News pubs

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.


Video: All About Kölsch

A short 2010 documentary about Cologne’s favourite beer, by Deutsche Welle. Take away kegs!


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.

Beer styles london

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.