Bits of Yolk From the Pickled Egg Jar

Detail of the cover of 'More About Inn Signs'.
Detail of the cov­er of ‘More About Inn Signs’, kind­ly scanned for us by Mark Lan­dells.

Here are a few things we’ve spotted around and about that prompted a thought or two.

1. This inter­view with James Watt from the Dai­ly Mail con­tains the most con­cise sum­ma­ry yet of the con­tra­dic­tion at the heart of Brew­dog: ‘behind all the anar­chy there’s a very sta­ble prof­itable com­pa­ny’, he says. They’re KER-azy, but also very sen­si­ble; anti-cor­po­rate, but also… real­ly cor­po­rate. What a bal­anc­ing act.

2. Has any­one ever pub­lished a book of Michael ‘Beer Hunter’ Jack­son’s columns for CAM­RA’s What’s Brew­ing? If not, they should. Here he is talk­ing ‘big pic­ture’ in May 1985:

For con­sumers who want­ed a beer of some char­ac­ter, real ale was shown to be more sat­is­fac­to­ry than keg bit­ter. On the oth­er hand, keg was also unsat­is­fac­to­ry to drinkers who want­ed a bright, refresh­ing beer. They even­tu­al­ly defect­ed to bland lagers… The real ale move­ment may, in fact, have encour­aged a polar­i­sa­tion of pub­lic taste in beer… [At one end of the mar­ket] there is a growth in inter­est in prod­ucts of qual­i­ty, char­ac­ter and tra­di­tion, and at the oth­er end… a demand for bland, light flavours; the mid­dle ground is van­ish­ing.

3. There’s been a flare-up in attempts to define ‘craft beer’. Here’s ‘Hard­knott’ Dave Bai­ley’s take on the efforts of one drinks indus­try con­sul­tan­cy firm to pin down a work­ing def­i­n­i­tion; and here’s Max Pivni Filosof Bahn­son (via Lars Mar­ius Garshol) with a very hard-line approach. CGA’s effort would ben­e­fit from the exper­tise of, say, Pete Brown; and Max’s reminds us of some­thing David ‘Firkin’ Bruce said:

[At H.G. Simonds in Read­ing] it was… real ‘craft brew­ing, not in the cur­rent Amer­i­can sense. I was a wood­en spoon brew­er. I’d nev­er get a job as a ‘prop­er’ brew­er, in a ‘prop­er brew­ery, because they only want­ed Edinburgh’s Heri­ot-Watt micro­bi­ol­o­gists, but I could cer­tain­ly brew. 

4. Beyond the blog, we’ve post­ed a few new things on Face­book, such as this small gallery of images of Dirty Dick­’s on Bish­ops­gate in Lon­don (apos­tro­phe impor­tant…); and, on Twit­ter, peo­ple seemed to find this inter­est­ing.

The Myth of the Authentic IPA

From an advertisement for Whitbread IPA, 1935.
From an adver­tise­ment for Whit­bread IPA, 1935.PA

Mod­ern beer his­to­ri­ans have done some won­der­ful work chal­leng­ing myths about India Pale Ale. The one we’re inter­est­ed right now is this, as expressed by Mar­tyn Cor­nell in a post which then demol­ish­es it:

North Amer­i­can craft brew­ers more close­ly adhere to ear­ly IPA spec­i­fi­ca­tions than do British brew­ers who, as a group, do not.

How did that belief arise? What was going on in the world of beer to con­vince every­one (includ­ing us) that, if a beer was­n’t strong and aro­mat­ic, it was­n’t a ‘real’ IPA? Here are four pos­si­ble con­tri­bu­tions to the devel­op­ment of that myth.

1. The Dur­den Park Beer Cir­cle pub­lished, Old British Beers and How to Make Them, an influ­en­tial col­lec­tion of his­toric recipes, in 1976. We haven’t got our hands on an orig­i­nal edi­tion but our 2003 reprint con­tains this on Hodg­son’s India Pale Ale

…had an OG over 70, a hop rate of 2.5 oz per gal­lon… [and was] care­ful­ly primed and dry hopped before despatch to India. Ful­ly matured by the trop­i­cal heat, India ale had a hop nose, full flavour and the lus­cious taste that only comes with an ini­tial­ly over-hopped ale that has ful­ly matured.

2. Anchor Lib­er­ty, first brewed in 1975 using tons of the then new Cas­cade hop, was ‘inspired’ by the British prac­tice of dry hop­ping, and its strength was sim­i­lar to that of ear­ly nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry British IPAs. The brew­ery was old; their Steam Beer was a sur­vivor of an ear­li­er age; the beer had a faux-vin­tage label; and was brewed to com­mem­o­rate Amer­i­can inde­pen­dence. All of that, per­haps, added up to a sense of his­tor­i­cal authen­tic­i­ty it did­n’t exact­ly deserve.

3. Though he bare­ly men­tioned IPA in his 1977 World Guide to Beer, Michael ‘Beer Hunter’ Jack­son’s 1982 Pock­et Guide (the one most peo­ple we’ve spo­ken to actu­al­ly owned, because it was small­er and cheap­er) describes the intense­ly bit­ter, hop-aro­mat­ic Bal­lan­ti­ne’s IPA as a sur­vivor of an ear­li­er age of Amer­i­can brew­ing, descend­ed from nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry British beers. It’s easy to see how this might have devel­oped into the myth of the ‘more authen­tic Amer­i­can IPA’.

4. In 1993, at the request of Mark Dor­ber of the White Horse in West Lon­don, Bass brewed an IPA to a his­toric recipe. It was c.6.5% ABV with 84 units of bit­ter­ness, accord­ing to a con­tem­po­rary Guardian arti­cle by Roger Protz (4/9/1993): ‘it’s like putting your head inside a sack of hops fresh from Kent. The aro­ma is pun­gent, spicy, pep­pery and resiny, and the hops dom­i­nate the palate and the fin­ish as well.’

5. The excite­ment around the recre­at­ed Bass IPA, and the White Horse fes­ti­val it was brewed for, trig­gered a brief his­tor­i­cal IPA mania. Robin Young of The Times described IPAs brewed to nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry recipes as ‘the spe­cial fad’ of the 1994 Great British Beer Fes­ti­val; and the 1995 Good Beer Guide reports on the pre­ced­ing year’s ‘IPA fever’. The empha­sis in most reports was on the authen­tic­i­ty and hop ‘oomph’ of these brews com­pared to sup­pos­ed­ly ‘Bowd­ler­ized’ mod­ern IPAs.

Any­one else have any sug­ges­tions? Is there a c.1980 US home brew­ing text, per­haps, that makes the claim?

UPDATE: we have an answer, we think. Roger Protz’s 2001 book India Pale Ale (writ­ten with Clive Le Pen­sée) includes a detailed account of how IPA was ‘revived’ in the nineties, begin­ning with a sem­i­nar at the White Horse in 1990, fol­lowed up in 1994. There is much talk of Bowd­ler­iz­ing and ‘true IPA’, and reports of a trans-Atlantic agree­ment on the bare min­i­mum spec for an IPA: 5.5% ABV, 40 units of bit­ter­ness.

The Meaning of Ale

Sign for zum Uerige, Duesseldorf, Germany.

In 1977, beer writer Michael Jack­son, choos­ing his words care­ful­ly, said this in his World Guide to Beer:

Although its palate is emphat­i­cal­ly Ger­man, Alt­bier is not dis­sim­i­lar in style from the British and North Amer­i­can ales, and it even more clear­ly resem­bles Bel­gian top-fer­ment­ed beers like the Antwerp De Kon­inck brew.

Not dis­sim­i­lar, resem­bles… what he does­n’t say is that Alt or Bel­gian top-fer­ment­ed beers are ales – only that some top-fer­men­tat­ed beers share cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics. He does­n’t use the word ‘ale’ at all when dis­cussing Kölsch in the same book. It’s a way of help­ing peo­ple who’ve nev­er been to Düs­sel­dorf or tast­ed Alt to under­stand what to expect, and also per­haps to make a point about the influ­ence of yeast.

A year lat­er, how­ev­er, Michael Dunn, in his Pen­guin Guide to Real Draught Beer, which lists Jack­son’s book in its very short bib­li­og­ra­phy, pre­sent­ed this over-sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the same idea:

Even though we do not have real lager in Britain, excel­lent real draught beer is obtain­able on the con­ti­nent – there are, for exam­ple, the alt beers of Düs­sel­dorf, the Bel­gian trap­piste beers, and kölsch [sic] beers from Cologne – but these are top-fer­ment­ed ales and not lagers.

Dunn, elect­ed to CAM­RA’s nation­al exec­u­tive in 1976, had an axe to grind: if the best beer is ale, in the sense applied by CAMRA after 1971, then for­eign beers which could be described as such were more eas­i­ly accept­ed into the fold.

But how many oth­ers at this time mis­read and/or mis­rep­re­sent­ed Jack­son in the same way? Are peo­ple crib­bing from him, but lack­ing his sub­tle­ty, to blame for the irri­tat­ing ten­den­cy to call any­thing top-fer­ment­ed, from what­ev­er cul­ture, ‘ale’? As Ger­man beer blog­ger Felix vom Endt put it in a recent dis­cus­sion on Twit­ter: ‘Alt­bier = Alt­bier and Kölsch = Kölsch .. You don’t trans­late it’.

Ten long articles on beer to read later

Tablet com­put­ers and smart­phones have led to a growth indus­try in apps that take arti­cles from the web and present them in a clean, read­able, mag­a­zine-like for­mat. We use Pock­et (for­mer­ly Read it Lat­er) which allows you to mark arti­cles online to enjoy lat­er in a cus­tomised pub­li­ca­tion which, as if by mag­ic, only cov­ers top­ics in which we’re inter­est­ed.

Long­form and Lon­greads are great places to find sub­stan­tial arti­cles avail­able online, but there’s lit­tle in their curat­ed col­lec­tions which touch­es on beer. So, with that in mind, here are ten decent-sized arti­cles relat­ed to our favourite top­ic that might get you through a long train jour­ney.

1. The mur­der of US brew­ery mil­lion­aire Adolph Coors III in 1960 (via Long­form)

Pro­vides an inter­est­ing insight into the US brew­ing busi­ness in the 20th cen­tu­ry, as well as being an enthralling ‘true crime’ sto­ry.

2. How British landown­ers used to age strong ale for twen­ty years or more (Zythophile)

We could fill this entire list with Mar­tyn ‘Zythophile’ Cor­nel­l’s metic­u­lous, arti­cle-length ‘blog posts’ but have lim­it­ed our­selves to two.

3. The Most Noto­ri­ous Brew­er in His­to­ry (Zythophile)

Antoine-Joseph San­terre was France’s biggest brew­er in the 18th cen­tu­ry and a rev­o­lu­tion­ary to boot.

4. New York­er mag­a­zine’s pro­file of Dog­fish Head­’s Sam Cala­gione (New York­er)

Love or hate ‘extreme’ US beer, Burkhard Bil­ger’s inter­view gives a great insight into the think­ing behind it.

5. How 45 mil­lion year-old yeast was recul­tured from a sam­ple trapped in amber (Wired)

Like Juras­sic Park only with yeast instead of dinosaurs. (The yeast does­n’t chase any­one, sad­ly.)

6. Binge drink­ing and moral pan­ics in British his­to­ry (His­to­ry and Pol­i­cy)

Are there lessons to be learned from how the gov­ern­ment react­ed to the ‘gin craze’ in the 18th cen­tu­ry?

7. The sto­ry of Bud­weis­er Bud­var (Des de Moor)

The his­to­ry, the con­tro­ver­sy and the Czech brew­ery’s strug­gle to remain inde­pen­dent.

8. The rise of ‘craft keg’ in the UK (by Adri­an Tier­ney Jones)

Quib­bles over ter­mi­nol­o­gy aside, a good sum­ma­ry of where we’re at and how we got here.

9. The Beer Strikes of 1834 (Brew­ery His­to­ry Soci­ety)

Tim Holt’s fas­ci­nat­ing account of a cri­sis in Lon­don brew­ing that began with a dis­pute over pay for coop­ers.

10. Beer at the Thanks­giv­ing Table (Michael Jack­son)

A reminder that beer writ­ers have been try­ing to con­vince peo­ple that beers goes with food for a long time. This arti­cle dates from 1983.

In sev­er­al cas­es above, there are a trea­sure trove of arti­cles behind the ones we’ve picked – the Michael Jack­son, Brew­ery His­to­ry Soci­ety and Zythophile web­sites are par­tic­u­lar gold­mines.

We were nudged to fin­ish this post by this dis­cus­sion: we like short blog posts, but love long arti­cles, too.


The one that got away

Augsburger Plaerrer billboard from 2007

A recent dis­cus­sion about Stein­bier remind­ed us of a trip to Augs­burg, Bavaria, in 2007.

We were armed with our well-worn copy of Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide which, back then, we referred to in rev­er­ent tones as “The Book”.

The Book told us that, in Augs­burg, we had to try Rauchen­felser Stein­bier (“Style: Stone Beer”), an amber lager dark­ened and giv­en a “smoky, trea­cle-tof­fee flavour” by burn­ing hot rocks chucked into the boil.

What The Book com­mand­ed, we did. Or tried to do, at least: there was no Stein­bier to be found. The brew­ery, we were told, after we had under­tak­en much schlep­ping and hunt­ing, had closed. Under the impres­sion that this was the only Stein­bier on the mar­ket, we left Ger­many mourn­ing the one that got away.

Now we hear from well informed sources that oth­er Ger­man brew­eries make Stein­bier, so per­haps, one day, we’ll get to try one after all. There’s some­thing a lit­tle poignant about know­ing that a spe­cif­ic beer has passed away before you got chance to know it, but at least it beats miss­ing out on a whole fam­i­ly of beers.

We remem­ber Augs­burg fond­ly. We hit town as the Plär­rer (folk fes­ti­val) was in full flow, drank too much of a deli­cious beer that tast­ed just like sausages, and Boak threw up in a flowerbed. Hap­py times.