As a student in Newcastle when times were hard (which they often were) I would head to The Carriage alone and stare into a pint until I felt that I could face the world again. I can’t say I always felt better after sitting in the pub alone for hours,but it made me feel like I was able to go home and talk to my friends. After all alcohol is a depressant but it also loosens the lips and it meant that I felt able toconfide in mylong-sufferingflat mate who regularly dragged me out ofmy pit of despair.
Jessica Mason AKA the Drinks Maven has joined the wave of discussion around cask ale that always follows publication of the Cask Report with observations on opportunities missed during the craft beer hype of the past half-decade:
This might have been the pivotal point where cask appreciators repositioned ale. Effectively, reminding how it is naturally flavoursome, freshly created and diverse in its myriad of varieties. All of this would have been compelling; as would flagging up the trend for probiotics and natural ingredients… But the vernacular surrounding cask ale lacked something else: sheer excitement.
Here’s another find from the collection of Guinness-related material we’re currently sorting through: a 1981 dictionary of beer tasting descriptors by American brewing scientist Joseph Owades.
This is fascinating to us because while researching Brew Britannia we spent ages trying to find examples of the kind of tasting notes we now take for granted — horseblanket, pine, all that jazz — and found nothing substantial from before the mid to late 1980s.
This document, however, lists almost 80 different taste descriptors with brief notes on their meaning. Here are a few sample entries:
cellary — usually an odor, but sometimes also a taste, produced by micro-organisms which live mainly in wood, and found in beers which have been kept in such wooden tanks or barrels. Also found in beers which have not been in contact with wood, but with such micro-organisms; also musty or woody.
flowery — an odor which resembles a mixed bouquet of flowers, usually sweet and pleasant; most probably derived from hops.
skunky — an odor, resembling closely that emitted by a skunk, produced only when beer in a clear bottle is exposed to visible light. The use of brown glass protects from this effect.
It looks as if this particular copy, typed and photocopied on eight sides of A4, was a handout at some kind of conference held at the Harvard Club in New York City in November 1981 and sponsored by Anchor Brewing of San Francisco, and All About Beer magazine.
Owades is an interesting figure, best known as the inventor of light lager, and of contract brewing as we know it today. The dictionary was published under the flag of his beer consultancy firm, The Center for Brewing Studies.
Though the document is obscure (scarcely a passing mention exists online) we can’t help but suspect that some key players — writers and brewers on both sides of the Atlantic — acquired copies, and were inspired by the language employed.
For Original GravityEmma Inch has written about the feeling of being on edge in pubs, even if nothing concrete happens, because of a sense that people are just a little too aware of “what makes you different”:
Throughout my drinking life I’ve been asked to leave a pub on the grounds that it’s a ‘family friendly venue’; I’ve witnessed a friend being ejected for giving his male partner a dry peck on the cheek; I’ve had a fellow customer shout homophobic abuse in my ear whilst the bartender calmly continued to ask me to pay for my pint… Once, I had to shield my face from flying glass as the pub windows were kicked in by bigots outside, and I still remember the sharp, breathless fear in the days following the Admiral Duncan pub bombing, not knowing if it was all over, or who and where would be targeted next.
Apart from making us thirsty all this got us thinking about the tendency to compare beer to Champagne and how far back it goes.
Without too much digging we found this in an edition of the Dublin Evening Post from 1783:
Bearing in mind that Champagne as we know it was still in the process of being invented in the 18th century, and that its tendency to sparkle was still considered a fault by many, this rates as pretty quick off the marks.
The most famous reference to beer resembling Champagne is one most of us came to via Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson who said that Napoleon’s troops called Berliner Weisse “the Champagne of the North”. As he wasn’t much of a footnoter we haven’t been able to identify his source but this German book from 1822 says (our translation, tidied up from Google’s automatic effort, so approach with caution):
Berlin’s ‘Weissbier’ is a very popular drink in Berlin, which, when it is of good quality, is distinguished by a yellowish color, a wine-like body, a slightly acidic taste, and a strong sparkle, so that the French military gave it a name: Champagne du Nord.
Really, though, it’s just an irresistible comparison, isn’t it?
Often the similarity is merely superficial — most lagers would look like Champagne at first glance if you poured it into flutes — but sometimes there is a real similarity of flavour and mouthfeel. Mostly, though, it’s just irreverent fun to suggest that the Toffs are wasting all that money and effort acquiring Champagne when if only they weren’t such snobs they could have something just as good for a fraction of the price.
Amongst all the chat about the Campaign for Real Ale’s AGM at the weekend we noticed a few old questions resurfacing: why, exactly, does CAMRA campaign for Real Ale and not Cask Ale? And, of course, “Why is everyone using that bloody awful, meaningless word ‘craft’?”
With that in mind, this isn’t an attempt to justify or promote any one term over another but rather a chronological list of terms and that we’ve noticed in circulation, how they have been and continue to be used, and (to the best of our reckoning) where they came from.
If there is a point we’re trying to make it’s probably that most of these terms are newer than they seem, and that their meanings are less fixed in law or tradition than you might assume.
If there are terms you think ought to be added, let us know in the comments below.
And if you want more detailed accounts of some of this click the links throughout which will take you to old posts of ours, and get hold of a copy of our 2014 book Brew Britannia which covers the birth of CAMRA and rise of craft beer in some detail.
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Beer from the Wood, 1880s. A near-synonym for cask ale, probably derived from ‘Wines from the Wood’ (1850s) which distinguished wine dispensed on tap from bulk wooden casks from the bottled product. The Society for the Preservation of Beer From the Wood (SPBW) was founded in 1963 and were probably drawn to the phrase because of it’s stout yeoman of the bar archaic quality. It was used freely in the 1960s, e.g. in Batsford guides, often but not always referring to what we now call cask ale, even though by this time most casks were not actually made of wood. These days, it refers specifically to cask-conditioned beer served from wooden casks — a growing trend.
Keg Beer, 1955. Keg beer as we know it — stored and served from pressurised containers — was pioneered by Watney’s in the 1930s but this particular phrase was first used by Flowers in the mid-1950s. The terminology was muddled for most of the decade that followed with kegs sometimes called casks and so on. Which leads us to…
Cask Beer, 1968. The British Government’s inquiry into monopolies in the beer industry at the end of the 1960s required the firming up of some previously vague terminology. “We use the description ‘draught’ beer to include any beer which is supplied to the retailer in bulk containers and drawn to order in the pub for each customer”, the final report said. “Although the word ‘draught’ is sometimes used to distinguish traditional draught from keg beer, for the purposes of this report we call the former ‘cask’ beer.”
Bière Artisanale, French, c.1970. We’re a bit shaky on this one because it’s harder to access sources, and we understand them less well even when we can dig them up, but there are definitely instances of this exact phrase in print from around 1970 onward. (And see Craft-brewing, below.) Artisanale and direct translations in other languages are used widely on the Continent in a way that roughly corresponds to the late 20th century sense of craft beer in English, i.e. distinctive, special, interesting, and probably from smaller independent producers. The union of Belgian Lambic producers, HORAL, for example, founded in 1997, is De Hoge Raad voor Ambachtelijke Lambiekbieren, and translates its name in English as the High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beers.
Real Ale, 1973. In 1971, the founders of the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale (CAMRA) chose the word ‘ale’ rather than beer because it seemed more down-to-earth than ‘beer’. Then at the 1973 CAMRA annual general a decision was made to change the organisation’s name so it would be easier to say (especially after a few drinks) and activist Peter Lynlie suggested the Campaign for Real Ale, to permit the retention of the existing acronym. And so Real Ale, almost by accident, became a synonym for Cask Beer.
Craft-brewing, 1977. Used by British writer Michael Jackson in his World Guide to Beer to refer to rare examples of non-industrial “speciality brews” in France, along with craft-brewers in the section on the American brewing industry during prohibition. It was probably a direct translation of bière artisanale.
Micro-brewery, 1982. A phrase that first began to appear in print with reference to American breweries at around the time of the first Great American Beer Festival, and which saw off ‘mini-brewery’ and ‘boutique brewery’ (see Boutique Beer, below) as competitors. In Britain these were generally called ‘small’ or ‘free trade’ breweries until the 1990s. An ambiguous term, Micro-brewery was also often applied to what we might now distinguish as Brewpubs.
Brewpub, 1982. At the 1982 conference of the American Homebrewers’ Association David Bruce, of Firkin fame, gave a talk entitled ‘The English Brewpub and the Resurgence of the Small, Local Brewery in England and America’. In Britain pubs that made their own beer on the premises were known as ‘home-brew houses’, or ‘home-brew pubs’, which morphed into Brewpub, we would guess, to avoid confusion with home-brewing of the amateur variety.
Bottle-conditioned Beer, 1984. In 1980, CAMRA was describing bottled Guinness as naturally conditioned. By 1983 it was conditioned in the bottle. Then in the 1984 Good Beer Guide it was finally described using the phrase we know today.
Craft Beer, 1986. There are almost certainly earlier uses of this exact phrase but 1986 is when it started to appear in print in US publications such as this newspaper article and Vince Cottone’s Good Beer Guide: Brewers and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest. The earliest instance in a British publication we’ve been able to find is from CAMRA’s What’s Brewing for August 1993, in an article by an American writer, but Roger Protz and other soon took it up. Initially used as a deliberately vague catch-all to distinguish supposedly interesting/distinctive/independent beers (including, but not exclusively referring to, Real Ale) from loathed bland/industrial/macro products.
Boutique Beer, 1988. Used by Michael Jackson in the 1988 edition of his World Guide to Beer and occasionally up until the present day. In Jackson’s usage exactly synonymous with Craft Beer, above. Earlier in the decade a variant, ‘Boutique Brewery’, had occasionally been used as an alternative to Micro-brewery.
Designer Beer, 1991. Overlapping with Craft Beer but with more focus on style and branding than the beer itself. Sapporo, in its weird pint-glass-shaped can, was considered designer, but doesn’t seem to have qualified as craft.
Micropub, 2005. The first Micropub was launched in Herne, Kent, by Martyn Hillier and as far as we have been able to ascertain was described that way from the very start. The term was Hillier’s own invention inspired by the idea that it was the pub equivalent of the Micro-brewery. By his own admission he has spent a lot of time since explaining that, no, it isn’t a Brewpub or Micro-brewery.
Nano-brewery, c.2005. As some of the first wave of Micro-breweries got big a word was needed to describe tiny commercial setups operating on a home-brew scale. We can’t trace the exact roots of the phrase but here’s a 2006 post on Beer Advocate which seems to suggest it was in general circulation among the cognoscenti by this point.
KeyKeg, 2006. This is a trademark for a specific line of products produced by Lightweight Containers, a Dutch company, and launched at a brewing trade fair in November 2006. Whereas traditional Keg Beer is exposed to propellant gas KeyKeg beer sits in a bag inside a pressurised ball and does not come into contact with the propellant. Depending on how the beer derives its carbonation, it may or may not qualify as Real Ale under the standards of CAMRA’s Technical Committee. (KeyCask is also a trademark of Lightweight Containers, applied to essentially the same products.)
Craft Keg, 2010. This is a hard one to pin down but this 2012 article by Adrian Tierney-Jones for All About Beer places a marker point for the term having truly arrived. Before this, from around 2010, most people were carefully referring to “craft keg beer” — that is, Keg Beer, that was also Craft Beer, but looking at old Tweets you’ll see people like Dave ‘Hardknott’ Bailey using it quite freely. There wasn’t really an urgent need for a way to distinguish good keg from bad (yes, we know — just a shortcut) until the 1990s because until then all keg was bad; and that need didn’t become urgent until after BrewDog began to make waves.
UPDATED 26/04/2018: Added entries for Micro-brewery, Brewpub, Nano-brewery, Micropub and KeyKeg, and amended other entries to fit as required.
Eavesdropping on Twitter again we spotted the above question which got us thinking. Here’s what we came up with.
1. It is, er, local. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the very closest to your house but it should certainly be in the same parish, and frequented by your neighbours.
2. It might not be the best pub on paper, or have the best beer, but it will be decent. You might not recommend it to other beer geeks, at least not without lots of footnotes, but you are fond of it. Getting to that stage might even have taken a bit of effort on your part, as it did for us with the Farmer’s Arms in Penzance.
3. It is convenient. If you can suggest to your co-habitee(s) ‘Quick one at the Queen’s?’ and they reply ‘Yeah, why not’, then it’s a local. No pre-planning required, no calendar checking, and you can probably leave the shepherd’s pie going in the oven while you nip round before dinner. (Oh, there you go — it has ‘nippability’.)
You might live somewhere and never identify a local. If all the pubs in the area are truly rotten, or you’re very fussy, and however hard you try you never develop a soft spot, then that’s unfortunate but probably not unusual. You’ll no doubt find a pub you like somewhere else in town but it won’t be your local even if you become a regular (those two words seem paired somehow). But what you should call it, we can’t say.
We find ourselves using ‘Belgian’ as a shortcut flavour descriptor sometimes and have been thinking about what this means, for various reasons.
First, because we just finished writing an article about Liverpool’s Passageway Brewery. If you’ve read Brew Britannia you’ll have the gist of the story: it emerged in the mid-1990s, run in their spare time by two friends who worked together, and knocked people’s socks off by fermenting British-style cask ales with a then highly exotic Belgian yeast strain.
Secondly, because we’ve also been writing an article about British beer geeks obsessed with Belgian beer, which means we’ve been hanging out with a few of the same. One gently admonished us on this point, suggesting that ‘Belgian’ as used to describe flavour by non-Belgians usually just means ‘spicy yeast’, when of course Belgian beers might be tart, sherry-like, fruity (from actual fruit), literally spicy (as opposed to yeast spicy), hoppy (in various offbeat ways), and so on.
And, finally, there have just been some beers that got us excited — beers that aren’t Belgian, or even fundamentally Belgian in style, but which use Belgian-derived yeast to add a twist. Stone Cali-Belgique, which we found confusing and underwhelming when we paid a fortune for it at The Rake in London years ago, is fast becoming a go-to in its canned Berlin-brewed bargain-price incarnation. Elusive Brewing’s Plan-B — a 3.7% pale ale brewed with UK malt, New World hops and Belgian yeast, was a contender for our Golden Pints bottled beer of 2016. And that Lervig/Magic Rock Farmhouse IPA from a few years back still haunts our palates. In general these days, we’ll pick up any kind of pale ale or IPA made this way — it just floats our boat.
So, yes, when we say something tastes ‘Belgian’, we do mostly mean that it has that faintly funky, abandoned-fruit-bowl, distantly gingery quality. The same character that, in our home-brewing, we’ve managed to get from various supposedly highly divergent Belgian-style yeasts, from dried stuff intended for producing Witbier, to saison and Trappist strains cloned from famous breweries and dispatched in vials.
But maybe sometimes we’re referring to something even broader — a very vague sense of faintly rustic, barely tamed oddness.
If this was flipped and a bunch of Belgian beer geeks were telling us about a beer produced in, say, Ghent that tasted ‘really British’, we think we’d know what they were trying to get across. And noting that a beer tastes ‘quite German’ certainly conveys something, too.
Shortcuts, like ‘proper pub’ or ‘malty’, are fine when used with caution, and don’t always need pinning down at every corner, especially if it stalls the conversation.
This month’s Session hosted by Joe Tindall at The Fatal Glass of Beer is wonderfully opened ended: write about brown beer.
Some people will tell you brown isn’t a flavour, but it is. It’s why you sear meat, and about 50 per cent of the meaning of toast. (N.B. black is also a flavour.)
Brown beer isn’t necessarily boring but a hell of a lot of boring beers seem to be brown. Adrian Tierney-Jones has, on more than one occasion, referred to beers as being the same brown as an old sideboard and it’s true: brown is the colour of corduroy trousers, garden fences, Austin Ambassadors, sensible shoes and your grandma’s coffee table. It’s a kind of camouflage.
You know what else is often brown? Pubs. We like brown pubs, too, but in a brown town drinking brown beer in a brown pub with a brown dog on the brown lino, browned off, until you drop down brown bread from a total eclipse of the heart. You can see why some people might be down on brown.
Back in the 1990s Sean Franklin of Rooster’s ditched brown in favour of pale because he wanted a blank canvas on which hops could shine. If pale is blank, is brown noise? Or texture? Texture can be good. Noise too. There’s a reason people put dirty old Polaroid filters on their iPhone photos.
Let’s do some word association. Is there someone else in the room with you right now? Ask them to tell you, without over-thinking, what colour beer is. We knew it — you owe us 50p!
We’ll be surprised if there isn’t at least one Session post this time round with the title Fifty Shades of Brown. St Austell HSD is a sort of burnt umber, in the language of Crayola crayons. The same brewery’s Cornish Best is what Crayola would call ‘beaver’. (Stop sniggering.) And their Tribute, which we have heard described as a ‘boring brown bitter’ by people who have clearly been spoiled, is a similar shade of amber to Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. And that’s just one brewery. Stare into the brown abyss long enough and you’ll begin to see stars.
Lager used to be brown, and some of it still is.Do you reckon Britain would have gone crazy for it like it has in the last 40 years if it wasn’t sunny, bubbly yellow? Gold is a much easier sell: ‘I hold here, in my mortal hand, a nugget of purest brown!’
Black + gold = brown. Last week at BrewDog Bristol, where brown is frowned upon, we ended up with a free half of Born to Die (a big IPA) which, on its own, was too harsh and boozy. So, we mixed it, 3 parts to 1, with BrewDog’s Guinness-challenging stout. The end result was like a stronger, shoutier cousin of Fuller’s ESB. You need never be without a brown beer if you’ve got a half of stout at hand. (Sadly for all you brownophobes there is no similar trick for turning ESB into double IPA.)
We probably won’t want to say or type the word brown for a week or two after this. But we don’t half want a pint of bitter.
A few years ago, when this debate was at its frankly tedious height, we were pretty happy with the meaning of the phrase as derived from Michael Jackson and other early beer writers: it was a catch-all term referring to any interesting, distinctive beer, as opposed to the uninteresting, homogeneous products of larger (often international) brewers. (Definition 1.) Sure, you could pick holes in it, but it was a broad, inclusive buzz-phrase that had room for cask ale, lager, Belgian beer, and for breweries founded 100 or more years ago.
But people who had the influence to shore up this definition opted out. They didn’t like the term and wanted nothing to do with it, which is fair enough, except rather than making it go away, that left it undefended.
Sometime around 2014-2015 it became obvious that the meaning had changed: to most people in the UK, ‘craft beer’, insofar as it meant anything, meant beer that wasn’t real ale, that wasn’t a pint of bitter, that wasn’t from an old brewery, and that looked something like this:
Yes, this situation is messed up, and superficial, and especially baffling to people from outside Europe for whom our old brewing traditions are the epitome of craft. But it’s reality.
We like Richard’s blog — he writes regularly, interestingly, and tells us things we don’t already know, based on his own explorations — and we’re going to stick up for him here. Sure, we might have made the point a little more tentatively than he did but we don’t think, seen in context (he’s a bit disappointed with his craft beer advent calendar) that what he’s saying is especially outrageous, or even incorrect.
The fact is, in 2016, people ordering a mixed mystery box of CRAFT BEER probably don’t expect to find Belgian, British or German standards in the mix — the kind of things that appeared in Michael Jackson’s various beer guides between the 1970s and the 1990s. He certainly considered Früh Kölsch a craft, artisanal, boutique beer (all words he used at one point or another to mean essentially the same thing) but, again, that broad definition has slipped away from us. Someone who got into beer in the last year or two, or who is just learning their way, would probably find it baffling: to them ‘craft’ means, quite specifically, ‘A bit like BrewDog’ (or Stone, or Cloudwater — you get the idea).
The term got released into the wild, it evolved, and now it doesn’t care what you think it means even though you reared it from a cub. Or, to put that another way, you can’t reject and ridicule a term and then expect to police how it is used.
Ah, So Very British™ — saying things are Fine when you really mean they’re awful.
Except that’s not what we mean.
When we say Fine, we mean Fine — that is, adequate, the mildest form of Good.
And you know what? We drink a fair bit of beer that isn’t Fine. It’s not Awful or Dreadful — it’s just, like most stuff, floating around in the middle, stirring little beyond a shrug, an appreciative nod or a momentary frown.
We like to keep something back for the gold medal beers, and for the absolute stinkers.