News, Nuggets & Longreads 9 September 2017: Pasteur, Porter, Pubcos

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in writing about beer and pubs in the last week, from ladylike behaviour to label design.

First up, some­thing fun­ny, in the form of a post from Kirst Walk­er who explains the lim­its with­in which she, a del­i­cate lady, likes beer:

In all hon­esty, I have nev­er been tempt­ed to try any beer which strays past the gold­en and into the brown. I feel that a beer in one of the more mas­cu­line shades, for exam­ple a coal black stout or a cig­a­r­il­lo coloured bit­ter, would real­ly be a step too far for a lady. I find that many hostel­ries now sup­ply a tiny mason jar in front of the pump which dis­plays the colour of the beer, which has been a tremen­dous help to me. I car­ry with me in my hand­bag a Dulux paint chart, which I hold against these tiny jars to make my selec­tion. Once a beer pass­es Lemon Punch and heads towards Hazel­nut Truf­fle, it’s off the menu!

Louis Pasteur
Detail from a pub­lic domain image restored by Nadar, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons.

Your his­to­ry les­son for today: Lars Mar­ius Garshol has unpicked exact­ly what Louis Pas­teur con­tributed to brew­ing which is, actu­al­ly, not much:

Pas­teur’s work was of tremen­dous the­o­ret­i­cal impor­tance, but had lim­it­ed prac­ti­cal use. It showed the impor­tance of hygiene, of course, but brew­ers were already aware of that. Using acid to clean the yeast of bac­te­ria was use­ful, but often when the yeast turned bad the prob­lem was not bac­te­ria, and Pas­teur had no solu­tion to this prob­lem… The main thing Pas­teur did for brew­eries was to show them how they could use the tools and meth­ods of micro­bi­ol­o­gists to get bet­ter con­trol over and under­stand­ing of their own brew­ing. In the years after the pub­li­ca­tion of ‘Stud­ies on beer’ a num­ber of brew­eries invest­ed in lab­o­ra­to­ries with micro­scopes, swan-neck bot­tles, and all the oth­er equip­ment Pas­teur used.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 9 Sep­tem­ber 2017: Pas­teur, Porter, Pub­cos”

Magical Mystery Pour #26: Colchester Brewery Brazilian

The second Essex beer from a set chosen for us by Justin Mason (@1970sBOY) of Get Beer, Drink Beer is a coffee and vanilla porter at 4.6% ABV.

We got it from Essex Food at £3.00 per 330ml bot­tle. Justin says:

Colch­ester Brew­ery use the ‘dou­ble drop’ method, where pri­ma­ry fer­men­ta­tion takes place in one ves­sel before being ‘dropped’ under grav­i­ty to a sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion ves­sel below, in the brew­ing of all their beers. Their Brazil­ian, with its label resem­bling that of a high street cof­fee chain (pure coin­ci­dence) is brewed using Brazil­ian cof­fee and fresh vanil­la pods and is a beer that I’d quite hap­pi­ly end a meal with, hav­ing done so on numer­ous occa­sions.

We have mixed feel­ings about cof­fee beers. Too often they end up tast­ing sick­ly and fake – more like cof­fee cream choco­lates, or cof­fee cake, than the real thing. Or, when they avoid that fate, they can instead end up too seri­ous, harsh and headache-induc­ing. And of course there’s the nov­el­ty fac­tor – is it a stunt, or a prop­er beer? Our gut feel­ing is that prop­er beers sug­gest cof­fee with­out just adding it to the brew.

In this case, too, the Star­bucks-inspired brand­ing did­n’t fill us with hope. It’s such an obvi­ous joke, a cheap shot, that it made us think some­what ill of the beer from the off.

Colchester Brazilian porter in a beer glass.

On open­ing we felt yet more con­cerned. We’ve popped the caps on enough bot­tles over the years to almost be able to feel the char­ac­ter of the beer from the way it feels and sounds at that point. This felt flat and dead. It looked life­less as it went into the glass, too, although as it set­tled a thin tan head did emerge like some kind of mag­ic trick. It also kicked out a sub­stan­tial drift­ing aro­ma of bot­tled bak­ing essences.

And yet, for all those dan­ger signs, we real­ly liked this beer. The cof­fee char­ac­ter was fun rather than tacky and well bal­anced by the under­ly­ing beer – a bit­ter, light-bod­ied, uncom­pro­mis­ing porter that we’d like to try neat by the pint some­time. It was­n’t at all sick­ly – it sug­gest­ed sweet­ness with­out actu­al­ly hav­ing much sug­ar left in it – the sug­ges­tive pow­ers of vanil­la, we sup­pose. What it remind­ed us of in spir­it was those fan­ci­ly-pack­aged sin­gle-estate choco­late bars with, say, baobab, that they sell in the Eden Project gift shop. It was intense with­out being po-faced about it.

What real­ly sealed the deal was when we thought to check the ABV. We’d been assum­ing it was some­thing like 6% – sug­gest­ed by the bot­tle size, per­haps? – and were delight­ed to dis­cov­er that so much flavour was being dished up in such a mod­er­ate­ly alco­holic pack­age.

We’d def­i­nite­ly buy this again and (based on this one encounter) would rec­om­mend it over some much trendi­er, more trendi­ly pack­aged cof­fee stouts/porters we’ve encoun­tered.

The brew­ery has a large range of spe­cial beers includ­ing lots of his­tor­i­cal­ly-inspired recipes – we’ll be look­ing out for them on our trav­els.

The A‑Team

Illustration: the A-Team.

Without quite meaning to we’ve acquired some habits – a line-up of bottled beers that we always have in the cupboard or fridge.

What fol­lows is prob­a­bly as near as you’ll ever get from us to an X Beers Before You Y list.

Bit­ter (pale ale) or pale and hop­py ses­sion beers we tend to drink in the pub. We’re spoiled for choice, real­ly, even in Pen­zance, and even more so if we take the bus out to the Star at Crowlas. Still, it’s worth say­ing that St Austell Prop­er Job is our default pub drink these days. It’s for the more unusu­al styles that we resort to bot­tles.

Anchor Porter from the US which goes at around £2–3 per 355ml bot­tle in the UK is our go-to beer in the stout fam­i­ly. We arrived at this deci­sion after prop­er test­ing. When the urge for a dark beer that real­ly tastes dark over­comes us, this is the one we reach for, know­ing it will be great every time.

There are lots of great Bel­gian beers but one that nev­er gets bor­ing, because it’s the best beer in the world, is West­malle Tripel. There are always a cou­ple of bot­tles of this in every order we place.

Orval is our favourite exam­ple of… Orval. We went from being scep­ti­cal to puz­zled to devo­tees over the course of a cou­ple of years. We love it in its own right – it’s always dif­fer­ent, yet some­how the same – but we also like to play with it. It’s our house stock ale if you like.

We don’t often need a stout more robust than Anchor Porter but when we do it’s Har­vey’s Impe­r­i­al Extra Dou­ble Stout. It tastes its strength, coats the tongue, and comes with a trac­tor-trail­er of funky weird­ness that real­ly does ensure a sin­gle glass can last all evening. One case every oth­er year seems to do the job, though.

This is both our most bor­ing choice and like­ly to be most con­tro­ver­sial: we’ve yet to find a flow­ery, aro­mat­ic Amer­i­can-style IPA that is bet­ter val­ue or more reli­ably enjoy­able than Brew­Dog Punk. Every time we open a bot­tle or can we say, ‘Wow!’ which is exact­ly what we want from this kind of beer. Nine times out of ten Prop­er Job at the Yacht Inn is all the hops we need but this is the one we keep at home when our blood-humu­lone lev­els drop to dan­ger­ous­ly low lev­els.

When we want some­thing sour and refresh­ing we con­sis­tent­ly turn to Mag­ic Rock Salty Kiss. It’s not over­ly strong, not over­ly acidic, and is just the right kind of acidic for us, too. (But we won’t say too much – it’s com­ing up in the cur­rent round of Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Pour.)

But there are still vacan­cies – styles where we play the field. When it comes to lager, we cur­rent­ly cycle through St Austell Korev (great val­ue, easy to find), Thorn­bridge Tzara (yes, we know, not tech­ni­cal­ly a lager, but tech­ni­cal­ly bril­liant) and Schlenker­la Helles (the smoke is just enough of a twist to keep us excit­ed). Even though we tast­ed a load of them we still don’t have a bot­tled mild we feel the need to have per­ma­nent­ly at hand – it’s a pub beer, real­ly. We tend to buy Sai­son Dupont or Brew­Dog Elec­tric India but that’s not a lock – we’re still active­ly audi­tion­ing oth­ers and sai­son isn’t some­thing we drink every week. When we get the urge to drink wheat beer, we’re still hap­py with Hoe­gaar­den, and most Ger­man brands do what they need to do, so we just pop to the shops.

So, that’s us. A ten­den­cy to con­ser­vatism, to the safe option, and to the famil­iar. (Which is, of course, what Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Pour is intend­ed to counter.)

But what about you – do you have any go-to beers? What are they? Or does the whole idea of drink­ing the same beers over and again just bore you to death?

Magical Mystery Pour #18: Wold Top Marmalade Porter

This is the last of the beers chosen for us by David Bishop (@broadfordbrewer/@beerdoodles) and it’s another from Yorkshire, this time Driffield, out east near the North Sea coast.

It’s not real­ly a part of the world we know at all, dim­ly remem­bered child­hood hol­i­days in Scar­bor­ough and Whit­by aside, but if you fan­cy a treat, spend a few min­utes look­ing at the map: Naf­fer­ton, Wet­wang, Fri­daythor­pe, Thwing! It’s a nev­er-end­ing plea­sure.

We’ve had a few beers from Wold Top and always been impressed, and mar­malade porter is a won­der­ful­ly mouth­wa­ter­ing phrase. Can the beer live up to it? David says:

A wild card choice.  I had a bot­tle of this a while back and based on the descrip­tion of the beer I must have enjoyed it? Right?

We got our 500ml bot­tle from Beer Ritz at £3.36. Its ABV is 5% and some will be inter­est­ed to know that it is also gluten free.

As part of his list of sug­ges­tions David also includ­ed Samuel Smith Tad­dy Porter, our favourite UK ver­sion of the style, which we decid­ed to use as a bench­mark for judg­ing Wold Top Mar­malade, with a view to work­ing out ret­ro­spec­tive­ly how might have fared in our big porter taste-off back in 2014.

Marmalade Porter in the glass.In the glass it’s one of those beers that looks almost black and until you let a light through it when it reveals itself as a rich, clear red-brown. It did­n’t seem to smell of much apart from a whiff of met­al. The taste was quite over­whelm­ing, how­ev­er – like the dying embers of a bon­fire. As we got used to the smoke a bit of but­ter came through, prob­a­bly a bit more than some would enjoy, but tol­er­a­ble to us. We did­n’t real­ly pick up any hint of mar­malade or orange flavour, though the copy on the label and its evoca­tive colour­ing almost fooled our sens­es.

It’s an earthy beer, not smooth or lux­u­ri­ous, the bit­ter­ness bad­ly want­i­ng some dried fruit char­ac­ter to bal­ance it out. It feels as if it was hacked from raw wood with an axe rather than being the result of del­i­cate crafts­man­ship. It’s like drink­ing a gar­den shed. This is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing (rus­tic would be the pos­i­tive spin) but it’s not quite what we look for in a porter. Our gut instinct – just a guess – is that the prob­lem is the result of a heavy hand with the dark crys­tal and black malts.

Let’s bring in Sam Smith here: Tad­dy Porter is wine-like, almost creamy, defined by its sug­ars, with every hard edge round­ed away. In every way, it’s a bet­ter beer, as far as we’re con­cerned. At £3.18 for 550ml from Beer Ritz it’s also a (slight­ly) bet­ter val­ue option.

In the end, though the words above might not quite con­vey it, we did enjoy the Wold Top beer and would cer­tain­ly drink it again, but only pas­sive­ly, if it drift­ed in front of us. Would it have made the final in our porter taste off? Prob­a­bly not. But it cer­tain­ly con­firms our impres­sion of Wold Top as an inter­est­ing brew­ery whose beers are worth explor­ing fur­ther.

Session #109: Porter

This is our con­tri­bu­tion to the 109th Ses­sion host­ed by Mark Lind­ner.

What isn’t porter?

It isn’t stout because… Well, because some­one has cho­sen one descrip­tor over anoth­er for rea­sons that make sense to them. Per­haps because it’s less, er, stout than the stout they also brew. Or per­haps because they want you to think of emer­ald green Irish fields when you drink their stout but smoke-black­ened Lon­don brick when you drink the porter. Per­haps they just like the word because it sounds impor­tant, port­ly, por­ten­tous, like a nice glass of port.

It isn’t mild. Even it was­n’t aged in a vat for a year it ought to taste at least a bit like it has been. And mild cer­tain­ly should­n’t be watered down porter.

It is not IPA in a world where every­thing is IPA. Black IPA some­times looks and acts like porter, but then it stops being an IPA.

What is porter?

It is a log fire in a glass. It is like drink­ing a Dick­ens nov­el. It’s a way to share a pint with your great-great-great-grand­fa­ther. It is just big enough to feel like a treat but not so big that you can’t have two on a school-night.

Porter is an enig­ma.

And it is won­der­ful.


This, by the way, is anoth­er sub­ject on which we’ve writ­ten exten­sive­ly in the past: