Q&A: Harmonising European brewing methods, 1973

Newspaper headline from 1975Via Twitter, we’ve been asked to provide more information on plans by the European Common Market in 1973 to “harmonise European brewing methods”, as mentioned in Fintan O’Toole’s book  Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain.

Mr O’Toole quotes from a sto­ry in the Dai­ly Mir­ror (25/06/1973) head­lined EUROBEER MENACE:

A Com­mon Mar­ket threat to British beer unit­ed labour and Tory MPs yes­ter­day. The threat came in reports of a plan by Mar­ket author­i­ties to ‘har­monise’ brew­ing meth­ods in mem­ber coun­tries.

Mr. William Wil­son, tee­to­tal Labour MP for South Coven­try, and Tory Sir Ger­ald Nabar­ro both plan to raise the issue with Food Min­is­ter Joseph God­ber “in the inter­ests of the beer drinkers of Britain.”

Sir Ger­ald said: “This would be a dis­as­ter. Our beer is world famous for its strength, nutri­tion­al val­ue and excel­lence.”

It’s not hard to work out what peo­ple thought har­mon­i­sa­tion might mean: mild and bit­ter banned, Ger­man-style lager every­where, by order of Brus­sels.

But there’s very lit­tle detail in the sto­ry and it reads like typ­i­cal fuss-about-noth­ing tabloid report­ing wil­ful­ly miss­ing the point for the sake of caus­ing out­rage. (On the same page: NOW FRIED ONIONS ARE BANNED AT WIMBLEDON.)

Sure enough, it didn’t take much dig­ging to find a report from the Econ­o­mist from two days ear­li­er (23/06/1973) announc­ing that these pro­pos­als had already been aban­doned by the time the Mir­ror ran its piece.

"Ideal Suit in Lager" -- a hand with playing cards depicting lager brands.
Detail from the cov­er of Whit­bread Way No. 13.

Beer geeks, how­ev­er, were talk­ing about at least one spe­cif­ic tech­ni­cal issue: in the dis­cus­sion around har­mon­i­sa­tion pro­pos­als, there was a sug­ges­tion that only female (seed­less) hops ought to be used in brew­ing across Europe. In Eng­land, how­ev­er, male hops were his­tor­i­cal­ly grown along­side female, and peo­ple had a vague sense that male hops… er… made our beer taste more vir­ile? Or some­thing.

Richard Boston wrote about this in his Guardian col­umn for 29 Sep­tem­ber 1973:

You can imag­ine the con­ster­na­tion with which I received the ugly rumour that in order to con­form with the prac­tice of our Com­mon Mar­ket part­ners the male hop was going to be rout­ed out here too… I got straight on the blow­er to the Hops Mar­ket­ing Board… and asked their spokesman if it was true… “Absolute balls,” he replied.

The Econ­o­mist fol­lowed the Eurobeer sto­ry close­ly, report­ing on its progress over the next few years, as in this par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing piece from 2 Novem­ber 1974:

Much non­sense is talked by Euro­pean politi­cians about Brus­sels busy­bod­ies try­ing mad­ly to stan­dard­ise Euro­pean food and drink. Britain’s Mr Harold Wil­son is just about the worst offend­er. At long last it has pro­voked a Euro­pean civ­il ser­vant into putting the record straight. Anony­mous­ly, he is cir­cu­lat­ing a paper dis­sect­ing each com­plaint. Most are exposed as innacu­rate…

Plans for Eurobeer and Euro­bread – now with­drawn for review – nei­ther out­law nor stan­dard­ise nation­al brews and loaves. The aim is rather to demol­ish pro­tec­tion­ist bar­ri­ers which impede the free sale of these prod­ucts across nation­al bound­aries. Ger­many, for exam­ple, has strict rules which vir­tu­al­ly mean that if a beer is not brewed in the Ger­man way it can­not be called beer. The Commission’s Eurobeer plan would make Ger­many open its mar­ket to import­ed beers, includ­ing British ales, which meet a com­mon Euro­pean stan­dard.

In 1975, the UK Gov­ern­ment held a ref­er­en­dum on con­tin­ued mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Com­mu­ni­ty. The threat of Eurobeer came up repeat­ed­ly in ref­er­en­dum cam­paign mate­ri­als such as this pam­phlet from the Gov­ern­ment itself. A Q&A with the Con­sumer Asso­ci­a­tion in the Dai­ly Mir­ror for 30 May 1975 answers our ques­tion head on:

Q: What does ‘har­mon­i­sa­tion’ mean? Shall we be drink­ing Eurobeer?

A: Har­mon­i­sa­tion means get­ting our stan­dards in line with those of oth­er coun­tries to enable us to sell our prod­ucts to them. There are two types in the Com­mon Mar­ket:

TOTAL: When a Com­mon Mar­ket law says that only prod­ucts which com­ply with that law can be sold at all in the Com­mon Mar­ket;

OPTIONAL: When indi­vid­ual coun­tries can allow prod­ucts which do not con­form to the law to be sold in their own coun­tries…

But if there is a reg­u­la­tion on beer or bread, this will almost cer­tain­ly be option­al.

Odd­ly enough, even though the EC/EU didn’t imple­ment any such plan, by the late 1980s, lager was every­where in Eng­land any­way, much of it brewed in the UK under the super­vi­sion of con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean brew­ers, and sold under con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean brand names. Mar­ket eco­nom­ics and con­sumer demand did what the EC didn’t.

Citra as Brand, Like Bacon as Brand, Like Chocolate as Brand

Detail from a 1943 advert for Lifesavers depicting fruit on a tree.

Every now and then we’ll reach a point in a conversation where the person opposite wants to know, “What’s a good beer I should be looking out for, then?”

This used to be fair­ly easy to answer, but with more brew­eries, and more beers, and what feels like a ten­den­cy away from the con­cept of the core range or flag­ship beer, it’s become tricky.

There are beers we like but don’t get to drink reg­u­lar­ly enough to say we know, and oth­ers that we love but don’t see from one year to the next.

Last time some­one asked, though, it just so hap­pened that we’d reached a con­clu­sion: “Well, not a spe­cif­ic beer, but you can’t go wrong with any­thing with Cit­ra in the name.”

We were think­ing of Oakham Cit­ra, of course – the beer that effec­tive­ly owns this unique Amer­i­can hop vari­ety in the UK, and has done since 2009.

In his excel­lent book For the Love of Hops Stan Hierony­mus pro­vides a pot­ted his­to­ry of the devel­op­ment of Cit­ra:

[Gene] Probas­co made the cross in 1990 that result­ed in the Cit­ra seedling. At the time brew­ers didn’t talk about what would lat­er be called ‘spe­cial’ aro­ma, but “that’s where all the inter­est seems to be these days,” he said. In 1990 he cross-pol­li­nat­ed two plants, a sis­ter and broth­er that result­ed from a 1987 cross between a Haller­tau Mit­tel­früh moth­er and a male from an ear­li­er cross… [In 2001 hop chemist Pat Ting] shipped a two-pound sam­ple to Miller… Troy Rysewyk brewed a batch called Wild Ting IPA, dry hop­ping it with only Cit­ra… “It smelled lke grape­fruit, lychee, man­go,” Ting said. “But fer­ment­ed, it tast­ed like Sauvi­gnon Blanc.”

Cit­ra was very much the hot thing in UK brew­ing about six or sev­en years ago. It was a sort of won­der hop that seemed to com­bine the pow­ers of every C-hop that had come before. It was easy to appre­ci­ate – no hints or notes here, just an almost over-vivid horn blast of flavour –and, in our expe­ri­ence, easy to brew with, too.

We’re bad at brew­ing; Amar­il­lo often defeat­ed us, and Nel­son Sauvin always did; but some­how, even we made decent beers with Cit­ra.

Now, with the trend­set­ters hav­ing moved on, Cit­ra con­tin­ues to be a sort of anchor point for us. If there’s a beer on offer with Cit­ra in the name, even from a brew­ery we’ve nev­er heard of, or even from a brew­ery whose beers we don’t gen­er­al­ly like, we’ll always give it a try.

Hop Back Cit­ra, for exam­ple, is a great beer. It lacks the oomph of Oakham’s flag­ship and bears a dis­tinct fam­i­ly resem­blance to many of the Sal­is­bury brewery’s oth­er beers (“They brew one beer with fif­teen dif­fer­ent names,” a crit­ic said to us in the pub a while ago) but Cit­ra lifts it out of the sepia. It adds a pure, high note; it elec­tri­fies.

Since con­clud­ing that You Can’t Go Wrong With Cit­ra, we’ve been test­ing the the­sis. Of course we’ve had the odd dud – beers that taste like they got the sweep­ings from the Cit­ra fac­to­ry floor, or were wheeled past a sin­gle cone on the way to the ware­house – but gen­er­al­ly, it seems to be a sound rule.

We were recent­ly in the pub with our next door neigh­bour, a keen ale drinker but not a beer geek, and a Cit­ra fan. When Hop Back Cit­ra ran out before he could get anoth­er pint his face fell, until he saw that anoth­er beer with Cit­ra in the name had gone up on the board: “Oh, there you go – as long as it’s a Cit­ra, I don’t mind.”

All con­sumers want is a clue, a short­cut, a bit of help. That’s what they get from IPA, or ‘craft’. And appar­ent­ly also from the name of this one unsub­tle, good-time hop vari­ety.

Session #125: Single Malt, Single Hop

Cascade Express -- hop-themed boarding card.

Mark Lindner at By the Barrel has asked us to consider so-called SMaSH beers – that is, those made using one variety of malt and one variety of hops.

We were going to give this a miss because we couldn’t think of any such beer we’d drunk in recent years, or at least not any that made a virtue of their SMaSH sta­tus and pro­claimed it at point of sale.

(St Austell did release a series of SMaSH beers a cou­ple of years ago but unfor­tu­nate­ly, like so many of the more inter­est­ing prod­ucts of our (not for much longer) local giant they proved impos­si­ble to actu­al­ly find on sale in any of the pubs we vis­it­ed at the time.)

But then we began to won­der… How many quite com­mon­ly found beers are SMaSH beers even if they don’t declare it?

Rooster’s Yan­kee, for exam­ple – a beer we wrote about at length in Brew Bri­tan­nia and have often touched on else­where – is (as far as we can tell) made with 100 per cent Gold­en Promise malt and 100 per cent Cas­cade hops. And we believe (evi­denced cor­rec­tions wel­come) that Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, anoth­er long-time favourite of ours, is made using 100 per cent Eng­lish lager malt and 100 per cent, er, Brewer’s Gold hops.

You might say, in fact, that the pale-n-hop­py UK cask ale sub-style is often SMaSH by default. Sean Franklin, the founder of Rooster’s, has long cham­pi­oned the idea of using 100 per cent pale malt to pro­vide the clean­est pos­si­ble back­ground for hops to express them­selves, and that’s cer­tain­ly approx­i­mate­ly how most of the best exam­ples of HLA seem to be engi­neered. Per­haps there’s some wheat in there (see Jarl) or a dab of some­thing like Munich malt just to round it out a lit­tle but, gen­er­al­ly, Franklin­ian sim­plic­i­ty seems to be the pre­ferred route.

So, what oth­er exam­ples of Stealth SMaSH are out there in UK pubs?

And does any­one know, for exam­ple, if Oakham Cit­ra might be a SMaSH beer? Online home­brew forums are full of guessed recipes (guess­cipes…) but we can’t find author­i­ta­tive infor­ma­tion. Our guess is, yes, in which case, it turns out we’ve drunk tons of SMaSH beer after all.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 15 April 2017 – Metal, Myrcene, Milk Stout

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the last week, from heavy metal to heavy hops.

For Noisey, the music sec­tion of Vice, Sam­my Maine has writ­ten what she calls ‘A Love Let­ter to British Met­al Pubs’, high­light­ing the threat to this par­tic­u­lar type of pub:

Anoth­er blow is the case of Bristol’s The Stag and Hounds—a metal/rock pub focused on the pro­mo­tion of local and DIY shows—which will be clos­ing next month. Announc­ing the news on their web­site, the team explained that ‘through a series of events and cir­cum­stances (some out of our con­trol) we have looked at the books and it’s not viable for us to car­ry on to see the con­tract out.’ This kind of state­ment is becom­ing a bro­ken record when it comes to fans of met­al pubs—their pres­ence tum­bling thanks to var­i­ous issues like tax hikes, the per­sis­tent demand for lux­u­ry flats and the feel­ing that they sim­ply don’t feel huge­ly rel­e­vant or cru­cial any­more when met­al can often feel more like a genre you pass through, rather than one you com­mit to.

(This is actu­al­ly from a cou­ple of weeks ago but we only noticed it the oth­er day.)


Wild hops, Richmond, London.

Emma at Crema’s Beer Odyssey has shared a long, detailed post on the sci­ence of hops, based on research for a talk to a South Lon­don home brew­ing club. It is tech­ni­cal with­out being remote and typ­i­cal­ly forth­right, act­ing (per­haps inci­den­tal­ly) as a rebuke to us and oth­ers who have failed to get on board the drink fresh train:

There are always peo­ple who say, ‘oh but I pre­fer my IPA with some age on it’ or sim­i­lar. If you look around online it’s quite easy to find evi­dence of peo­ple drink­ing IPA or DIPA when it’s months or even years old and insist­ing it’s still great. It’s nice that they enjoy old beer but that’s not what the brew­er intend­ed. Of course, depend­ing on the size of the brew­ery, there are steps which can be tak­en to give their beer as long a shelf life as pos­si­ble (fil­ter­ing and cold chain dis­tri­b­u­tion, for exam­ple). For small­er brew­eries there is a much sim­pler option: advise your cus­tomers to drink fresh by apply­ing a short best before date to your hop-for­ward beers, e.g. three or four months.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 15 April 2017 – Met­al, Myrcene, Milk Stout”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 4 March 2017: Paddy Losty, Lone Wolf, London Pride

Here’s all the news and commentary in the world of beer that grabbed our interest in the last week, from Dublin pintmen to lone wolves.

From Stephen Bourke for the Dublin Inquir­er comes the sto­ry of ‘pint­man’ Pad­dy Losty who allowed him­self to be pho­tographed in the pub by a rov­ing author and 20 years on has gone viral:

His fans set up a ded­i­cat­ed splin­ter group, which has now spun out to a Twit­ter account con­trolled by the group’s admins… His celebri­ty is secure, at least for the 4,548 fans of Pho­to­shop jobs of Losty in the guise of char­ac­ters rang­ing from Hans Mole­man to Diony­sus.

(Via @BarMas/@teninchwheels/@higginsmark.)


People watching TV in a pub.

Pints & Pubs is under­tak­ing to vis­it every pub in Cam­bridge this year and the project is throw­ing up inter­est­ing case stud­ies such as this reflec­tion on the dom­i­nat­ing force of an always-on tele­vi­sion:

 I look around and everyone’s either star­ing at the TV or at their phones. One cou­ple fin­ish their drinks and get their coats on to leave, then stand there for 5 min­utes trans­fixed by some wing­suit wear­ing stunt­man land­ing in a pile of card­board box­es. Anoth­er cou­ple come in and go straight for the two chairs direct­ly under the tv, then sit in silence, arch­ing their necks to watch it. At one point, loud screams attract every­ones atten­tion – not the shriek from a cus­tomer lay­ing eyes on one of the pub’s ghosts, but from a woman caught in a tor­na­do in Alaba­ma.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 4 March 2017: Pad­dy Losty, Lone Wolf, Lon­don Pride”