris­to­lian.

That Little Bit of Magic

Cask ale collage.Drink­ing extra­or­di­nar­i­ly good Bass at the Angel at Long Ash­ton on Sat­ur­day we found our­selves reflect­ing, once again, on the fine dif­fer­ence between a great pint and a dis­ap­point­ment.

A few years ago, when we were try­ing hard to make the Farmer’s Arms in Pen­zance our local, we had a ses­sion on Ring­wood Forty-Nin­er that made us think it might actu­al­ly be a great beer.

But every pint we’ve had since, there or any­where else, has been pret­ty dread­ful.

What gave it the edge that first time? And what was miss­ing there­after? Extra high fre­quen­cies, or an addi­tion­al dimen­sion, some­how.

This elu­sive qual­i­ty is what we tast­ed in eight pints of Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord out of ten at the Nags Head in Waltham­stow for sev­er­al years in a run, and what is so often not there when we encounter it as a guest ale any­where else.

It’s what makes rec­om­mend­ing or endors­ing cask ales in par­tic­u­lar a mug’s game: “Is it only me that’s nev­er got the fuss about Lon­don Pride?” some­one will say on Twit­ter. No, it’s not, and we don’t doubt that you’ve nev­er had a good pint, because it can taste like dust and sweet­corn, and does maybe more than half the time we encounter it. But when it’s good, oh! is it good.

Bass isn’t a great beer in absolute terms, but it can be, hon­est.

Har­vey’s Sus­sex Best can be a wretched, mis­er­able thing – all stress and stal­e­ness – and might well have been every time you’ve ever encoun­tered it. But the next pint you have might be a rev­e­la­tion.

Are the lows worth endur­ing for the highs? Yes, and it might even be that they make the highs high­er.

(We’ve prob­a­bly made this point before but after near­ly 3,000 posts, who can remem­ber…)

News, Nuggets and Longreads 19 January 2019: Bottleshares, Boddies, Brand Loyalty

Here’s everything on beer and pubs we felt the urge to bookmark in the past seven days, from coolships to kask kontroversy.

Joe Stange is now writ­ing for Craft Beer & Brew­ing and has announced his arrival with an excel­lent piece on Fran­co­nia which suc­ceeds in find­ing some new angles on this much-writ­ten-about beer region:

Here is anoth­er thing you can see upstairs, in the attic: a wide, riv­et­ed cop­per cool­ship… Or rather: You can see it, until the boil­ing-hot wort hits the pan—littered with a sur­pris­ing amount of hops pel­lets for a burst of aroma—and opaque steam rapid­ly fills the attic. After that, it’s dif­fi­cult to see any­thing in there for a while. This cool­ship is the kind of thing you might expect to see in a lam­bic brew­ery, or in an ambi­tious Amer­i­can wild-beer brew­ery, or in a muse­um. Its orig­i­nal pur­pose, how­ev­er, has noth­ing to do with sour beers. It is sim­ply an old-fash­ioned way to cool wort. Andreas Gän­staller uses it every time he brews lager… “The wort streams out real­ly clear,” he says. “The beer is much more clear because all the bad stuff goes away in the steam.”


Illustration: beer bottles.

If you’ve ever fan­cied organ­is­ing a bot­tle share, or won­dered exact­ly what a bot­tle share is, then you’ll find this primer by Rach Smith at Look at Brew use­ful. In in, she explains how the bot­tle share she runs in Brighton works, and offers tips on set­ting up your own:

Think about the order in which you’ll be pour­ing. If there are pale/low abv beers for exam­ple, start with them and leave the big, bold Impe­r­i­al stouts for last so you don’t com­plete­ly destroy your taste buds ear­ly on… [And] don’t judge. It’s not about who can bring the rarest beers, it’s about social­is­ing, learn­ing a lit­tle bit along the way and hav­ing a damn good time.


Icon: NUGGET.

An inter­est­ing point from Ed – could the rea­son cask beer num­bers are down be because we lost a few big brands that made up the bulk of the num­bers, such as Bod­ding­ton’s?


Sierra Nevade Brewing Co neon sign.

With #Flag­shipFeb­ru­ary in mind (see last week’s round-up) Kate Bernot has writ­ten about con­sumer promis­cu­ity for The Take­out:

I say this whole idea of promis­cu­ity and no brand loy­al­ty is gross­ly mis­de­fined,” says Lester Jones, chief econ­o­mist for the Nation­al Beer Whole­salers Asso­ci­a­tion. “It was pret­ty easy 25–30 years ago to find a brand that you liked and trust­ed and had rela­tions to. I don’t think peo­ple have changed, I think it’s just tak­ing longer to sift through the mul­ti­tude of choic­es.… Instead of accept­ing the fact that their job is a lot hard­er, it’s easy for brew­ers to turn and say ‘The con­sumer is fick­le. He doesn’t know what he wants.’ No, the con­sumer knows what he wants and the con­sumer is tast­ing to find what he wants, but giv­en so many choic­es, it just takes longer,” Jones says.


Generic beer pumps in photocopy style.

All this is well and good but what peo­ple real­ly want to know is this: where’s the beef at? Well, Jes­si­ca Mason wrote this piece argu­ing that the embrace of cask beer by the likes of Cloud­wa­ter sig­nals a resur­gence in the health of its image

[Cloud­wa­ter’s Paul] Jones [says] that a lot of tra­di­tion­al brew­eries up and down the coun­try are ‘com­plete pros and leg­ends’ with­in cask beer, even if they’re not turn­ing their hands to more mod­ern beer styles. ‘I think some­thing of a hybrid offer­ing from us real­ly ought to diver­si­fy what cask beer is and what it could be in the future.’

Wild Card’s head Brew­er Jae­ga Wise, who recent­ly won the title of Brew­er of the Year, will be relaunch­ing its cask-beer offer­ing next year. How­ev­er, she stress­es that it will be on the brewery’s terms, remind­ing how mod­ern brew­ers are reit­er­at­ing cask’s rel­e­vance, but are not will­ing to bow to out­dat­ed stereo­types.

…which prompt­ed this come­back from Tan­dle­man:

So we need mod­ern craft brew­ers to show us the way and revive cask? These are the same peo­ple that give you cask beer that looks like chick­en soup and under­mine the work done by brew­ers for many years to ensure clean, clear, bright beer with dis­tinct flavours.We’d more or less lost the “It’s meant to be like that” non­sense until craft got its hands on cask. Now it is back with a vengeance, as over­turn­ing the ortho­doxy has giv­en bar staff the right to say it once more, even if the beer looks like a mix­ture of lumpy fruit juices and smells like Hen­der­son­’s Rel­ish.

More point/counterpoint than beef, real­ly, but it’s fas­ci­nat­ing how the fault lines (cul­tur­al, gen­er­a­tional) con­tin­ue to reveal them­selves in new forms.


And final­ly, there’s this reminder of how many oppor­tu­ni­ties for dis­as­ter are built into the cask ale sup­ply chain:

As ever, for more links, check­out Stan on Mon­days (usu­al­ly includ­ing lots of stuff beyond beer, but still about beer) and Alan on Thurs­day (gen­er­al­ly thread­ing links togeth­er to make some sort of point).

Citra as Brand, Like Bacon as Brand, Like Chocolate as Brand

Detail from a 1943 advert for Lifesavers depicting fruit on a tree.

Every now and then we’ll reach a point in a conversation where the person opposite wants to know, “What’s a good beer I should be looking out for, then?”

This used to be fair­ly easy to answer, but with more brew­eries, and more beers, and what feels like a ten­den­cy away from the con­cept of the core range or flag­ship beer, it’s become tricky.

There are beers we like but don’t get to drink reg­u­lar­ly enough to say we know, and oth­ers that we love but don’t see from one year to the next.

Last time some­one asked, though, it just so hap­pened that we’d reached a con­clu­sion: “Well, not a spe­cif­ic beer, but you can’t go wrong with any­thing with Cit­ra in the name.”

We were think­ing of Oakham Cit­ra, of course – the beer that effec­tive­ly owns this unique Amer­i­can hop vari­ety in the UK, and has done since 2009.

In his excel­lent book For the Love of Hops Stan Hierony­mus pro­vides a pot­ted his­to­ry of the devel­op­ment of Cit­ra:

[Gene] Probas­co made the cross in 1990 that result­ed in the Cit­ra seedling. At the time brew­ers did­n’t talk about what would lat­er be called ‘spe­cial’ aro­ma, but “that’s where all the inter­est seems to be these days,” he said. In 1990 he cross-pol­li­nat­ed two plants, a sis­ter and broth­er that result­ed from a 1987 cross between a Haller­tau Mit­tel­früh moth­er and a male from an ear­li­er cross… [In 2001 hop chemist Pat Ting] shipped a two-pound sam­ple to Miller… Troy Rysewyk brewed a batch called Wild Ting IPA, dry hop­ping it with only Cit­ra… “It smelled lke grape­fruit, lychee, man­go,” Ting said. “But fer­ment­ed, it tast­ed like Sauvi­gnon Blanc.”

Cit­ra was very much the hot thing in UK brew­ing about six or sev­en years ago. It was a sort of won­der hop that seemed to com­bine the pow­ers of every C‑hop that had come before. It was easy to appre­ci­ate – no hints or notes here, just an almost over-vivid horn blast of flavour –and, in our expe­ri­ence, easy to brew with, too.

We’re bad at brew­ing; Amar­il­lo often defeat­ed us, and Nel­son Sauvin always did; but some­how, even we made decent beers with Cit­ra.

Now, with the trend­set­ters hav­ing moved on, Cit­ra con­tin­ues to be a sort of anchor point for us. If there’s a beer on offer with Cit­ra in the name, even from a brew­ery we’ve nev­er heard of, or even from a brew­ery whose beers we don’t gen­er­al­ly like, we’ll always give it a try.

Hop Back Cit­ra, for exam­ple, is a great beer. It lacks the oomph of Oakham’s flag­ship and bears a dis­tinct fam­i­ly resem­blance to many of the Sal­is­bury brew­ery’s oth­er beers (“They brew one beer with fif­teen dif­fer­ent names,” a crit­ic said to us in the pub a while ago) but Cit­ra lifts it out of the sepia. It adds a pure, high note; it elec­tri­fies.

Since con­clud­ing that You Can’t Go Wrong With Cit­ra, we’ve been test­ing the the­sis. Of course we’ve had the odd dud – beers that taste like they got the sweep­ings from the Cit­ra fac­to­ry floor, or were wheeled past a sin­gle cone on the way to the ware­house – but gen­er­al­ly, it seems to be a sound rule.

We were recent­ly in the pub with our next door neigh­bour, a keen ale drinker but not a beer geek, and a Cit­ra fan. When Hop Back Cit­ra ran out before he could get anoth­er pint his face fell, until he saw that anoth­er beer with Cit­ra in the name had gone up on the board: “Oh, there you go – as long as it’s a Cit­ra, I don’t mind.”

All con­sumers want is a clue, a short­cut, a bit of help. That’s what they get from IPA, or ‘craft’. And appar­ent­ly also from the name of this one unsub­tle, good-time hop vari­ety.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 17/11/2018: Cloudwater, Collaboration, Klein-Schwechat

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from yeast family trees to the curse of good press.

First, though, let’s have a bit of good news: John Pry­bus, the char­ac­ter behind the cult sta­tus of The Blue Bell in York, will con­tin­ue to run the pub after a vig­or­ous local cam­paign to pre­vent the pub com­pa­ny that owns it boot­ing him out in favour of a man­ag­er.


Cloudwater cask beers on a bar in Manchester.

Cloud­wa­ter aban­doned cask-con­di­tioned beer, but have now come back round to the idea. While some have bri­dled at the hype sur­round­ing this event (con­trolled launch of cask beers into select­ed pubs, lots of social media buzz) it’s prompt­ed some thought­ful debate. For exam­ple, there’s this cau­tious wel­come from Tan­dle­man, who avoids the knee-jerk anti-craft response:

Cloud­wa­ter has been seek­ing out pubs where their cask cre­den­tials are such that they will look after the beer prop­er­ly, going as far as hav­ing a lit­tle inter­ac­tive online map where you can seek out those who know how to coax the best out of beer from the wick­ets. Addi­tion­al­ly, a vet­ting process, which while hard­ly the Span­ish Inqui­si­tion, at least gets enough infor­ma­tion about prospec­tive sell­ers of the amber nec­tar to judge whether they’ll turn it into flat vine­gar or not. Good idea. Qual­i­ty at point of sale is para­mount and Cloud­wa­ter are to be praised for mak­ing such efforts as they have in the name of a qual­i­ty pint.


Handshake illustration.

At Pur­suit of Abbey­ness Mar­tin Stew­ard has been think­ing about col­lab­o­ra­tion brews. While acknowl­edg­ing the down­sides, he avoids cliched cyn­i­cism and reflects pleas­ing­ly deeply on how this rel­a­tive­ly new com­mer­cial prac­tice fits into the evo­lu­tion of our beer cul­ture:

Craft beer dis­tri­b­u­tion today has lit­tle to do with tied pub­lic hous­es, or even nation­al bar chains. The off-licence trade revolves around inde­pen­dent bot­tle shops that stock main­ly local prod­ucts, and the glob­al mail order ser­vices facil­i­tat­ed by the inter­net and advances in can­ning and logis­tics tech­nolo­gies. The on-licence trade con­sists of spe­cial­ist craft-beer bars and brew­ery tap rooms which, like the bot­tle shops that are some­times also on-licence tap rooms, have a dis­tinct­ly local bias… Col­lab­o­ra­tions enable brew­ers to expose their brands through those frag­ment­ed mod­ern dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works, and an Insta­gram sto­ry of a col­lab­o­ra­tive brew day instant­ly reach­es the fol­low­ers of each col­lab­o­ra­tors’ brands, wher­ev­er they are around the world.


One of our favourite writer-researchers, Andreas Kren­mair, con­tin­ues his obses­sives prob­ing into the his­to­ry of Vien­na beer with the unearthing of a water pro­file for the brew­ery well at Klein-Schwechat:

By pure acci­dent, I stum­bled upon an analy­sis of the brew­ing water (well water) of the brew­ery in Klein-Schwechat, in the book “The The­o­ry and Prac­tice of the Prepa­ra­tion of Malt and the Fab­ri­ca­tion of Beer, with Espe­cial Ref­er­ence to the Vien­na Process of Brew­ing” by Julius E. Thaus­ing. It’s actu­al­ly the Eng­lish trans­la­tion of a Ger­man book. One prob­lem with the analy­sis is that it doesn’t spec­i­fy any units for most of the num­bers. It does spec­i­fy the amount of residue after the water has been evap­o­rat­ed (in grams), but that was it… So by itself, the analy­sis is unfor­tu­nate­ly not real­ly help­ful. If any­body knows how to inter­pret the num­bers, I’m grate­ful for any help with it.

The open, col­lab­o­ra­tive grop­ing towards the truth con­tin­ues.


Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

More deep lev­el research, this time into yeast strains: Kristofer Krogerus and qq who com­ments here from time to time con­tin­ue to col­lab­o­rate on unpick­ing the ever-increas­ing pile of genet­ic infor­ma­tion on brew­ing yeast:

Wyeast 1469 West York­shire – Was ful­ly expect­ing this to be a Beer2 strain! 1469 is meant to come from Tim­o­thy Tay­lor, who got their yeast from Old­ham, who got their yeast from John Smith’s. The John Smith yeast also went to Harvey’s (the source of VTT-A81062, a Beer2 strain). So it’s a bit of a sur­prise that 1469 is in the heart of the UK Beer1 strains, clos­est to WLP022 Essex (‘Rid­leys’). So either the tra­di­tion­al sto­ries aren’t true, there’s been contamination/mixups, or we’re look­ing at John Smith being some kind of mul­ti­strain with both Beer 1’s and Beer 2’s in it.


Pete Brown's chart of cask + craft sales.

Pete Brown has shared more of the back­ground research that informed this year’s Cask Report, observ­ing that the cask ale and craft beer seg­ments of the mar­ket, if viewed togeth­er as ‘flavour­ful’ or ‘inter­est­ing’ beer, tell an inter­est­ing sto­ry:

Drinkers who say they under­stand what craft beer is and claim to drink it were asked to name a craft beer brand. A major­i­ty of them – 55% – named a beer the researchers felt was a ‘tra­di­tion­al ale’. Telling­ly, the [Marston’s On-Trade Beer Report’s] authors say that 45% ‘cor­rect­ly’ named a brand they deem to be craft – imply­ing that those who named a tra­di­tion­al brand were incor­rect in doing so… Per­haps you agree. Per­haps you’re sit­ting there think­ing, ‘Blimey, over half of peo­ple who think they’re drink­ing craft beer don’t even know what it is.’ Maybe to you this is a sign of how big­ger brew­ers have co-opt­ed the term ‘craft’ and made it mean­ing­less. Maybe you just think these peo­ple aren’t as knowl­edge­able about beer as you are. Or maybe – just maybe – they’re right and you’re wrong.


Black Sheep bottle cap.

Anoth­er pos­si­bly relat­ed nugget via @LeedsBeerWolf: one of the finan­cial back­ers of York­shire brew­ery Black Sheep is attempt­ing to mount a coup against the found­ing fam­i­ly because they are“failing to cap­i­talise on an explod­ing demand for craft beer”, as report­ed by Mark Cas­ci at the Har­ro­gate Adver­tis­er. (Warn­ing: the site is ren­dered bare­ly read­able by aggres­sive ads.)


Closed sign on shop.

This week’s not-beer lon­gread (via @StanHieronymus) is food writer Kevin Alexan­der’s piece for Thril­list about how he killed a restau­rant by declar­ing it The Best in the US nation­al media:

Five months lat­er, in a sto­ry in The Ore­gon­ian, restau­rant crit­ic Michael Rus­sell detailed how Stanich’s had been forced to shut down. In the arti­cle, Steve Stanich called my burg­er award a curse, “the worst thing that’s ever hap­pened to us.” He told a sto­ry about the coun­try music singer Tim McGraw show­ing up one day, and not being able to serve him because there was a five hour wait for a burg­er. On Jan­u­ary 2, 2018, Stanich shut down the restau­rant for what he called a “two week deep clean­ing.” Ten months lat­er, Stanich’s is still closed. Now when I look at the Stanich’s mug in my office, I no longer feel light and hap­py. I feel like I’ve done a bad thing.

A grim tale worth bear­ing in mind next time you see, or get asked to con­tribute to, a lis­ti­cle about pubs.



If you want more links, check out Alan’s Thurs­day round-up at A Good Beer Blog.