World Beer in Penzance

Brooklyn Lager and Duvel at the Lamp & Whistle, Penzance.

It’s taken a while but, at last, we can now go to the pub in Penzance and drink Belgian and American beer, at the Lamp & Whistle, five minutes walk from the central station in the centre of town.

When we first moved to Penzance proper, we went to ‘the Lamp’ quite a bit, partly because it tended to have St Austell Proper Job in excellent condition, but also because it is one of the few places in the area not trading to some extent on the ‘cosy Cornish inn’ image. In fact, it feels as if it has been transplanted from a street corner in a trendy bit of South London. Then Proper Job disappeared, and we decided we preferred the atmosphere in the Dock Inn, and haven’t been back for a while, though we always peer through the window when we walk past.

When Tom Goskar tipped us off to the availability of Brooklyn Lager, however, we thought we ought to investigate, and we found quite a few changes. The ceiling has been fitted with what are technically known as ‘dangly stem glass holding rack things’, festooned with Chimay, Duvel and Bacchus branded glassware; a towering, ostentatious Brooklyn Lager font adorns the very centre of the bar; and there’s a brand-new-vintage Anchor Steam plaque fixed to the wall. It would seem that the James Clay rep has been.

These aren’t beers at the cutting edge of the import market (Chimay Rouge first hit Britain in 1974, Anchor Steam c.1979, at the start of the ‘world beer’ boom) but, come on, this is the wild west, and a town with a population of c.21,000, so they’re out on a limb going even this far. We’re delighted, at any rate.

We didn’t enjoy the keg Brooklyn Lager especially — it seemed less floral than the bottled incarnation with a lot of additional toffee flavour and, yes, actual rising, burp-inducing bubbles aka ‘fizz’. Chimay and Duvel, on the other hand, were a real treat, and scarcely more expensive than they are in supermarkets these days at £4.30 a bottle. (We paid £7.50 for a 330ml bottle of local ‘craft’ stout in Truro recently, so this question about the price of Belgian beer remains.)

There was also cask ale from the lesser-spotted Penpont Brewery, and evidence that the publicans’ real passion is for spirits in the wide selection of vodkas, rums and whiskies on the back shelf. (Żubrówka!)

If you’re in the area and fancy something a bit different, in terms of both ambience and beer selection, the Lamp might be just what you’re looking for.

We should mention that the Renaissance Cafe — not a pub! — also had Duvel with lovely glassware last time we went in.

‘World Beer’ in the UK: a timeline

Pete's Wicked Ale -- label detail.

This is a work in progress which overlaps with an earlier, more general timeline, and we’re still corresponding with a few ‘insiders’ who should be able to help us fill in gaps.

What seems obvious already, however, is how slowly foreign beer made its way into the UK market over the course of decades (you had to like Chimay Rouge or Anchor Steam) and how sudden the rush of the last ten years seems by comparison.

Is all the ‘Urquell and Chimay aren’t what they used to be’ talk partly a result of those beers having been here the longest? Familiarity breeding contempt?

And is Cooper’s Sparkling Ale even remotely as cool now as it was in 2002?

1955 ‘World lagers’ widely available (German, Danish); Pilsner Urquell; Maerzen, bock, Oktoberfestbier in some outlets; strong foreign stouts on order. According to Andrew Campbell in The Book of Beer, Tuborg imperial stout could be ‘got in’ by specialist off-licences such as the Vintage House in Old Compton Street.The Pilsner Urquell company had an office in Mark Lane, London EC3, in 1968.
1968 Becky’s Dive Bar: 200+ bottled beers. Lots of ‘world lager’, but basically anything ‘foreign’ she could get her hands on.
August 1974 World Beer Festival, Olympia, London Mostly ‘international pilsner’, but also EKU strong lager from Germany.
November 1974 Chimay (Rouge?) becomes regular UK import. Through off-licence chain Arthur Rackham.
1975 Cooper’s Sparkling Ale from Australia available. Mentioned by Richard Boston in a list of desert island beers, alongside Chimay.
1977 Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer. We’re still assessing the impact of this book. Thesis: didn’t sell many copies, but everyone who bought one opened a brewery, import company, pub or bar; or became a beer writer themselves.
1979 Anchor Steam, Duvel available at CAMRA Great British Beer Festival. Hugely expensive: £1.65 for ‘third of a pint’ bottle of Anchor Steam, while British ales were at 35p a pint.
1979 and 1980  Cave Direct and James Clay founded. (We’re still assessing the significance of this.)
c.1980 Chimay Rouge in pubs. E.g. The White Horse, Hertford. (Thanks, Des!)
c.1982 Pitfield Beer Shop opens. By 1988 at the latest, selling Liefmann’s Kriek, Samichlaus,
1988 Hoegaarden arrives. Listed by Roger Protz in his pick of the year.
1989 Liefmann’s Frambozen available. 1989 article lists it among speciality beers at Grog Blossom off licence, Notting Hill, West London.
1990 Brooklyn Lager arrives. Available only in Harrods!
1991 Crazy for bottled ‘designer beer’ takes hold. Mostly ‘world lager’, but Daily Mirror lists Chimay Blue, Judas and other Belgian beers. Also, Pinkus Alt.
1992 Belgos opens in London. Tipped by stock pundits as a good investment.
1993 Hoegaarden in Whitbread pubs.Anchor Liberty Ale available.

German wheat beers slated as ‘next big thing’.

Mainstreaming of ‘world beer’? 

Cascade hops start to be talked about.

1994-95 Several lengthy articles in the UK press about the ‘explosion’ of US craft brewing.
1995 Thresher off-licences run full-page newspaper ads for their ‘world beer’ list. Early use of the term ‘world beer’ in this particular way; more ‘mainstreaming’.
1996 Pete’s Wicked Ale (US) in Tesco stores. Big time mainstreaming!
1998 Belgian beer bar craze.Hogshead pubs (Cambridge, Manchester, Aberdeen) offering large ranges of Belgian beer. L’Abbaye, Charterhouse St, London, offering 28 Belgian beers, including Westmalle, Rochefort, Orval.

Designer beer, session beer and Chimay

Chimay beer in a glass.

Here are some bits and pieces we spotted around and about in the last few days.

1. We think we’ve worked out when Trappist beer first landed in the UK. A chain of off-licences called Arthur Rackham began importing Chimay (probably Rouge) in 1974, perhaps in the wake of the 1974 World Beer Festival at Olympia in London. It first showed up at the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival in 1979. Anyone know otherwise?

2. Here’s another definition of session beer for you to chew on, from Tim Webb and Joris Pattyn’s 10o Belgian Beers to Try Before You Die:

Surprisingly, it makes a great session beer. Just as you think its bitterness will be too much, it proves it can tempt you to one more.

Beer you want to drink a lot of rather than beer it’s easy to drink in quantity… that’s a thought.

3. We’d forgotten the term ‘designer beer‘ until we came across a 1991 Daily Mirror article on the then hot trend in ‘boozy fashion accessories’. Typical designer beers, it suggests, are Brahma (favoured by Andrew Ridgeley of Wham!), Dos Equis (David Bowie), Sapporo (Jason Donovan) and Peroni (Tina Turner). Chimay Blue also gets a mention, alongside a peach beer from Belgium which was supposed to have aphrodisiac qualities.

Beers we have hated

chimaytripel

The first time we had Chimay Tripel was on a trip to Brussells in around 2004. We were interested in beer, but not yet obsessed, and ended up in the Leffe Cafe because it was the only place that we stumbled on that looked vaguely welcoming.

We worked our way through the menu, trying such exciting beers as Stella Artois and Leffe Brune, before getting to the Chimay. We knew it was supposed to be something special, so had high hopes for a transcendent moment.

And we hated it. We found it literally undrinkable. It tasted of nothing but alcohol, and smelled like lighter fluid. It made our eyes sting. How could people enjoy beer that strong!?

For some years, the idea lingered in our minds that it was foul. Fortunately, we did give it another go, and learned an important lesson: our tastes can and do change over time.