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Cheap Beer Challenge

Earlier this week, Keith Flett suggests a solution to the vexing problem of the sometimes worryingly high price of some craft beer: as we read it, he is asking craft brewers to challenge themselves on price and brew at least one ‘people’s pint’.

As has been established, we’re weird: we’re already beer zealots — extremists, if you like — and prioritise buying good beer above many other luxuries in our lives. So, to us, there aren’t many beers which don’t seem affordable; we don’t need convincing that there is a connection between price and quality; and we’re certainly not arguing for craft brewers and bars to cut costs across the board. Generally, we admire their tendency to brew for flavour and worry about price later.

The fact is, though, that for some people, price is an issue through necessity rather than choice. Can anything be done to make sure they aren’t excluded from craft beer? Just one beer? Or do we simply have to accept a ‘them and us’ culture?

Here are some ideas off the top of our heads, in brainstorm mode.

1. The Sainsbury’s Basics model
Sainsbury’s supermarket has a range of economy products in simple packaging, just as all the others do, but their clever gimmick is transparency. They say things like “Basics Cucumber — just as green, watery and likely to give you indigestion, but slightly bent” or “Basics Onions — not uniform sizes, but just as likely to make you cry”. This could also work for beer, e.g. “A simple recipe with only pale malt to let the hops shine through”.

2. Inspired by Macrobrewers
Several breweries in different parts of the country could work together to brew the same beer for their respective markets, saving on distribution costs, but sharing the costs of sales, branding and publicity. As a bonus, the savvy punter gets to enjoy the regional variations.

3. Learning from History
Big brewers have always focused on hitting fixed price points. Look at Ron Pattinson and Kristen England’s 1909 Style Guide and one thing that leaps out is how much sugar, corn, rice, Soylent Green and other adjuncts were used in beers before World War I. Kristen has made and tasted all of those beers and, for the most part, enjoyed them. Once again, if made with care, marketed transparently, and presented as a history lesson, adjunct-laden beers could still be craft beer.

4. Play Ball with the Government
The Government wants brewers to make weaker beers and is giving tax breaks to those who do so. The threshold is 2.8%, which sounds disastrously low, until you consider the success of Brodie’s Citra (which is universally admired) at 3.1%. We like weaker beers because we can drink more of them in a session, and the success of GK IPA suggests that many ‘normal’ punters do, to.  (Many brewers are already taking this challenge, of course.)

5. Loss leaders
Sam Smith’s pubs draw people in with the offer of cheap beer but make money from people ‘upgrading’, hence the massive difference between the price of a pint of Old Brewery and a pint of Pure Brewed Lager. Given that most craft beer customers don’t choose on price, would offering one beer at or near cost be such a problem, if it meant drawing in new custom and expanding the market? Which leads us to…

6. A Tax on Beer Zealots
A few ludicrously, deliberately over-priced, over-packaged limited editions beers at the other end of the range could subsidise a ‘people’s pint’ — a kind of tax on craft beer zealots, which many would gladly accept if it meant (a) that they got an interesting beer for their money and (b) it helped to spread the word.

Any more, better ideas?

Note: It goes without saying that our ideas above are poorly thought through, that we’ve missed the point, that they won’t work, etc..

bottled beer Environmental stuff homebrewing

Petty rant about beer bottle labels

Homebrewers know the pain of bottling. The boring bit of the whole process. Tedious, painful and messy. We try to minimize the pain by using polypins, but this means you have to drink the beer a lot quicker.

Cleaning the beer bottles is bad enough. But what really gets my goat is getting the labels off British ale bottles. I don’t know what they use to glue the damn things on, but chemicals, steam and good old fashioned elbow grease are not enough to get rid of them, and you end up with bottles with unsightly bits of paper and glue marks all over them. Not what you want to serve up your pride and joy in.

American labels are pretty bad, but then their bottles come in all sorts of weird shapes, and what with the preponderance of screw top caps, we tend to put them straight in recycling. Nothing more frustrating than spending all that time cleaning and sterilising a bottle, only to find the bugger won’t cap.

German and Belgian beer bottle labels come off with ease, on the other hand. Is this related to the fact that there is much more of a practice of reusing bottles there? Germany has a bottle deposit scheme, and in Belgium bottles often seem to be collected by the bar staff for return to the brewery.

Come on, British brewers! Do your bit for homebrewers and the environment, and use something with a half- life of less than a millenium. Flour and water paste works for us. Or Pritt Stick.


The Session

The session round up – there are many roads to good beer

Firstly, apologies for the delay in writing this up, but we wanted to do it justice. We’re very pleased with both the number (43, we make it) and the quality of responses. We’ve gone back to re-read several of them already. Incidentally, if we have left you off – sorry, it’s not intentional, and do let us know!

It’s been absolutely fascinating getting the insight into the people behind these great beer blogs. We’ve all come to “good beer” from very different places. As well as contributions from all over the US, we’ve had posts from the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Argentina, and Lithuania.

However, some themes do emerge…

Sudden epiphanies

One of the reasons for suggesting the topic is that our epiphany seemed so sudden — during a week-long holiday.

Al at Hop Talk writes about the moment at a barbecue when he realised that two beers he’d thought were more-or-less the same actually had distinct characteristics. A lightbulb moment.

Maeib describes something similar. He was interested to discover several different styles on one day, in one pub, which piqued his curiosity. He’s been on a quest for the perfect beer ever since.

Kieran Haslett-Moore from New Zealand had his big moment on a train when he drank his first Emerson’s and realised beer could have character. He is now one of the keenest proponents of cask ale in his hemisphere. So that would be a life changing moment, then.

Wheat beer is a great introduction to decent beer, and it was an American version which brought Jon at the Brew Site on board. He describes Widmer Hefeweizen as “thick, yeasty, bready, crisp, bracing, and the most delicious beer to pass my lips ever” and says it opened his eyes. Yes, that does indeed sound very tasty.

The Beer Nut‘s conversion came shortly before he actually drank the fabled beer, when a polemic printed on the back of a menu at the Porterhouse in Dublin roused his passions. Fortunately, the beer was good enough to justify the rhetoric.

Rick Lyke underlines a point that came through in many people’s posts — the beer that turns you on doesn’t have to be that great, just better than what you’ve been drinking before. In his case, he flashed the cash as a 17 year old and spent nearly four times as much as his mates buying a German import which blew his mind. He’s never looked back! The same goes for Chipper Dave (great nickname!) who had his head turned by a humble bottle of Labatt’s Blue and then again, a few years later, by Guinness. And Eric Delia isn’t ashamed to admit that a can of Miller Lite set his heart aflutter. At the age of 10. Crivens.

Stacey at Hodoeporicon (her first Session) tells us that she “got it” when she drank Schooner, a poorly regarded Canadian beer. It’s not that the beer was especially great — just that it was something other than Bud Light. Now she is “the person who brings good beer to the party & orders draft or cask ales when everyone else is pounding Buds“. From little acorns…

Jay Brooks was stationed on Staten Island with an army band (!) when he tried Bass and Guinness and realised that there was more to beer than light American lagers. If you want to read more, see his semi-fictional memoir of a beer drinker, written in 30 days as part of National Novel Writing Month.

Dr Joel tells of his first sip of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in the car park at a gig, which left him dazed and confused and in love with hops. If you decide you love hops, you more-or-less have to give up on bog standard beers, right? And, on the flipside, Thomas at Geistbear Brewing Blog tells us that he had his head turned by a malty dunkelweizen, whilst studying the language in Germany.

Another touching tale of teenage experimentation comes from Heath, whose excellent post sees him admit to something lots of us do — choosing his first batch decent beer based on how cool the labels looked! Not a bad way to go about it, if his list is anything to go by.

Knut Albert discovered an interest in beer whilst travelling around Europe with a gang of friends as a young man. Being a friendly type, he got talking to some British lads in a train station on the continent (he shared a melon with them…) and found himself a few days later drinking Young’s Special with them at a pub in Sutton. Sutton!?

And the last of our batch of people turned on by beers they’re not so keen on these days, Pivni Filosof, who was so used to boring Quilmes in his native Argentina that when a new beer came on the market which was brewed to the Rheinheitsgebot (as opposed to containing “who knew what”) he couldn’t help but be impressed. Then he moved to the Czech republic…

Gradual enlightenment

For Chela, enlightenment was a gradual process, including formative periods in London and Edinburgh. Immersion in a particular beer culture did the job, in other words, which is also true for Stonch, whose six months in Prague rewired his tastebuds and brain.

Dr Fabulous (not his birth name) was similarly seduced over the course of years by beers from abroad, but consumed most of them at home, finding in them a hint of the exotic which was hard to resist.

Alan at A Good Beer Blog is a bit fed up of the navel-gazing of recent Sessions, but nonetheless tells a fascinating tale of drinking beer, getting to like beer, and then, after several years, discovering that there a beer scene was emerging which he wanted to be part of. He read an article in the Atlantic Monthly which gave him a glimpse of “what beer could be” and hasn’t looked back.

David at Musings over a pint was drinking “better beer” along with the bog standard stuff for ages without making a particular distinction and, after time, just stuck with the good stuff. No blinding light there. And Stan at Appellation beer (founder of the Session) narrows it down to five incidents over the course of nearly 40 years. Lew Bryson also lists several occasions when it might have happened, or nearly happened, but decides ultimately that the terminal moment was when he started to take notes and keep a diary. To note: Lew’s loyal fans have started recording their own “turning points” in the comments, making his post a session within a session. Take a look!

Brewmaster Matt had a few steps along the way, but thinks several years of being interested in beer all came together on a wine-tasting tour of Europe which ended up as a beer-tasting tour of Germany! That’s what we like to hear…

Martin, the Electric Landlord, was slowly converted by repeated exposure to one beer (Holt’s Bitter) in one pub (the Crescent, Salford) as a student. Is there such a thing as a monogamous beer geek? And if so, what does that make tickers and scoopers? The swingers of the beer drinking world?

The Beer Philosopher also got into beer gradually at college, but the best part of his post is about the moment when he nearly got turned off beer for life, drinking a very cheap, very generic beer with a friend as a thirsty 14 year old.

Which brings us to one of our favourite posts, from the Black Cat Brewery in Ireland. Thom not only took a while to get into beer, but worked bloody hard at it, too. He didn’t, stricly speaking, like the beers he was tasting, but really wanted to. Eventually, Erdinger Weissbier took him by the hand and showed him the ropes with appropriate care and gentleness…

The time, the place, the people

Martynas from Lithuania tells us that, despite drinking baltic porter/barley wine for breakfast as a student, he didn’t really get into beer until he found himself working as cheap labout in Yorkshire and got into the habit of washing the dust from his throat with pints of real ale. Incidentally, we bought a bottle of the breakfast beer he mentions today — we’ll let you know how that goes!

Yorkshire seems to exert a magical effect on potential beer lovers. Andy over at Beerbuzzing grew up in Tadcaster, home of Sam Smiths, so just couldn’t avoid decent beer. He joined CAMRA to get into festivals on the cheap.

Rob at Sophisticated Brews had a relatively late moment of clarity at the age of 41 when he joined an outing to a ball game which stopped off at the Goose Island brewery on the way. He says that, there and then, he “realized how crappy the stuff I’d been drinking was”. Mmmmm. Goose Island. Gargle.

Jessica, the Thirsty Hopster, drank beer at first because everyone else was doing it and she didn’t want to be a pain in the arse. And if she was going to drink beer, she might as well find one she actually liked — which turned out to be Magic Hat No. 9.

Mario at Brewed for Thought also got into beer because he was trying to make friends in a new town and the local pub just happened to have amazing beer. If he’d gone to university in a different city, it might never have happened. Shudder. And Buttle got into beer because he lived around the corner from an import specialist called Beers of the World and thought he might as well have a nose around. Those are both great stories of how making the most of what’s going on in your town can change your life for the better.

Finally, there’s Steve, who was taking part in a USC tailgate (it’s like a foreign language…) when, under the influence of a tasty Sam Adams, he rashly agreed with a fellow sports fan that they should try to drink as many different beers as they could. He didn’t realise quite what a commitment he was making…


A number of people have come to good beer via homebrewing. Legendary home-brew guru Charlie Papazian gives his story here. It’s also and important part of the story for Rick at the Brew Blog, Keith at Brainard Brewing, and Wilson at Brewvana, who was also lucky enough to be born with “the beer gene”. Nicolino at Cerveza al sur de Ecuador in a Spanish-language post mentions hombrewing as an important factor, but also credits the Argentinian economic crisis of 2001; apparently this led to overnight cessation in imports of foreign beers, and subsequently a rise in homegrown microbreweries!

Finally, there is the unclassifiable. Troy at Great Canadian Pubs and Beer reports on how his obsession started with fascinating empty bottles he found in garbage trucks (that’s rubbish lorries to us Brits). Rob from Pfiff! tells us that he was bred on the good stuff, and couldn’t get his hands on crappy macro-brew if he tried. Lucky devil. Similarly, Paul Arthur skipped the fizzy lagers, making his way to beer via single malt whiskies and fine wine. The beer that did it for him was Ommegang Abbey Ale, which we’ve always wanted to try but never seen on sale in the UK.

Flying Dog Brewery tell us about their founding here.

Stephen Beaumont wrote a lovely post, but his site is down right now. We’ll update as and when.

Estoy escribiendo este post en español, pero necesito un poco más tiempo…

The next session will be hosted by Thomas at Geist Bear


More Bottled Beer in Pubs, Please

goose_island_again.jpg We’re lucky in that we can get to the Pembury Tavern from our house in 20 minutes, and two of our nearest pubs serve real ales in good condition (including a regular mild). But last night, that just wasn’t enough for me — I wanted to go to the pub, but I also had a powerful craving for a strong, hoppy IPA1. That’s one of the few styles the Pembury doesn’t stock. Nor does any pub in our area.

Which made me wish that all pubs had as a minimum:

1. A small selection of cask ale in good condition — as much as they can turn over at a reasonable rate, but no more — ideally including a stout other than bloody Guinness.

2. A German or Czech lager on tap.

3. A German or Belgian wheat beer on tap2.

4. A rotating selection of bottled beer in every style not represented on the pumps.

It’s not reasonable to expect every pub to have ten different ales on tap, but bottles are surely the best way for landlords to offer choice without bankrupting themselves. Bottles last a long time; they don’t cost much to store; and they allow pubs to offer oddities which might only appeal to a small section of the market.

It would be nice if I could drink rauchbier, strong IPA, imperial stout, lambic and other ‘acquired-taste’ beers without getting on a train or bus, when one of these uncontrollable cravings overtakes me.

Yes, I guess I’m spoiled. I should just get off my arse, or drink what’s on offer. But I can dream, can’t I?



1 We’d been brewing a strong, hoppy IPA all day — I always want to drink what we’ve been brewing.

2 We were in a pub on New Year’s Eve that had Franziskaner, Paulaner, Schneider and Erdinger wheat beers on tap. Seriously, one brand is enough!


Generalisations about artisan brews in the south of France

A couple of months back on the way out to Spain, I blogged to express my surprise that there was a micro-brewing scene in the south of France, and several helpful commentators provided useful links to find out more.

Using these links, I managed to track down products from at least five breweries from the Midi – nothing on tap, unfortunately, but bottles can be found with a bit of searching in the off-licences, supermarkets and “regional produce” shops in the bigger cities such as Montpellier and Toulouse. Ask for “biere artisanale”.

beer_bottle.jpgSo why nothing on the blog about the exciting brewing scene? Unfortunately, all of the beers I’ve tried have (literally) been nothing to write home about, ranging from dull homebrew to actively unpleasant.

They always look promising – attractive packaging, reminiscent of small Belgian breweries. They’re usually unfiltered, unpasteurised, and “refermented in the bottle”. Unfortunately, they all have a similar flavour profile (or lack) – little or no malt taste, and what hops you can taste usually have a fairly astringent grassy flavour.

In fact, the tastes were so similar that it made me wonder whether they were attempting to brew like that, whether it is a specific “style” made for the Midi market. Or perhaps it’s due to having poor quality primary ingredients. Or maybe it’s just that it’s early days, and they’ll get better. I hope so.

I don’t want to list the culprits here because I don’t like slagging off small brewers, and I promise that if I have a good one I will log it here!

In the meantime, if you’re a French microbrewer and reading this (unlikely, as my experience tells me you’re unlikely to even respond to direct emails asking where to find your beer), get yourself to the Frog and Rosbif in Toulouse to see how it should be done.