News, Nuggets & Longreads for 28 July 2018: Blackburn, Belfast, Banked Bass

Here’s everything in the world of beer and pubs that caught our eye in the past week, from the colour of pre-WWI beer to the mysteries of fermentation.

First, though, an admission: we put this together on Thursday evening and scheduled it to post automatically. If anything exciting happened on Friday it might not be reflected.

Right, down to business.


Blackburn

For Ferment, the promotional magazine for subscription service Beer52, Katie Taylor has written about the pubs of Blackburn, Lancashire:

“If you asked anyone in here what craft beers they enjoyed, they’d probably think you were on about bottles,” said [bar manage] Hilary [Carr]. “And they don’t drink those.”

I ask what a local drinker would call a beer brewed in a local microbrewery. She answers: “Real ale.”

So with all this love for good, local real ale, what’s stopping northern craft beer brewers from moving in? I ask Hilary to join me for a sit down and she brings her coffee mug – it says “Prog Forever” on it.

“It’s the price,” she says. “All our beers are £2.50 a pint. Nobody will pay more than that and to be honest, they don’t need to!”

(This is actually from last week but we missed it then.)


Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

For Good Beer Hunting Stan Hieronymus writes about the fermented food guru Sandor Katz and how his evangelism is leaking into the world of beer:

“Mixed culture is probably the most annoying buzzword right now,” says Todd Steven Boera at Fonta Flora Brewery in North Carolina. “And we use it on our menu boards, labels, everywhere. If you asked 10 random people, I think you would get 10 different answers what it means.”

Mixed culture may not tell consumers as much about what to expect in a glass as Boera would like, but it makes sense in the context of the first of two beers Boera and Katz collaborated on.


The John Hewitt pub in Belfast.

At An Seisiún Mac Siúrtáin (a pen name) has written a long piece about the experience of trying to drink any stout other than Guinness in Belfast:

Before independent beer was a thing in Northern Ireland (prior to this decade, the only independent breweries were Hilden and Whitewater)’ Guinness was my session beer of choice. It had a hint of satisfying roastiness, there were no evil flavours or wateriness like you’d get in macro lagers and the nitro serve – while it stripped some flavour out – meant it went down smoothly without making you feel gassy and bloated like the carbonated beers. It’s therefore the ultimate session beer – enough taste to be morish but not enough to be sickening, and the nitro means it goes down easier and leaves room for more. While Yardsman and Belfast Black are objectively better beers with more flavour, they are not quite direct substitutes in terms of the purpose they serve the drinker.

There’s a fascinating little ‘ouch’ in there for craft beer advocates, too: what if the craft clone of your favourite big brand beer isn’t an improvement but merely the equivalent of supermarket own-brand cornflakes?


A clear pint of Bass pale ale.

On his travels in Stockton-on-Tees Martin Taylor found the tradition of ‘banking Bass’ alive, if not quite well:

“Do you still sell Bass ?”  I squeaked.

“Of course”  Next time I’ll ask if they’re actually open or something daft like that.

I was directed to the other side of the bar.  But where was the famous bankers fridge ?

Still there, but with just four bankers cooling down, rather than the twenty of a decade ago.  Still looked the business though.


Beer glasses.

Just in case you missed it when we Tweeted it last week, do check out this magnificent find by Gary Gillman (@beeretseq): a chart from the period before World War I depicting in full colour various types of European beer, each in their typical glassware. (Detail above.) Gary has now tracked down the source of the image in the Toronto library and found that it came with a table of figures.


If you want more, check out Alan McLeod’s thoughts from Thursday and Stan Hieronymus’s Monday round-up.


Finally, here’s one to provoke some thought:

Is Golden Ale Really White Ale?

Straw Hat by Wicker Paradise on Flickr, under Creative Commons.
SOURCE: Wicker Paradise on Flickr, under Creative Commons.

Continuing a train of thought from Friday’s blog post, we’ve been considering another common beer colour descriptor — ‘straw’.

We read David Swift’s fascinating article about Devon White Ale some months ago at the blog he co-authors, but its re-appearance in the latest issue of the journal of the Brewery History Society was fortuitous. First time round, this 1939 observation from Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake (!) didn’t leap out at us, but with golden ale on our minds, it certainly did:

When I was a pupil at Messrs Fox’s Brewery at Farnborough, Kent, in 1900 the firm was celebrated for its white ale. This beer was brewed the same as any other beer, but from the very palest coloured malt and sugar, it was the colour of pale straw, but tasted just like any other ale of similar strength.

Now, believe it or not, there is a colour standard for ‘straw’, from a 1930 Dictionary of Color by Maerz and Paul, which Wikipedia renders like this:

Straw

For comparison, here’s 4 SRM from that beer colour chart (a little paler than Hop Back Summer Lightning):

4 SRM

And this is Maerz and Paul’s ‘gold’, via Wikipedia:

Gold

Finally, while we’re at it, let’s have a look at their rather lurid ‘amber’:

Amber

We wouldn’t want to read too much into all of this, but could it be that Summer Lightning, had it been produced before the First World War, might have been considered a ‘white ale’? Perhaps it would have been considered too dark.

At any rate, we’re certainly going to have to attempt to devise a home brewing recipe for a c.1908 Kentish White Ale.