We’ve been to Munich several times, but rarely for more than a couple of days, and not often together.
This time we went with the specific intention of really being in Munich — not jumping on trains to other nearby towns, or racing from one beer destination to another in pursuit of ticks and trophies.
We began by finding accommodation in the suburbs, partly to save money, but also because the best times we’ve had on recent trips abroad have been beyond the immediate centres of cities.
The neighbourhood we ended up in was one where people live, walk their dogs, drowse on benches, smoke behind school bike sheds, and use ten-foot plastic pluckers to pick plums. The houses were post-war but conservative (Bavaria is not a hotbed of modernism) with concrete lions on their gateposts and plastic elves in their flowerbeds.
Every corner had a political poster or two: BAVARIAN PARTY — CHOOSE FREEDOM! ÖDP — YOUNG, AND FIERCELY ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS! The only AFD posters we saw in our part of town had been either torn down or vandalised, the candidates given square black moustaches with swipes of marker pens.
We drank our first beer in Munich at a pub-restaurant above the tube station, on the main road into town, as rain hammered the parasols in the empty beer garden.
Ayinger Helles isn’t from Munich, it’s from Aying, and after a twelve-hour train trip, tasted great.
The pub was somehow both a bit too posh (tablecloths and ornaments) and nothing special — limp salad, service on the SCREW YOU! end of brusque — but the beer was served with all due ceremony. The glass, a simple Willibecher, was so clean it sang at the touch of a finger, and had plenty of room for a crown of foam.
Look at the room through the beer and everything seems clearer than without. It certainly looks warmer.
A touch sweet, a touch of corn, almost watery, and yet… Yes, another, please.
After all, as everyone knows, several thin coats rather than one thick leads to a more even, consistent finish.
More lager, daintier glassware, beer at the dinner table… These were some of the predictions made by brewing scientist Herbert Lloyd Hind in a talk given to a meeting of Scottish brewers on Burns Day 1924.
As everyone knows, making predictions is a mug’s game, but Mr Hind, as you’ll see, did pretty well.
1. Beer must get prettier
“The days are past when meals could be eaten from wooden bowls, and the days of the old pint pot are numbered. There was nothing like the pewter pot when it was necessary to hide the drink from the eye to make its consumption possible. Developing taste demands that food be served with greater delicacy, and that beer be offered in shining glass which sets off its attractive sparkle and condition to the utmost, and under conditions in which it has nothing to suffer when compared to champagne, or dark red wine.”
This might seem like a pre-echo of the so-called ‘winification of beer’ — more an aspiration than a reflection of reality — but think about how beer has been presented in the last century: glass became the norm, and even quite ordinary commodity beers have their own branded glassware and prescribed pouring methods.
Hind goes on to argue that British beer suffers in beauty contests because it lacks the substantial, stable foam of the Continental rivals. Which brings us to…
2. More lager, and a drift away from ale
In this country beer drinkers have become so wedded to the flavour of top fermentation beer that they prefer it, and in many cases express dislike for lager. The great majority, however, of those who decry lager have never tasted it as it should be, and generally say they do not like such thin stuff, ignoring the fact that such a description does not apply to good lager any more than it does to good English beer.
Hind was cautious on lager but essentially called it: tastes can change, he argued — British drinkers had already ditched “that acid beer that used to have a great sale in several districts” — and Denmark was an example of a country similar in climate to Britain where lager had ousted top-fermented beer.
In fact, he pointed out, Britain was the oddity in having not embraced lager, and that perhaps the decrease in beer consumption in Britain could be put down to the fact that brewers weren’t giving people beer they wanted to drink:
[Those] countries showing an increase [in beer consumption] were all lager-drinking countries, or countries where lager was gradually ousting top fermentation beers. If there is anything in this argument it must follow that lager is better than ale
He certainly got this right, anyway: Britain did eventually embrace lager, and in a big way. Only now in the 21st century is there any evidence of re-balancing.
3. Cleaner, more stable beer
Typical characteristics of British beers are their hop aroma and the flavours produced by secondary fermentation. Chilling, filtration and pasteurisation tend to remove these very much-desired flavours, so that chilled and filtered beer generally suffers in comparison with naturally conditioned beer.
This is particularly astute and sets up a debate that would dominate the following century: how do we retain the essential character of British beer while also taming it for ease of production, distribution and dispense?
Hind goes on to argue that the British beer ought to be fermented with pure yeast strains — that it was time to do away with the superstition and sentiment around English brewing yeast:
[The] sweeping condemnation some times passed on any suggestion to adapt pure yeast to English conditions is not justified. The only trials I know of were made many years ago and in connection with beers whose distinctive palate depended on a secondary fermentation. This distinctive Burton flavour I have seen produced in beers as different from normal Burton beers as bottom-fermented stout by an inoculation in the bottle of pure cultures of Bretannomyces, as its discoverer, Clausen, called the particular Torula employed. Conditions are now entirely altered. Secondary fermentation in far the greater number of breweries is a thing of the past, and the desideratum now is to prevent the development of secondary yeast. Under conditions such as these, surely it is time to reopen the investigation and endeavour to put fermentation on a sounder and more certain basis.
4. Traditional English methods don’t work for session ales
I think it will be admitted on all hands that the typical English naturally matured pale ales left very little to be desired. They had a delightful appetising flavour, and poured from the bottle with beautiful appearance and condition. The cask beers of similar type were also excellent, but lower gravities have been forced upon us, and the tendency towards a lighter kind of beer seems so definite that it is hardly likely that there will be any return to the old style. Endeavours to brew these lighter beers on the old lines are not altogether a success, as is evidenced by the amount of beer on the market lacking in brilliance or condition.
This is some controversial stuff, or at least seems that way from this side of the real ale revolution of the 1970s.
It’s become a point of faith that British brewing methods are particularly well suited to producing low ABV beers, adding complexity to make up for the lack of oomph.
The answer to this contradiction — the desire for beers to be both lighter and cleaner — is, Hind argues, to adopt lager brewing methods even for beers that aren’t presented as lager.
Which is exactly what, for example, Thornbridge does, using lager yeast for its packaged products and traditional ale yeast for casks. (At least this is what we think Rob Lovatt, Thornbridge head brewer, told us in a pub about four years ago.)
Even though our methods of manufacture were ideal, there is no possibility of the invariable appearance of the beer in the customer’s glass in condition that will satisfy a connoisseur, or even a man with ordinary standards of taste and perception. The methods of retail are hopelessly out of date. Though the brewers do all that is humanly possible, there are all too many chances of the beer being ruined in the publican’s cellar or at the bar… While bars are fitted with the usual types of pumps, and unlimited air is allowed to pass into casks, flattening and destroying the flavour of the beer, how can it be expected that beer will serve well to the end of the cask ? The possibilities which are offered in this direction by compressed CO2 collected in the brewery have hardly been explored at all in this country…
He really nailed this one.
Almost a hundred years later the same conversation is still going, keg bitter having arrived then retreated, while gas remains the key flashpoint in Britain’s beer culture wars.
It’s all about quality, everyone agrees, and cask ale at point of service doesn’t always make a good showing for itself. “Look after it better!” say the purists; “Reduce the opportunity for user error!” answer the pragmatists.
Meanwhile, most people carry on drinking lager, oblivious and uninterested.
* * *
Hind’s predictions are interesting because they’re not outlandish — robot bartenders! Powdered beer! — but careful, based on observation, and on a knowledge of things already afoot in the beer industry in the UK, and especially abroad.
It would be interesting to read similar papers from brewers active in 2018.
“Lager in general is underappreciated by ‘beer enthusiasts’.”
That’s something the Pub Curmudgeon (@oldmudgie) said on Twitter the other night. We probably wouldn’t have taken particular note had it not arrived in the midst of what has felt like a positive bombardment of love for lager in the feed.
For example, the Pub Curmudgeon’s Tweet landed right alongside a series of distinctly lagery Tweets from Mark Dredge who is currently in Germany (researching a book about lager, we assume).
Augustiner Keller is the busiest beer garden I've drunk in. The sound of conversations, clinking cutlery and clunking mugs of lager is all around and it's wonderful! There's about 5,000 seats here and most are taken. pic.twitter.com/XrlBuBsOz8
But the thing is, they do get the check-ins: Carling has been rated 30,000 times on Untappd, compared to 60,000 for Beavertown Gamma Ray, to pick a popular craft pale ale as a point of reference. Beer geeks (and we reckon anyone who bothers logging every beer they drink counts as a beer geek) are drinking Foster’s, Stella, Carling and Kronenbourg 1664 fairly frequently.
We reckon there’s one of yer false dichotomies here.
The same people who enjoy imperial stouts and IPAs, and love limited edition novelties and specialities, also drink normal beer with their normal mates in normal pubs.
There aren’t many people living a 100 per cent Craft Beer Lifestyle, as far as we can tell. (Even if there are, there are plenty of lagers about in that world these days, from BrewDog to Cloudwater.)
It feels to us that as long as we’ve been into beer, we’ve seen beer people talking fondly about lager. Michael Jackson wrote about lager with as much passion as any other beer style; Graham Lees, co-founder of CAMRA, became a lager specialist; and Alastair Hook built what were arguably Britain’s first Definition 2 craft breweries largely on lager.
In fact, the only person we can think of who still baldly states that he doesn’t like lager in general is Ed Wray — hardly a figurehead for the trendy end of the craft beer movement. (No offence meant, Ed. Or would the opposite be ruder?)
Perhaps the impression that beer geeks don’t appreciate lager is partly a result of the way beer geeks who do tend to talk about it:
“Unlike all those other IPA-obsessed beer geeks I, an open-minded world traveller with a sophisticated palate, am able to truly appreciate the subtlety of lager.”
“You might think Budweiser is bad but actually it’s good, ahh, not like you thought, aah…” (The Ironic Review.)
“Am I the only one here who appreciates a good pilsner?” (No. See above.)
Not that there’s anything wrong with not liking lager.
There’s nothing wrong with not liking it, and there’s nothing wrong with liking it.
Here’s everything around beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Belgium to Oregon via Moscow. (And with special thanks this week to our Patreon subscribers for suggestions.)
Some news: there is a shortage of CO2 (carbon dioxide) which is affecting not only the food industry but also pubs which rely on it to add sparkle to certain beers and soft drinks. It’s been brought about by a combination of factors, not least of which is the World Cup which causes a Europe-wide surge in demand for lager, especially in Moscow. But…
The [British Beer and Pub Association] has issued some guidance to its members reminding them that CO2 used in drinks, including for dispensing beer at the pumps, must be food grade gas…. “We’d be concerned this is not the time to go looking for a white van man who says they can supply you with CO2,” [Brigid Simmons] said.
The acid test is when the traditional ale oases that dominate Britain’s rural areas and smaller towns give way to this proper matured beer style – hopefully reflected in pubs where corporate Lager still holds a 70% hold…. Last year in that local catchment, I found evidence of just four breweries (not including a giant – Wells & Young’s). This year, the tally has shot up to thirteen. These counties are by no means brewing epicentres, so this augmentation could be applied nationally – probably with a margin in its favour.
One of our locals, The Wellington, is a Bath Ales (St Austell) house and sells both St Austell Korev and Bath Ales new Sulis lager, so we popped into compare the two.
After a shaky start we’ve come to really like Korev which is both straightforward (i.e. not a twist on or reinvention of) and characterful. We hoped that Sulis would be similarly accomplished, with its own identity, but feared that it would simply be Korev under a different name.
We’re happy to report that not only is Sulis distinctly different to Korev but also rather a delight in its own right.
It’s paler than Korev, almost Champagne-like, and less dry. It has a distinct floral, herbal, mint-leaf character that Korev lacks, laid over a backdrop of white grape and peach. If Korev nods to Munich, this reminded us of Würzburg, where the beer and the fruity local wines share a family resemblance.
We suspect there’ll be a few more pints of this for us over the summer to come.
More generally, we continue to be pleased at the resurrection of Bath Ales, whose beers have shot up in our estimation in the past six months.