Mock Imports

Wild River beer promotional material from Fuller's.

Importing beer is expensive and inconvenient, and, from the perspective of British breweries, every bottle of Belgian, German or American beer represents a lost opportunity.

Recently, we’ve seen Shepherd Neame launch a licensed, UK-brewed version of Sam Adams Boston Lager; Fuller’s launch a US-style IPA, Wild River, complete with Americana branding; and smaller (for now) breweries are launching saisons, dubbels, tripels, pilsners, weizens, wits and imperial double black bacon IPAs left, right and centre.

Generally speaking, we’d really rather drink a fresher, British-brewed imitation of a foreign beer than a stale, authentic, imported one.

However… the first report we’ve read, from Rabid Bar Fly, suggests that, the Shepherd Neame brewed Sam Adams Lager is fine, but an entirely different beer than the original. We haven’t seen the ‘point-of-sale’ material but our concern remains that most punters will think they’re drinking an imported beer and pay more for the privilege. If it doesn’t have BREWED IN THE UK in big letters, it’s a swizz.

Fuller’s approach is interesting. We’re taking Wild River’s branding as an attempt to convey a sense of the inspiration behind the beer and to give the consumer an idea of what to expect in their glass, rather than an attempt to con anyone: the branding merely evokes America and bears a prominent Fuller’s logo.

The smaller breweries are generally proud of where they’re based and there is little room for confusion in the packaging, as far as we can see. The problem here is that, sometimes, regrettably, the beer is half as good and yet twice as expensive as the real thing.

These wrinkles will iron out. A couple of years back, Meantime’s own lagers were put to shame by the imported beers from Schoenram on sale alongside them at the Greenwich Union; but, on our last visit, Meantime’s beers had improved immeasurably and, yes, were better and cheaper than their imported cousins.

The Session Curve

Our pints of mild on Saturday got us thinking about the experience of drinking a given beer over the course of a session which helped us understand what the term ‘session beer’ means to us.

So, this chart is an attempt to illustrate the pleasure we gain from a selection of beers over the course of an arbitrarily selected six drink session (about the upper end of what we ever drink — a ‘big one’ by our standards) indicated on the bottom axis.

The session beer curve illustrated in a chart.

It’s a bit of a jumble but:

  1. St Austell Black Prince, after about four pints, seems the finest beer in the world, after an underwhelming start, and we could keep drinking it forever.
  2. Fuller’s London Pride is rarely exciting but maintains its appeal throughout a session — another definition of balanced?
  3. St Austell Proper Job is a great beer — one we’re always delighted to find — but not one we like to drink more than about three pints of. It fails as a session beer because it is too intensely hoppy and just a touch too strong for us — the feeling that we ought to call it a day, the surprisingly wobbly walk to the bar, comes a little too soon.

One of each before my train leaves, please!

Fuller's pub sign in central London.

Pubs and bars worth visiting are cropping up in some odd places these days.

Last year, Tap East opened in the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, East London; and in 2009, the Sheffield Tap opened on the platform at that city’s main station, followed by similar station ‘taps’ at Euston and York. These places aren’t exactly pubs as we know them, but, as Knut Albert points out, that’s probably to be expected. (In fact, are we going to end up calling them ‘taps’?)

The latest news is that Fuller’s are getting in on the act by opening a flagship pub (tap…) at King’s Cross — one which will apparently sell every beer they produce, including all available vintages of, er, Vintage Ale.

Imagine — no more tramping around London to try the latest Fuller’s seasonal, and no more lukewarm pints of Wandle at the John Betjeman while waiting for a train. Let’s hope its as good as the publicity makes it sound.

Now other big brewers need to get their acts together and do the same: we still want to see pubs in our major cities selling the full range of breweries such as Wells and Young’s and Greene King in tip-top condition. The twin defences of “you haven’t tried the good stuff” and “when you’ve tried it, it hasn’t been kept well” are wearing thin.