The Big Red Triangle

Bass is better regarded as an icon of graphic design than as a beer.

It’s usually found in pubs that seem stuck in a timewarp and, in our experience at least, is rarely drinkable, from either keg or cask. We’ve found it sour and stale everywhere from grotty pubs with sticky carpets to gaudily wallpapered ‘style bars’ in south London.

A couple of weeks ago, however, we had a pint that was in tip-top condition and were reminded that at its best, Bass is a complex beer which carries some intentional ‘off flavours’ with aplomb. The sulphurous aroma, the hint of cider-apple and a final chalkiness, are not repellent but absolutely harmonious. It is reminiscent of, and better than, recent bottles of Worthington White Shield.

Until it tastes this way more often, however, while we won’t give up on it, it’ll have to remain on our list of beers of last resort.

Simon ‘Reluctant Scooper’ Johnson seems to know where to find Bass in reliably good nick; and those who like to try to find the breaking point of the term craft beer will find Bass a useful bit of ammo.

Real ale loyalist or a craft keg fanboy?

Imagine you’re out in a strange town which has two pubs.

Pub #1: The King’s Arms

A pub which serves real ale in good condition. On the bar, Greene King IPA, Old Speckled Hen, Courage Best and Marston’s Bitter.

Pub #2: The Red Lion

Sells only kegged beer. On the bar, Thornbridge Chiron, Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted, Fuller’s London Porter and Magic Rock Human Cannonball.

Which pub would you choose?

We’d be in the Red Lion, like a shot.

A week later, you’re in a different town, which also, coincidentally, has just two pubs.

Pub #3: The Bird in Hand

Sells only real ale in good condition. On the bar, Fuller’s London Porter, Thornbridge Kipling, Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold and Acorn Barnsley Bitter.

Pub #4: The Turk’s Head

A pub which sells only kegged beer. On the bar, Brain’s Smooth, Guinness, Wells Bombardier and Greene King IPA.

Which pub would you choose?

We’d be in the Bird in Hand.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that we don’t subscribe to the idea that craft beer is the antithesis of real ale in the UK, and that we hope the conversation doesn’t go any further down the route of keg=good/cask=bad than it already has.

Words as blunt tools

Last night, another conversation about the language we use to discuss beer kicked off when Lovibonds brewer Jeff Rosenmeier said this on Twitter:

Tweet: I don't like the term 'craft keg'. It's craft beer. Am I alone on this one?

Our two penn’orth was in the form of a quick diagram (above, top) which shows how we think it works in the UK, i.e. with ‘craft beer’ as a super-category which includes most real ale, some kegged beer and (not included in the pic) some bottled beer.

The fact is, though, that none of the terms we use are perfect; they’re just blunt tools to enable conversation.

We’re both reminded of meetings we used to endure in previous jobs. Typically, six hours would be set aside to solve a problem, of which five would be spent going round the table arguing about the language: “What exactly does ‘world class’ mean? I don’t like it.”

The last hour would be spent discussing how there was no longer enough time to solve the problem and agreeing dates for another six hour meeting.


Something in the air

CAMRA have finally done something we’ve wanted to see for a while: begun to consider how the biggest beer campaigning group in Britain should react to so-called craft beer and, in particular, ‘craft keg’.

Members can read more about the new working group on the CAMRA website (we wish CAMRA wouldn’t lock all its content away, but hey ho) and we can all read about it direct from one of the group’s members on Tandleman’s blog.

If you’re a CAMRA member, a lapsed member, or someone who thinks about joining but holds back for whatever reason, you can feed in to this conversation by commenting at Tandleman’s blog. (But he will be overwhelmed with people wanting their say, so make your comments are constructive and to the point, if you want them to be heard.)

It would be naieve for anyone to expect CAMRA to change policy drastically overnight, not to mention potentially disastrous for the Campaign — there are, after all, many members, whether we agree with them or not, who believe kegged beer is something to be opposed, and who would cancel their memberships if there is too much change, too quickly. And, assuming the working group does propose changes, those would then have to be approved by members at the annual meeting. (Although wouldn’t an online poll for members be a great and inclusive alternative?)

Nonetheless it would be great if, through this discussion, CAMRA can find some way to reconcile the organisation’s aims — supporting cask ale — with some kind of support, however restrained, for some of the very good non-cask beer being made in the UK today.

Pop Culture and Beer

Boat with ABBA hallo written on the side
That weird boat in Lübeck with ABBA hallo written on it for no obvious reason.

These are just a couple of thoughts prompted by reactions to our last post.

1. You can’t write a set of rules for “cool”. Trying to define “good beer” or “craft beer”* in a form as definite as the CAMRA conception of “real ale” is impossible. Defining “indie” is pretty tough, too, but you know it when you see it.

2. People have often have very different taste in music or films when they’re just finding their way than they do later in life. They might start with the pretentious stuff and get over themselves; or they might prefer brash, loud and attention-grabbing, but begin to appreciate something more thoughtful as they mature. Our respective dads thought our respective tastes in music were terrible, but they were just glad we liked music at all.# If people just starting out on beer happen to get all excited about Guinness, or crazily hoppy American IPAs, we should be encouraging them, not sneering.


*. Actually, we’re not going to footnote ‘craft beer’ every time we use it. We’re going to link to this new permanent page.

#. That sentence is a perfect example of what a pain in arse this “two bloggers with one voice” thing can be. That’s the last time we’ll mention our respective dads…