News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 March 2018: Glitter, Ilford, AK

Here’s everything we’ve read about beer and pubs in the last week that excited us enough to hit the bookmark button, from glitter beer to Kölsch.

And what a week it’s been – a pos­i­tive flood of inter­est­ing writ­ing, lots of it on the hefty side. We’ll nev­er work out the rhythms. It’s just odd that some weeks we post five links and think, well, that’s it, we’re done, and then on oth­er occa­sions… Well, brace your­self.

Madeleine McCarthy (L) and Lee Hedgmon holding glasses of glitter beer.

First, a sto­ry we did­n’t expect to care about but which did some­thing inter­est­ing: it actu­al­ly changed our minds. Glit­ter beer is the lat­est Oh, Sil­ly Craft Beer! trend, easy to dis­miss out of hand, but Jeff Alworth made the effort to go and try some and was won over:

What you can’t appre­ci­ate from still pho­tos is that glit­ter expos­es how dynam­ic a beer is. The tiny flecks ride the cur­rents in bands and whorls, fol­low­ing the con­vec­tion of released car­bon diox­ide or the motion of the drinker’s hand. As you look down into the glass, you see it roil and churn. It’s riv­et­ing. Beyond that, imag­ine drink­ing a green, shim­mer­ing Bel­gian tripel and try­ing to make it track to the taste of, say, West­malle. It’s an object les­son in how much appear­ance fac­tors into our men­tal for­mu­la­tion of “fla­vor.” The slight breadi­ness and vivid effer­ves­cence have fused in my mind with the qual­i­ties that define a tripel; look­ing at Lee’s beer, I was forced to go back to the basics of what my palate could tell me.

We’re not say­ing we now des­per­ate­ly want to drink a glass of spark­ly pale ale but if we see one on sale, we’ll def­i­nite­ly try it, which is not what we’d have said last Sat­ur­day. Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 24 March 2018: Glit­ter, Ilford, AK

Kölsch as a Test of Mettle

Thornbridge beer bottle caps.

Kölsch, the native beer style of the city of Cologne, is subtle at best, and bland at its worst.

One of our ear­li­est self-imposed chal­lenges back in 2007 was try­ing to per­ceive any dif­fer­ence between Kölsch and oth­er pale Ger­man ‘lagers’, and to iden­ti­fy any dif­fer­ences between the var­i­ous brands. (Excuse our naive ref­er­ences to ‘ale’…)

We were inter­est­ed to hear, there­fore, that Lon­don brew­ery Mean­time uses Cologne as a prov­ing ground for their beer-som­me­liers-in-train­ing. This is an excel­lent idea, and makes per­fect sense for a brew­ery which spe­cialis­es in rather taste­ful Ger­man-style beers.

Until recent­ly, we would have said that there was no point in drink­ing Kölsch any­where but on its home turf. On the way to the UK in kegs or bot­tles, it gen­er­al­ly seems to lose what­ev­er slight mag­ic makes it worth drink­ing, espe­cial­ly when dumped into a pint glass.

Thorn­bridge Tzara has changed our minds. Hav­ing enjoyed it by the pint at the Craft Beer Com­pa­ny in Brix­ton on a hot sum­mer evening last year, we did­n’t hes­i­tate to order a case dur­ing the Der­byshire brew­ery’s recent free ship­ping spree (12 bot­tles for £23.80). We dug out a cou­ple of dain­ty 200ml glass­es and have demol­ished most of that case in the last fort­night.

If we’d been mugged by Tzara, our descrip­tion would­n’t help the police at all: it has no espe­cial­ly dis­tin­guish­ing fea­tures that would, on paper, set it apart from most oth­er decent, bal­anced lager beers. It is a pale yel­low, hint­ing at green, and has a fluffy white head. There are some bub­bles. If we try real­ly hard, we can per­haps detect some fresh herb (mint?) and soft-fruit (straw­ber­ry) aro­ma, and also maybe a reminder of crisp piz­za dough.

What it is is com­plete­ly, per­fect­ly, gleam­ing clean; and as fresh-tast­ing as if it had just been hoist­ed up in a bar­rel from the cel­lar of a wood-pan­elled beer hall in the shad­ow of the Köl­ner Dom. All the ‘hints’ and ‘notes’ in the world can’t beat that.

Kölsch, then, is a test for the palate, a chal­lenge for the tech­ni­cal­ly mind­ed brew­er, and yet, at the same time, a rather uncom­pli­cat­ed beer that can be enjoyed for £2 a bot­tle. What’s not to like?

Gallery: Kölsch Beer Mats

Details from some beer mats we’ve picked up on var­i­ous vis­its to Cologne.

Memorable Beers #13 – …and Back to Lager

Not longer after we’d decid­ed to ditch Fos­ter’s in favour of real ale, we had our minds blown for a sec­ond time when we redis­cov­ered lager at a friend’s birth­day par­ty at the Green­wich Union, the brew­ery tap for Mean­time.

We were sur­prised to realise that, with­in that catch-all cat­e­go­ry, there were sub-types and vari­a­tions we’d nev­er dreamed of: at that time, the Union was sell­ing Kölsch, ‘Gold­en’ and Pils. All three looked sim­i­lar, but tast­ed dif­fer­ent. Not want­i­ng to look too geeky, we whis­pered to each oth­er – “This one’s more… it’s got more… it tastes…” – but did­n’t real­ly have the vocab­u­lary to express what we were expe­ri­enc­ing.

We liked Gold­en Lager the best and we came back lat­er that month to drink it again. They no longer make it but, even now, when we taste a cer­tain kind of “dou­ble malt” Euro­pean beer, like Estrel­la Voll Damm, GL is the ref­er­ence point we return to.

The impor­tant les­son for us, we sup­pose, was that Real Ale Good/Lager Bad is a stu­pid over-sim­pli­fi­ca­tion.