When you’re ordering a beer, what more can you ask for than this?
“Now, before I pull a full pint, I’m going to put a bit in a glass so you can see how it looks. It’s just gone on, and it’s hazier than we were expecting. But we got some photos up from the brewery’s taproom, and this is how it looks there. It tastes great to me, but do you want to try it before you commit?”
As we didn’t know the beer (Northern Monk Eternal) and are used to being served pints of hazy pale ale these days, we wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. But it was nice to have a dialogue.
It’s a weird facet of beer culture in 2019 that this new bit of etiquette is necessary, but here we are.
At any rate, we didn’t bother trying the beer, we just went for it, and it did taste great.
We were recently in a pub serving a range of beers we know well enough to realise that they’re never supposed to be hazy.
But, of course, the beer we ordered was served with a light haze, Moor-style, which we gently questioned.
“Oh, it’s been like that all day. It probably didn’t quite settle out right before we tapped the cask.”
It was said pleasantly enough, but dismissively — a variation on “Nobody else has complained” crossed with a watered down “It’s meant to be like that”.
Because we did know the beer, and wanted something particular from it — crispness, hop perfume — we pushed back: would it be OK, we wondered, to taste the beer, and if it had a noticeably different character than usual, or wasn’t at least as good despite the difference, have it replaced?
The manager was consulted and everyone agreed (after a bit more time and effort than one drink deserved) that this was a good idea.
Sure enough, it tasted fine — not sour or nasty — but noticeably muted, and rather dull, so we rejected it.
We — knowledgeable consumers, relatively speaking, and confident about speaking up — were able to navigate this situation to reach a satisfactory conclusion, but we can imagine others coming away thinking ill of that beer and brewery, and probably unimpressed with the pub.
But why would the manager make the choice to keep serving a beer they know isn’t right? Incompetence? Indifference? Our suspicion is that it was an unintended consequence of the corporate setup within which the pub operates prioritising the need to minimise wastage over quality.
Others, though, might argue that this is further evidence that increased acceptance of haze in certain beers is causing confusion and justifying shoddiness more generally. If that’s the case then complaining when possible (quietly, politely), making it more trouble than it is worth, might be part of the solution.
Not long ago, when Coopers Sparkling was the local paragon of ‘good beer’, Australian brewers got into the habit of fogging up their beers seemingly just to emulate it and borrow some of its prestige. Likewise, some brewers of juice-bomb East Coast IPAs exaggerate their haze with additives selected solely for that purpose, and not in pursuit of tastier beer as such. Such trickery is indeed obnoxious, but it’s the cheating, not the cloudiness, that offends me.
But the very thing that made The Commons beloved by some–and they probably have more superfans than Deschutes–made it mysterious to most. It was the Velvet Underground of breweries, making exceptional beer most people didn’t understand. Any brewery that routinely offers mild ales and microbiere (a tiny saison) but not IPA is defining themselves far outside the mainstream. The Commons spent years fielding the same question from confused patrons: ‘which one’s the IPA?’For a time, they were absurdly guiding people to Myrtle, a saison in which astute drinkers might detect the presence of hop aroma. That was their sop to the masses.
His suggestion that the departure of the head brewer was an early danger sign is an interesting one, too — something to watch out for in what may or may not be a period of strife?
Martin Taylor AKA retiredmartin has been reflecting on Bass, a beer with which we are also slightly obsessed, as a manifesto continues to emerge from his reports of visiting every Good Beer Guide pub in Britain:
Some of you may have noticed my predilection for Draught Bass, but it’s a complex relationship… If honest, I’d prefer it if only a landlord who cared about Bass served it, like the Black Lion in Leighton Buzzard so clearly does… Top beers like Young’s, Adnams and Landlord saw their reputation decline as their beers went into chain pubs with more hand-pumps than customers, and I fear Bass has suffered by being served too early, or too long, in many pubs.
We’ve noticed an improvement in Bass, and in Young’s Ordinary, in recent years and think he might be on to something here. And might not a Good Bass Guide — a slim volume — be a useful publication?
We don’t often include trip reports here for one reason and another but this account of a visit to Edinburgh from Katie at The Snap & The Hiss has at its centre a lovely moment of personal importance, paired, of course, with a suitable beer.
This ostensibly rather boring bit of behind-the-scenes CAMRA business might be one of the most important stories of the week: the Campaign is experiencing some financial difficulties because ‘revenue was likely to be less than the amount forecast at the start of the financial year, and upon which the organisation’s spending plans were based’. In other words, people are literally not buying what CAMRA is selling. We will watch how this develops with interest. (Morning Advertiser)
The problem with Vermont IPAs, AKA New England IPAs, isn’t that they’re cloudy — it’s that they’re not bitter enough. Perhaps because they’re cloudy.
We’ve kept our minds open until now pushing back against the kind of knee-jerk conservatism that rejects hazy beer almost as a point of principle. We wrote about Moor, the brewery that pioneered unfined beer in the UK, in Brew Britannia, highlighting that, whatever you think of the trend, it wasn’t something Justin Hawke embarked on carelessly — it came out of personal preference and experimentation. Then for CAMRA’s quarterly BEER magazine last year we pulled together various bits of evidence underlining that haziness/cloudiness in beer has not always been taboo among connoisseurs and, indeed, has sometimes been seen as a mark of quality.
But at the same time — on the fence as ever — we’ve maintained a certain scepticism about the hazy, hoppy beers we’ve actually encountered in real life. We’ve continued looking for chances to drink IPAs with cloudiness as a flagship feature, especially anything labelled Vermont or NE IPA, trying to understand.
At BrewDog Bristol on Friday we were able to drink two different takes side by side — the first time this opportunity has ever presented itself — and in so doing, something clicked.
BrewDog Vermont IPA (7.5% ABV, £4.90 ⅔ pint) is on its fourth experimental iteration and struck us instantly as overwhelmingly sweet — like a cornershop canned mango drink. But it didn’t taste yeasty, gritty or musty. It was clean, within its own parameters. Cloudwater NE Double IPA with Mosaic hops (9%, £4.95 per half pint) was incredibly similar clearly drawing on the same source of inspiration but better and more complex: pineapple, green onion and ripe banana. But it too verged on sickly and both beers we thought would have been far more enjoyable with the bitterness dialled right up to compensate for the muffling effect of the yeast haze, and to balance the fruitiness. Or, we suppose, with the haze dialled down to let the bitterness through.
Fortunately, the same bar also had on draught Cloudwater’s 9% ‘non-Vermont’ DIPA, which seemed only a touch less cloudy than the full-on milkiness of the previous two beers. The barman told us it was the first batch of the successor to the numbered V series. There was a snatch of garlicky armpit aroma we could have done without but, overall, it was just the mix of soft tropical lushness and diamond-hard bitterness that we were after. It was very good and proof, perhaps, that systematic batch-by-batch experimentation with customer feedback can pay off.
Back to the New England style, then: is purpose of the suspended yeast stuff (protein more than yeast — thanks, Emma) to soften and dull the bitterness? If so, and assuming that both BrewDog and Cloudwater know what they’re doing when they attempt to clone American originals, we can certainly see the appeal. Bitterness can be challenging, spiky, hard to love; whereas sweetness and fruitiness are accessible, easygoing characteristics. Good fun. Soft sells.
So, we’re now convinced Vermont/NE IPA is a Thing — a perfectly legitimate, interesting, coherent Thing that you have to take on its own terms rather than thinking of it as a flawed take on a style you think you already know. We’re never going to be fans — not with our frazzled middle-aged palates — but, as with some other marginal beer styles, will certainly take the odd glass now and then for the sake of variety.
We also got to try Verdant Headband (£4.50 ⅔ pint) on draught at BrewDog and found it much better than the cans, although still rather one-dimensional. Again, more bitterness might have filled a hole here.
And the beer of the session — the only one that really knocked our socks off — was Cloudwater’s Double India Pale Lager (£4.95 ½). It might sound like the kind of thing traditionalists invent when satirising craft beer but, in fact, was an extremely happy marriage of traditions. Depending on your angle of view it is either (a) a characterful bock with a livening twist of citrus or (b) a pleasingly clean, crystalline, well-mannered IPA.