News, Nuggets & Longreads 25 February 2017: Babylon, Oldham, Cologne

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer- and pub-writing in the last week, from memories of a glamorous landlady to, yet again, the question of sexism in beer.

It’s true: when any archive releases a new batch of digital content, public domain or otherwise, it is a beer blogger’s duty to search that collection for ‘BEER’. That’s how Alan Mcleod came across a Bablylonian cuneiform tablet from the 1st Millenium BC containing information on beer:

How is it that I can read a Mesopotamian clay tablet and pretty much immediately understand what is going on? If it was about religion, governance or astronomy I wouldn’t have a clue. But beer and brewing are not strange. They are, in a very meaningful way, constant. You can see that if we go back to column 2 where you see words for 1:1 beer, 2:1 beer, 3:1 beer and even triple beer. The ratio is the relationship of grain input to beer output.

Public Bar etched on a Manchester pub window.

For the Guardian Rachel Roddy uses a recipe for cheese and onion pie as an opportunity to reminisce about a childhood spent in and around an Oldham pub:

A good slice of my childhood was spent at my granny’s pub, The Gardeners Arms: a large, red-brick Robinson’s pub at the bottom of Durham street… I remember her both in her housecoat buffing the brass tables and flushing out the pipes – good bitter comes from a clean cellar and clean pipes – then, later, when regulars had taken their place, coming down the stairs ready for the night. ‘You look a million dollars Al,’ my grandpa Gerry would say, Bob Seger curling out of the juke box in agreement: ‘She was looking so right, in her diamonds and frills…’

(Via @phil55494)

Fuller's Vintage Ale 2016.

Martyn Cornell wants to know where the hell all the 2016 Fuller’s Vintage Ale has gone:

Fuller’s is being tight-lipped about why the 2016 is now impossible to find: there are rumours that something went terribly wrong with the packaging, but no one seems willing to say. It’s a great pity, because the 20th iteration of Vintage Ale since it was first brewed in 1997, is a lovely, lovely beer, already, at approaching a year old, deep and remarkable.

Shipping container: KOLN.

Barm has been in Cologne and paints a wonderfully evocative picture of a busy session at a pub with a cult reputation:

When we arrive at 1620 there are already 60 people waiting for the pub to open at 1630. By the time the doors open the crowd has swollen to 80 or more. Thirty seconds after the doors open, every seat inside is taken… Because there is no choice, the beer pours constantly, never becoming flat or warm. One waiter is dedicated to pouring beer. Clack-clack-clack go the small glasses as he rotates the round tray underneath the tap.

An example of the iceman pour.

We’ve been ignoring the so-called ‘Iceman Pour’ — a weird trend among a small group of drinkers on social media that has some beer folk growling with irritation — but we couldn’t resist Richard Taylor’s attempt to explain its origins and appeal:

Users like theiceman13 and benhur345 love nothing more than running out of room in their glassware, pushing the limits of fluid dynamics by leaving a gently convex beer surface clinging to the tops of their Tekus. The rest of us look on in bemused wonder thinking that in our day something handed over like that would result in a trip back to the bar for it to be be-frothed once again. Although when the meniscus is wobbling like a week-old jelly it takes some skill to take the glass anywhere without it dribbling down the sides. As I discovered for myself.

After all, if in 50 years time we’re all drinking our beer this way, Richard’s blog post might end up being an important historical document.

Wetherspoons sign: All Ales £1.69.

If you’ve been trying to find an excuse to wriggle out of boycotting Wetherspoon pubs over CEO Tim Martin’s vocal support for Brexit Henry Jeffrey’s has you covered in an article for The Spectator:

This seemed to me the definition of cutting your nose off to spite your face; imagine turning down cheap beer because of the EU! But it also disrupts one of the fundamentals of a liberal society: that you do business even with those whom you disagree. Voltaire marvelled at this concept on his visit to the London Stock Exchange: ‘Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt.’

There’s been a fresh flurry of articles about sexism in beer lately but John Holl, editor All About Beer, is doing more than merely talk about the issue:

We will not be quiet about this important issue. We want to do our part so that the next generation of beer drinkers can focus on the fun, the flavorful and the future. Beers that demean women or promote rape culture will not be reviewed or promoted in this magazine or on

A lot of angry comments follow the article — ‘Take this leftist PC garbage and shove it.’ — and it is possible All About Beer will lose some readers and subscribers over this. But maybe it’ll gain some too.

(DISCLOSURE: We are occasionally paid to write for AAB.)

Green Bottles Standing on a Wall

Not happy about UK craft breweries switching over from 500ml packaging to 330ml? It’s only going to get worse, said Ed. And then, as if on cue, Weird Beard made an announcement

And, finally, here’s an interesting nugget of news:

Still more to enjoy in Cologne

We can’t believe that, with all our trips to Cologne, including a couple of dedicated Koelsch crawls, we’ve not made it to the Paeffgen brewery tap before. Perhaps it’s because it’s a bit out of the way; or perhaps it’s because we hadn’t done our research — Ron Pattinson calls it a “European must visit”.

Anyway, we made it right on our most recent trip, and were glad we did. For one thing, the beer is superb — honeyed and spicy — very much like an English ale, but also distinctly not. We’ve had it before and liked it but, here, it was stunning.

We loved observing the way the place is run, too.  All the Kobes (waiters) compete for the same barrel, half-filling glasses in a kranz, then letting it sit in a funny kind of urinal until they’re ready to go, when they top them off. The supervisor barks at them from his perch as they pass, making them stop so he can count the number of glasses they’re taking, presumably as some kind of fraud control, but alsoperhaps so they know when the barrel needs changing. And when that happens, with lots of chains and an electric winch, it’s quite a thing to behold.

Interestingly, this was one of the few times we’ve been in a Cologne beer hall at a quiet time and it  seems to mean you wait a lot longer for your beers — if there isn’t an absolute kranzload of punters, you have to wait until there is.

Cologne: not just about the Koelsch


We end up in Cologne so often these days  on our way in and out of Germany that it’s a struggle to find new pubs or beers to try. This time, however, we spotted an advert for Freischem’s Brauhaus on a free city map and trekked out of the immediate city centre in the rain to give it a go.

It was huge and mostly empty — because it was 4.30 on a wet Sunday afternoon or because it only opened a month or two ago? The beer list immediately had us a little excited. It included a Koelsch, of course, but also something called Trub, a weizen, a Christmas beer and a stout.

The Koelsch was of the slightly darker, honey-tasting variety (see also Paeffgen) and very pleasant. Trub was, unsurprisingly, a cloudy light beer — their answer to the bland brauhaus zwickl and perfectly drinkable, if unexciting. The weizen ticked all the usual boxes.

Weihnachtsbier was a nice red colour with a good spicy aroma. We were split on this one, though. Boak thought it was dull, verging on unpleasant, with an off yeast flavour and not much more. Bailey could taste roasted malt and liked the bitterness.

The stout was the stand-out beer, though. We really weren’t expecting much — a boring schwarzbier, perhaps? — but it had a good thick body, a creamy chocolate flavour and a great roasted bitter aftertaste. We’d have enjoyed this anywhere but, by German brewpub standards, it was a knockout.

Given that it wasn’t far away, we also staged a return visit to Hellers, where there were a couple of new beers for us to try as well as some old favourites. Winterbock was an amateur take on Aventinus, with all the right clove and fruit flavours but  with absolutely no condition. Pity, as this would be stunning otherwise. The new bottled Pils was very good — bitter, but not especially hoppy, and so malty it tasted like mashing grain.

Bottles of Hellers Wiess (the unfiltered Koelsch) are currently on sale at Cask, the excellent pub in Pimlico we wrote about here.

I wish I was in Cologne

cologne1.jpgIt’s Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake Day). I love pancakes, don’t get me wrong. But isn’t Shrove Tuesday in Britain a pretty tame celebration, compared to the multi-day benders that go on in many parts of the world?

The Rhineland goes in for carnivals in a big way. Whilst we were in Duesseldorf a few weeks back, we saw plenty of posters advertising the big events to come. The Cologne carnival is even more famous.

I wish I was in Cologne, drinking koelsch tonight.

And that reminds me — we haven’t posted our postscript to our trip to Duesseldorf — a brief round up of a couple more cheeky koelsches downed between train connections.

On the way out, it was a visit to the Gaffel brewery tap in the Alter Markt. Gaffel’s pleasant enough, particularly when it’s the first beer of the trip. However, more exciting was the fact that we saw the very waiter from the photo that illustrates the “Cologne and the Northwest” section of the Eyewitness Guide to beer.

On the way back, we thought we’d pop into the famous Frueh am Dom, which had always looked too touristy/busy to visit on previous trips. It being a wet Monday afternoon in January, there was plenty of room, even with all the businessmen and their suitcases, awaiting their train connections. It’s a nice place. The brew itself is a very clean, crisp koelsch, very refreshing but not one of the more interesting ones (in our humble opinions).

Highlight this time round was Peter’s Koelsch, from their outlet in the old town. We seemed to have missed this on our first crawl round Cologne. You can definitely taste the ale in this one — fruity and almost sulphurous. We liked it.


A map containing all of the places mentioned here and in our previous post can be found on Ron Pattinson’s European Beer Guide, here, which also has stacks of other interesting information. You can also follow this link for Ron Pattinson’s various koelsch crawls, all entertaining reads.


Does Koelsch taste any different from lager?

hellers.gifI’m ashamed to admit it, but for a long time, we couldn’t really see what the fuss about Koelsch was. I know it’s technically an ale, but I couldn’t taste it.

It probably didn’t help that the only examples we’d been able to try were several bottles of Meantime’s “Cologne Style Lager”, a pint (a pint!) of Kupper’s on tap, a bottle of Frueh, and a bottle of Dom. One was, clearly, not authentic, and the others had travelled a distance, and were reckoned to be among the blander examples, too.

So, we took advantage of our visit to Germany in the spring to answer the burning question once and for all: does Koelsch taste any different from lager?

The first Koelsch we had was on the way out to Bavaria, when we stopped off in Aachen for a night. Aachen isn’t a big beer town — they just don’t seem that interested — so the only Koelsch we found was Dom, which we drank at The Golden Swan. It was welcome as the first beer of our German trip, but wasn’t terribly exciting. It really did taste like any other lager.

The next day, we trekked down to Bavaria, where we spent almost two weeks drinking every type of beer we could get our hands on. I can only assume our taste-buds got more refined and more used to distinguishing subtle differences, because there was a magic moment in Nuremberg when we suddenly *understood* Koelsch.

Oddly enough, this happened while we were drinking a pilsner. Neumarkt Lammsbrau’s pils came in the standard pilsner stem glass. It looked like a standard pilsner. But the minute I put my nose in to take a sip, I was taken aback. “It smells slightly like an ale,” we both said, simultaneously. And it tasted a bit like an ale, too. Not a pint of London Pride, exactly, but somehow fruitier and riper than most lagers. “It’s like a Koelsch,” we agreed, and then little lightbulbs appeared over our heads. “So that’s it — that’s what a Koelsch tastes like.” We started to look forward to our imminent 24 hour stint in Cologne, on the way home.

cologne2.jpgIn the afternoon and evening we had there, we did nothing but hunt Koelsch, but this time, each one tasted different.

  • Reissdorf was distinctly fruity, with some wine-like flavours.
  • Pfaffen — a spin-off from Paffgen, the result of some kind of family feud — was noticeably dark and more bitter, and tasted very strongly of honey. Reminded me of Fuller’s much-maligned Honey Dew.
  • Paeffgen — a spin-off from Pfaffen, the result of some kind of family feud — was very similar, but lighter in colour and hoppier, reminiscent of an English summer ale.
  • Frueh, which had tasted more-or-less like Fosters when I drank it in London, also had strong fruit flavours, and was obviously an ale, although fizzier and tamer than some of the others we tried.
  • Dom, too, tasted noticeably like an ale, but still struck us as “middle-of-the-road”. Beautiful glasses and a very cool logo, though!

As night began to fall, we retreated to the student district, walking the streets looking at pubs for signs which would tell us which Koelsch they served. We ended up going to some very weird bars, just because they had one we wanted to try.

  • Gilden was light, spritzy without being fizzy, and had a subtle but distinct flavour of strawberries — it would make a great replacement for champagne at a beer-bore’s dinner party. Probably my favourite.
  • Gaffel was very like a pilsner, with no real ale flavours.
  • Sion was the dullest of them all — just like a helles, though perhaps drier.
  • We finished with a humdinger, though, at Heller’s brewpub on Roonstrasse. Their three beers were all interesting. The Koelsch was particularly special, tasting malty and rich, and reminiscent of toffee-apples. The unique “Wiess” (“veece”, not “vice”) was, in effect, the same beer but unfiltered. It tasted entirely different — apples, again, but this time with lemons, and a really obvious “ale” flavour, perhaps from all the swirling suspended yeast. Remarkable.

So, Koelsch isn’t just lager, but pasteurising, filtering and lagering soften out the ale flavours, and made them hard for us to spot. The fault wasn’t with the beer, as such, but with our ability to pick out subtle flavours, which is the downside of drinking crazily powerful IPAs, Imperial Stouts, ESBs and so on the rest of the time.