BrewDog has just announced LIVE beer (their capitalisation) — a version of their session-strength Dead Pony Club packaged with live yeast and conditioned in the keg.
Of course they are obliged to present it as a great breakthrough, and deny that it’s anything like CAMRA approved real ale, for the sake of pride, just as CAMRA could only grudgingly approve of certain keg beers after much soul-searching. (See Chapter 14 of Brew Britannia for more on that.)
The thing is, quite apart from the fact we’ve been hearing gossip about this for months — tales of Martin Dickie and team earnestly studying cask ales with notebooks in hand in Scottish pubs, a false rumour of cask ale’s imminent reinstatement at certain BrewDog bars — it was inevitable BrewDog would do something with live yeast at some point.
Imagine how annoying it must be to know, in your heart of hearts, that beers with live yeast are interesting, are a part of tradition with a compelling story, are the beer equivalent of stinky cheese and sourdough bread, but that you’ve made it a point of principle not to do it in large part because your ‘brand values’ (modern, hip) are at odds with the Campaign for Real Ale’s (traditional, curmudgeonly), as well as for convenience. Not very ‘craft’.
Now CAMRA are finding a way to live with kegs (of a sort), and BrewDog are finding a way to live with real ale (of a sort), is it too soon to start dreaming of demobilisation and street parties? And might we see a BrewDog stand at the Great British Beer Festival in 2017?
For our current Big Project we’re trying to get in touch with people who remember drinking in real ale pubs of the 1970s.
We’ll unpack that term a bit: before about 1975, there were pubs that sold cask-conditioned beer, AKA ‘traditional draught’, but it was usually whatever was local and the choice might consist of one, two or three different beers.
After CAMRA got everyone stirred up some pubs began to tailor their offer to appeal to Campaign members by offering four, six, eight, or even eighteen different beers from the far ends of the country.
If you read Brew Britannia you’ll remember that we covered all of this in Chapter Five, ‘More an Exhibition Than a Pub’, but now we’d like some fresh testimony for a different take.
What were these pubs like to drink in? If you were used to mild and bitter from the local brewery in your home town how did it feel to suddenly see beers from several counties away?
If you worked in or owned one of these pubs, what was that like, and were you aware of being part of what the press called ‘the real ale craze’?
Based on scouring old editions of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide here’s a list which might help jog memories:
The Anglesea Arms, South Kensington, London
The Barley Mow, St Albans (covered at length in Brew Britannia)
The Bat & Ball, Farnham, Surrey
The Brahms & Liszt, Leeds (ditto)
The Bricklayers, City of London
The Duck, Hagley Road, Birmingham
The Hole in the Wall, Waterloo, London
The Naval Volunteer, Bristol
The Sun, Bloomsbury, London (now The Perseverance)
The Victoria Bar, Marylebone Station, London
The Victory, Waterloo Station, London
The White Horse, Hertford
But other nominations are welcome, as long as they’re from this early phase, from 1975 up until about 1980-81.
Please do share this with any pals you think might be able to help, on Facebook or wherever.
If you’ve got stories or memories to share comment below if you like but email is probably best: email@example.com
“Ideally it must cool at between minus 3C and 8C. But climate change has been notable in the last 20 years. My grandfather 50 years ago brewed from mid-October until May – but I’ve never done that in my life, and I am in my 15th season.”
This reminded us of an exchange we had with a senior figure at one of the larger British breweries last year who said that climate change was among their biggest long-term worries.
In particular, they suggested, cask ale still relies to a great extent on naturally cool pub cellars. (And, as a result, warm summers can already be a problem for cask ale quality.) If those summers last longer, and get hotter, traditional British beer will struggle. Cellar refrigeration is already common but might become absolutely necessary, even in pubs that haven’t needed it in the past.
That’s on top of concerns over how it might affect hop farming and malting barley; a nagging sense of guilt over the amount of water used in brewing; and about the amount of energy used to ship it, and its ingredients, very often under refrigeration.
We’d be interested to hear from others involved in brewing and the pub trade: is climate change on your ‘risk register’?
We wouldn’t be surprised to see ‘craft ale’ really take off, despite the grumblings of beer geeks (‘This is actually bottom-fermented, so it’s not technically an ale…’) for some of the same reasons ‘real ale’ proved so appealing in the 1970s: it sounds more British than ‘craft beer’ and recognises tradition and nostalgia. It also bridges the gap between the dominant Campaign for Real Ale rhetoric and Brewdog’s cult-like chanting.
‘Can’t they just call it “beer”?’ some will say, wearily rolling their eyes. The fact is, people find categories helpful when making consumer choices, which is why Waterstones don’t just call them ‘books’ and bung them in a big skip, why there are ‘budget’ and ’boutique’ hotels, and how the ‘gourmet burger’ has come to exist.