Blackberries in beer: Mûre Tilquin

Blackberries are my absolute favourite fruit. I’m borderline obsessed with them from about May onwards, watching out for how they’re developing, whether my usual favourite spots are looking good.

I have Strong Opinions about them, too. For example, I strongly believe that urban blackberries are better than rural ones and that the best of all come from Walthamstow Marshes; should have Protected Designation of Origin status; and ought to be the subject of lengthy essays about terroir.

So when I came across Mûre Tilquin, which is a lambic with 260g blackberries per litre, at our local beer shop, Bottles & Books, I had to give it a go, even at a whopping £25 for a 75cl bottle.

It was marked 2018-19 with a science-fiction best before date of 2029.

It’s comforting to have this kind of ‘special beer’ in the stash – something that you know will be interesting, at least: IN CASE OF UNEXPECTED GLOOM, POP CORK. And, well, that moment came at the weekend.

There’s a fun bit of additional ceremony when we open this kind of beer because as well as drinking it, we need to take photos. What if it’s amazing and we didn’t? Can you imagine?

Cage off, It opened with a threatening gunshot pop and pushed back hard against the seal. Would it gush? No, the fizz was assertive but not out of control.

Bottle and glass. Foam close up.

It poured a pretty, deep rose colour, and a pungent smell of brambles on the farm was noticeable from half a metre away.

It was, as you’d expect, rather sour. There was also an absence of sweetness and the finish was extremely dry, although not quite as mouth-puckering as most beers from Cantillon.

There was a strong oakiness but I didn’t pick up any blackberry. If someone had given me this blind, I don’t think I’d have even thought of my favourite fruit in passing. In fact, I might not have thought there was any fruit in it at all.

I enjoyed it anyway, though, over the course of hours, mostly because it reminded me of drinking Tilquin gueuze in Chez Moeder Lambic in Brussels.

In one of our very earliest blog posts, we wondered why you don’t see more blackberry beers, and reviewed a few that we had found.

I’ve often returned to that thought, particularly when it comes to lambic – if raspberries, then why not blackberries?

Having now added this data point, I’m more convinced of an answer we’ve received in the past: they ferment out too fully to retain any flavour.

But if you’re a brewer, pro or at home, who has managed to make a blackberry beer that proves otherwise, I’d love to know more.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 19 May 2018: Boozers, Brussels, Benin

It’s Saturday morning and time for us to round up links to all the writing about beer and pubs we’ve found stimulating, entertaining or engaging in the past week, from Huddersfield to West Africa.

But first, it’s pub geek Christmas: Historic England has listed five notable post-war pubs, this being the first fruit of a research project by Dr Emily Cole we first got excited about back in 2015. It was lovely to see not-beer-Twitter get all excited about this story yesterday and we suspect some of these pubs will find themselves a bit busier than usual today. We’re planning a trip to The Centurion for next month.


A moose head at The Grove

At Beer Compurgation Mark Johnson reflects on his support for Huddersfield Town, his connection with his father, and how all this become entangled with his affection for one particular pub:

For many fans, football is about the matchday rituals and experience as much as it about the 3pm Saturday kick-off. For my father and I the routine became embedded – the Grove at 1pm. It stopped requiring organisation with others coming from elsewhere. The texts about attendance weren’t necessary. We were in the Grove at 1pm.

You don’t have to be interested in football to enjoy this post which is really about the precariousness of important relationships, whether they are with people or places. (Suggested song pairing: ‘In My Life’ by the Beatles.)


Adnams sign on brewery wall, Southwold.

It’s worth reading a pair of articles by veteran beer writer Roger Protz for his tracking of one particularly important question: how committed are the established family brewers to cask ale? St Austell (and its subsidiary Bath Ales) seems very much so; Adnams? Maybe not quite so much:

When I sat down with chairman Jonathan Adnams in the opulent splendour of the Swan Hotel fronting the brewery I checked I heard him correctly when he said early in our conversation: “By 2019 keg production will overtake cask.”

Surely not Adnams falling to keg? What has caused this astonishing turn round?

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 19 May 2018: Boozers, Brussels, Benin”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 31 March 2018: Moorhouse’s, Memel, Mellowness

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past seven days, from ongoing developments in the discussion around sexist beer branding to the ever-expanding BrewDog empire.

Katie Taylor has an interesting run-down on Moorhouse’s rebranding exercise. Packaging re-designs are usually among the world’s most boring topics but this case sees a longstanding problem solved as poorly rendered ‘sexy’ witches in flimsy frocks are out, replaced by more abstract, modern designs that come with an unambiguous statement of intent:

“When I joined, Moorhouse’s was a strong brand, tied into the provenance of the local area,” said Lee [Miller] when I met with him a couple of weeks ago. “But we are guilty as charged. Our branding was indefensible and really could have happened sooner. What I wanted to make sure of was that when we did this, we did it right. I wanted Moorhouse’s to set out its stall, to bring in a new brand ready for the future. We hold our hands up.”

But the stuff about the temperance influence on their new range of beers is almost as interesting.


Illustration: lambic blending.

Returning to his favourite topic Roel Mulder gives us‘Eight Myths About Lambic Debunked’, with plenty of reassuring references.

Quite a lot is made of the fact that lambic is made out of wheat, today usually 30% to 40%. In the 19th century, that was even more: a 1829 recipe specifies no less than 58% raw wheat.[15]However, at that time all-barley beers were only just starting to gain popularity in Belgium. In fact, at the start lambic was quite modern for not having any oats, spelt or buckwheat in it…. only in the 20th century did it become special for not being an all-barley beer.

A reminder, this, that snappy stories and simple explanations in beer history are usually the work of storytellers and marketing people; the truth is almost always more complicated and, frankly, less fun.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 31 March 2018: Moorhouse’s, Memel, Mellowness”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 February 2018: Labels, Lollies, Lambic,

These are all the beer- and pub-related links we’ve enjoyed most, or found most informative, in the past week, covering everything from breakfast beer to computer games.

First, from Jeff Alworth, a clever idea: using rank-my-boss website Glass Door to gain insight into the employment cultures of American craft breweries. He writes:

In my experience, people are uniformly tight-lipped about their employers, and trying to suss out which breweries treat their employees well and which don’t has always been elusive…. There are some real surprises here. Rogue has long had a reputation as a terrible place to work, thanks in part to this report. But on Glassdoor, it’s getting a quite-respectable 3.9. New Belgium, by contrast, is usually described as something like heaven to work for, and it’s getting only a 3.5.


A crowd outside the Market Porter.
SOURCE: Stacy/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Jessica Furseth has written a fascinating piece for Atlas Obscura on the handful of London pubs that are open for breakfast, arguing that they are the last reminders of a time when Londoners drank at all hours of the day:

It’s 7 a.m. at The Market Porter in South London, and I’m eyeing the choices behind the bar. “You alright there?” the barman asks. This is the first time I’ve stopped by the pub on my way to work in the morning, and I have no idea what to get. Honestly, what I want is another coffee. But eventually I settle on a cider: the “Traditional Scrumpy,” which is a feisty six percent alcohol. As the morning sun pokes through the patterned glass windows, it goes down a lot better than I expect.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 February 2018: Labels, Lollies, Lambic,”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 February 2018: Lancashire, Lager, Lambic

Here’s everything on the subject of beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from northern pubs to northern clubs via Belgium.

First up, a post from Katie at The Snap & The Hiss which offers some insight from behind the bar into what pubgoers really want to drink, and how they feel about being confronted by a world of choice:

Marketing a product to people who already love that product is about trends and loyalty and surprises. Finding new fans is a more difficult endeavour, especially if you’re so far down your own rabbit hole that you don’t know what they don’t know. A large percentage of drinkers aren’t invested in the breweries you care about/you are. Many people don’t understand what they’re buying. A lot of drinkers aren’t actually sure what the difference is between cask and keg. And yes – some drinkers, to our constant unfair derision – truly believe that cloudy beers are off. It’s time to admit it: we’re answering the wrong questions about beer.


Four brewers.

Will Hawkes, one of the few bona fide nose-poking journalists working in beer, sniffed out the story that Mahrs of Bamberg was opening a brewery in London. Now, for Imbibe, he has all the fascinating details, including the fact that the brewery is now called Braybrooke Beer Co and actually ended up in Northamptonshire:

It’s the result of a collaboration between restaurateurs Luke Wilson and Cameron Emirali, who run 10 Greek Street, distributor Nick Trower of Biercraft and Stephan Michel, the owner of Mahr’s Bräu, the craft-beer world’s favourite traditional German brewery…. The result is a kellerbier, an unfiltered and unpasteurised amber lager inspired by Mahr’s world-renowned ‘Ungespundet’ (known as ‘U’). It’ll be made with German malt and hops, fermented with Mahr’s yeast, and brewed in the traditional way, including a single decoction step and four weeks’ lagering.


Vintage SIBA sign on a pub in London.

If you’re interested in the non-sexy behind-the-scenes business of the beer industry then this post from brewer Steve Dunkley of Beer Nouveau offers an interesting take on moves by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) into distribution and wholesaling, and its deepening connections with pub companies:

SIBA have created an expensive box-ticking exercise that replicates what breweries already have to do legally. They’ve removed a route to market for non-members, are taking money from PubCos intent on dropping cask from local breweries, and are risking further reducing choice for drinkers whilst also increasing profits for PubCos at the expense of brewers and drinkers alike…. I really can’t see how they can claim to represent the interests of independent breweries, and I can’t see how CAMRA can continue to use Flying Firkin [which SIBA recently acquired] as a recommended wholesaler whilst it runs the very real and emerging risk of reducing consumer choice.


Collage: a fractured pub.

This week saw the release of statistics from the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) suggesting that though beer consumption overall is up, sales of beer in pubs and bars (the on-trade) was down by 2.4% based on the previous year, equating to some 88 million fewer pints. Tandleman has some thoughts here: “For those with jobs and ‘just about managing’, choosing to drink cheap beer at home as pub prices increase on those already wage squeezed, is rapidly becoming a no brainer.”

(We’ve said similar ourselves: the problem is that nobody has any money!)


Illustration: lambic blending.

For Beer Advocate Gail Ann Williams and Steve Shapiro offer a portrait of a new wave Belgian ‘nano-blendery’. As well as a discussion of the cultural significance of a new blendery charging what by Belgian standards are eye-watering prices for challenging products (cinnamon Framboos!) it’s also full of interesting details on the process:

Souvereyns combines three inoculated wort components for all of his beers, relying on relationships with three Lambic producers: Girardin, Lindemans (in Vlezenbeek), and De Troch (in Wambeek). In particular, he believes the De Troch influence is key to his flavor signature. “De Troch is one of those breweries that is so underrated. The Lambic [it] makes is phenomenal but people only relate that brewery to sweetened products,” he laments, referring to quickly-produced fruit beers which subsidize the old brewery’s limited Oude Gueuze production.

(We’re not quite sure when this piece appeared online but we only noticed it this week.)


We’ll finish with this archive film from the BBC on the boom in northern clubs during the 1960s. It contains lots of shots of foaming pints.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 30 September 2017: Bang Chang, Meerts, Cork Mild

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that got our brainboxes revving in the past week, with bulletins from Bhutan to Runcorn.

The Cask Marque Cask Report was published this week (PDF) written this year by Rosie Davenport. We’re still digesting it, and, like others, debating its value, but in the meantime James Beeson has written an excellent summary with additional industry comment for the Morning Advertiser:

The headline statistic from this year’s report highlights that sales of cask beer are down by 5% over the past six years, and 3.8% in the past year alone. While it is undoubtedly disappointing, and indeed worrying, to see cask suffering a sharp decline in sales, this is symptomatic of a wider decline in beer drinking across the UK, with keg beer and lager also falling by 25% and 11% respectively.


Brewing in an outdoor kitchen, Bhutan.

For Beer Advocate** Martin Thibault has visited the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan to explore its farmhouse brewing culture:

So, Bang Chang and Sin Chang, the nation’s two types of farmhouse ale, are often made from 100 percent organic raw wheat cultivated by each household. In some cases, even the yeast culture itself is coaxed from these same fields… Some of these farmers not only grow their cereal and brew from it, they also make their own yeast bagels from bits of dried bark, leaves, and powdered maize or wheat, which are cooked and solidified. Aun Namgay, a Scharchop woman from Radhi, a hamlet in the country’s sparsely populated east, explains that her newly baked cakes need to be coated in an older ‘mother’ bagel for the fresh ones to be truly effective.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 30 September 2017: Bang Chang, Meerts, Cork Mild”

Magical Mystery Pour #1: Spontanbasil

Magical Mystery Pour logo.Throughout this year we’re going to make an effort to drink some more unusual beers alongside our usual diet of standards from St Austell, Penzance Brewing Co, Anchor, Westmalle, and so on.

Dina, AKA @msswiggy, always seems to be having great fun exploring the weird outer reaches of the world of beer, like this:

So she was the first person we approached to give us a drinking list, stipulating that:

  • It should contain five or six beers.
  • All of which should be available from the same supplier.
  • At a cost of around £40 maximum for the lot.

First up, she recommended Spontanbasil, a collaboration between Lindemans (Belgium) and Mikkeller (Denmark), a lambic beer made with fresh basil leaves. It cost (brace yourselves) £13.50 for a 750ml bottle and its ABV is 6%.

Continue reading “Magical Mystery Pour #1: Spontanbasil”

Pre-emptive stash raid

Because we want to be in gear when Stash Day is formally announced, we’ve started picking off some of the bottles we’ve acquired but deemed too special to actually drink.

First up, Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise 2006, which we bought at the brewery early last year.

The Lou Pepe beers are a sub-range which, as Cantillon put it:

…deviate from [the usual Cantillon] principles. The Gueuze Lou Pepe is made with two years old lambic beers with a mellow taste, often coming from barrels in which only wine has been kept before. In July, the same kind of beer is used to make the Lou Pepe Kriek and Framboise. With these beers too, the fruits are soaked in barrels coming directly from Bordeaux… The second fermentation of these particular beers is not caused by the addition of young lambic but of a sweet liquor… The Kriek and the Rosé de Gambrinus contain 200 g of fruits per liter on an average, while the Lou Pepe beers contain about 300 g.

It fizzes violently at first, creating a huge mousse-like head which disappears almost immediately, leaving in the glass something that looks like red wine. It smells of… Now, the euphemisms are usually barnyard or animal related, but let’s be frank here: it smells a bit like poo. Once we’d got over that, however, we found a fairly gentle tasting, sweetish beer.

We enjoyed it but, frankly, not as much as the super-sour, popping candy of a beer that is the standard Cantillon Kriek.

Champagne moments

vignerone

So England regain the Ashes, convincingly in the end although I’m sure I wasn’t the only one getting nervous.

When Ponting and then Clarke were run out in short succession, I started hunting around for something bubbly to chill.  We eventually settled on Vigneronne, which is a lambic with added grapes, brewed by Cantillon.

It certainly had the right champers-like consistency and lots of bubbles.  It’s not as overwhelmingly sour as some of the other Cantillon offerings, with a slight sweetness towards the end.  If we didn’t know it had grapes in, we probably wouldn’t have guessed, but all in all it made a nice refreshing drink for the garden.  Iris is still our favourite though.

Boak

Have we brewed a lambic?

Our extensive lambic beer maturing cellar. Or, rather, the one at Cantillon in Brussells.
Our extensive lambic beer maturing cellar. Or, rather, the one at Cantillon in Brussells.

Further disaster on the homebrewing front. Our first ale of the autumn, brewed the weeks ago, is infected in some way.

This is a weird one though, as it tastes and smells really different to the last infected batch. It smells like a malty lambic, or maybe like scrumpy cider. It tastes quite interesting – as well as the sour notes, which dominate the initial taste, there’s a bit of butterscotch, blackcurrant and apple. The malt flavour is still there and in the finish, it’s definitely more beer than vinegar. And there are hints of a slightly medicinal, phenolic flavour that could indicate the presence of Brettonomyces, as far as we can tell from a bit of reading around the subject.

In a weird way, it’s actually rather nice. It’s obviously not what we intended to brew, but I’m quite tempted to bottle it, leave it for a few months and see what we end up with.

Perhaps we have a unique wild yeast strain in the marshes around East London which will one day bring beer geeks on pilgrimage from around the world, and make our fortune… or am I being hopelessly optimistic, and we should just use it to make chutney in lieu of cider vinegar?

Boak

We actually used two yeasts for this, neither of which seemed to be working at the time, which might explain how something else snuck in. We wanted to use Fullers’ yeast, so we tried to harvest some from a couple of bottles of 1845. As a back up, we also got liquid Wyeast 1028 going. Neither of these showed any signs of life on brew day, so we pitched them both and hoped for the best. Of course, doing all of this would have greatly increased the chance of infection.