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.

Draught Guinness 1958: Two Casks, One Tap

Draught Guinness™ is something different to draught Guinness. Exactly how it worked, and how it changed over time, has long puzzled us. Now, we at least have a clear explanation from one point in time – 1958.

The edition of Guinness Time for spring that year includes a four-page article, heavily illustrated, on draught Guinness. It clears up some of the confusion we felt when we wrote this piece a couple of years ago based on a similar article from 1971.

Men working with metal casks.
‘T. Byrne and A.E. George cleansing casks under the supervision of Foreman L. Elliott.’
1. Wood gives way to metal

It begins by setting out the political situation around metal and wooden casks:

Although a few Public Houses still serve Draught Guinness ‘from the wood’, is is now normally set out in Stainless Steel metal casks. The development of metal casks suitable for containing Draught Guinness was not as easy as it may sound and it involved the introduction of new taps and other associated fittings. The original inventor of the equipment was Mr J.F.T. Barnes, the founder of Universal Brewery Equipment Ltd… but many improvements in design were effected by the late Mr E.J. Griffiths and J.R. Moore. The transition from wooden to metal casks, which attracted a great deal of criticism during the early days just after the last War, has now been virtually completed and is accepted everywhere.

There are hints of the Society for the Preservation of the Wood yet to arrive, in 1963, and this helps us pin down when ‘beer from the wood’ became a common phrase.

Continue reading “Draught Guinness 1958: Two Casks, One Tap”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 20 October 2018: Bermondsey, Breakfast, Birthday Beers

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that seized our attention in the past week, from greasy spoons to tap rooms.

For Imbibe Will Hawkes has been investigating what’s going on with London’s beer scene as outsiders infiltrate and success leads to exodus:

Enid Street is not London’s most picturesque road, despite the huge, verdant plane trees on the Neckinger Estate along its southern side in Bermondsey. It’s a place of light industry rather than elegant architecture, distinguished by its railway-arch businesses and the rumble of trains on the tracks above. For beer-lovers, though, Enid Street is special, and it is about to become even more so…. The recent past and immediate future of London beer and brewing is being played out here. Regulars on the ‘Bermondsey Beer Mile’…. may know about Moor Beer, the Bristol brewery that occupies number 71. And if they don’t yet, they’ll surely soon know all about number 73, which Cloudwater is turning into a London tap for its Manchester-brewed products.

London isn’t an island and all that.


Beer pump for Young's Ordinary bitter.

The weeks-old post Cask Report discussion continues, and continues to be interesting.

First, Pete Brown reveals some of the background research behind the Cask Report, which he didn’t edit this year, but did contribute to. Of particular note is the word-cloud showing what people who don’t drink cask ale think of it: “old man”, “unpleasant”, “strong”, “dark”, “warm”, “thick”, “hipster”, “piss”, and so on.

Meanwhile, at the narrative end of the lane, Jessica Mason has been conducting a thought experiment: what if cask ale was a person, and what if you were trying to convince a mate to go on a blind date with it?

You were so busy trying to describe them by comparing them to others and by trying to impress people with details on their past or intellect; you forgot all of the really great things about them.

You forgot the fact that they are honest. Humble. And really really nice.

You forgot to say how, when you met them, that moment was life-affirming. And how, for lots of your shared time, they have always been a pleasure and a comfort.


Greasy spoon cafe, Bethnal Green.

This article about greasy spoon cafes by Edwina Attlee for Architectural Review isn’t about pubs but also kind of is, in a week when there has been much discussion of boozeless boozers, and in the general context of thinking about ‘the third place’:

In one sense it was the immateriality of the food in these places that meant they were problematic for planners and puritans alike. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, you could always get breakfast. It didn’t matter how long you stayed as long as you ordered a cup of tea. If you were going there for one reason (company or comfort), you could pretend it was for another (eggs and bacon). If the planners hoped that civilians would start and end their day at the family home, these strayed homes made that less likely. They needed to be planned out.

(Via @gargarin.)


Trillium's Garden on the Greenway
SOURCE: Trillium Brewing.

Here’s another shout-out for new blogger Peter Allen who at Pete Drinks a Beer reflected this week on the supposed gulf between the world of beer geeks and that of ‘normals’:

Aside from the brewery based at trendy Fort Point, Trillium also run a beer garden (Garden on the Greenway) in a more offices-and-Irish Pubs part of the city that I visited twice. Perhaps the most notable thing about this was that, although there were a handful of the maligned “people sitting there with five small glasses in front of them, filled with different beers, taking notes”, the place was mostly filled with people who clearly had no idea that a) Trillium are a world-renowned brewery or b) that many Craft Beer Nerds would likely consider exchanging a limb for a night spent at the Garden on the Greenway. Most of them were drinking the lowest ABV beer on offer (the superb Launch Beer) and paying it basically no mind whatsoever.


Belgian beers from Guinness

The Beer Nut offers tasting notes on an interesting set of beers: a stout/Lambic blend from Guinness and Timmerman’s, with support from a bunch of Belgian-inspired beers brewed at the experimental Open Gate brewery in Dublin. Some hits, some misses, but overall an intriguing path for Guinness to be on, even tentatively.


Thomas Hardy in profile on the neck of our 1986 beer bottle.

We’ve never quite got into the Thomas Hardy game but we note with interest via our pal Darren Norbury at Beer Today that the 50th anniversary edition of the beer, brewed at Meantime, is now on sale.


Now, an advertisement for someone else: if you value what Ron Pattinson does (“Pedantically correct people on Twitter?” No, the painstaking research and writing and stuff) then you really ought to bung him some money once in a while. Now, there’s a fun new way to do that: for €25 he’ll dig into his vast collection of historic beer recipes and find one for a date of your choice — your birthday, or your kid’s, or your wedding anniversary, or whenever.


Finally, here’s an interesting bit of news for people who like to monitor CAMRA after the manner of Cold War Kremlinologists:


Want more? Alan does something like this every Thursday, too.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 6 October 2018: Cask, Cans, Classics

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer in the past week, from cask anxiety to Berlin boozers.

The latest Cask Report was published (PDF, via Cask Marque) but for the first time in a few years we couldn’t summon the energy to read it, hence no mention in last Saturday’s round-up. But there has been plenty of commentary in the past week and a bit which we thought it might be worth rounding up:

Martyn Cornell – “Why is finding a properly kept pint of cask ale such an appalling lottery in Britain’s pubs”?

Ben Nunn – “[Are] we… heading for a world where real ale is, like vinyl, a niche product – not really for the mainstream, sold only in specialist outlets and usually restricted only to certain styles or genres?”

Pub Curmudgeon – “Maybe it is also time to question whether handpumps can be more of a hindrance than a help.”

Steph Shuttleworth (Twitter) – “[We] don’t currently have any reports that are nuanced or in-depth enough for the industry to rely on… Cask is a significant part of many craft breweries e.g. Marble, Magic Rock, Thornbridge, but we can’t draw lines as to who is in which market…”

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 6 October 2018: Cask, Cans, Classics”