News, Nuggets & Longreads 7 July 2018: Marsan, Saison, Vaseline

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from equality initiatives to the specifics of European beer styles.

We’ll start with a flur­ry of acci­den­tal­ly inter­con­nect­ed items about pubs and how wel­com­ing they might or might not seem to dif­fer­ent peo­ple and groups.

British polit­i­cal Twit­ter spent a good chunk of the week talk­ing about pubs after actor Eddie Marsan said that he didn’t like them, asso­ci­at­ing them, based on his own child­hood expe­ri­ences in the East End of Lon­don, with domes­tic vio­lence and macho pos­tur­ing.

Mean­while, two relat­ed schemes have launched with the inten­tion of mak­ing pubs more invit­ing to a wider range of peo­ple. First, with Melis­sa Cole at the helm, there’s the Every­one Wel­come Ini­tia­tive:

The aim of this ini­tia­tive is to pro­vide beer venues and events with a strong state­ment that every­one who walks through the door is wel­come regard­less, of their gen­der, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, race, health, reli­gion, age or dis­abil­i­ty… Whilst these forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion are cov­ered under the Equal­i­ty Act 2010, none of us can say that they don’t hap­pen and what this ini­tia­tive is designed to do is give peo­ple the oppor­tu­ni­ty to nail their colours to the mast about the kind of venue or event they are run­ning – to shout proud­ly that hate isn’t to be tol­er­at­ed and igno­rance is not an excuse.

The Equal­i­ty in Pubs accred­i­ta­tion scheme, led by Jes­si­ca Mason, launched a few days lat­er:

Pub­li­cans who would like to let vis­i­tors know that their pub has a zero tol­er­ance pol­i­cy on abuse in any of its forms can now sign up to TEPA and, from 2019, gain a win­dow stick­er and a plot on a map on TEPA web­site to let peo­ple know that their pub doesn’t sup­port homo­pho­bia, sex­ism or racism in any of its guis­es from nei­ther its staff or it’s drinkers. Join­ing TEPA means the pub­li­can has a civic duty to act should they recog­nise abuse in their venue.

We’ll fin­ish with a link to some­thing we wrote last year which appeared this week at All About Beer after a long delay, thus seem­ing acci­den­tal­ly top­i­cal:

[If you] find your­self in a pub where you oughtn’t be, it will usu­al­ly be made clear to you, as long as you are rea­son­ably flu­ent in the lan­guage of pas­sive-aggres­sion. It might, for exam­ple, take a long time to get served, if the per­son behind the bar acknowl­edges you at all. You might get asked point blank if you are a police offi­cer, which hap­pens to us not infrequently—something about our flat feet, per­haps. Or the reg­u­lars might start a loud, point­ed con­ver­sa­tion about strangers, or for­eign­ers, or peo­ple wear­ing what­ev­er colour hat you hap­pen to be wear­ing. We once walked into a pub only to be greet­ed by five men in soc­cer shirts, one of whom sim­ply point­ed and said: “No, no—turn round and walk out. Now.” We did so.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 7 July 2018: Marsan, Sai­son, Vase­line”

St Austell Cornish Saison for M&S

Marks & Spencer, the slightly upmarket English supermarket-stroke-department-store, has been doing interesting things with its beer range for a few years now but the idea of a Cornish-brewed Saison really grabbed our interest.

It’s pro­duced for them by St Austell, a brew­ery very much on our trust­ed list, and has evolved from an orig­i­nal small-batch brew designed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with beer writer Melis­sa Cole. It has 5.9% ABV, comes in a cute pur­ple 330ml can, and costs £2. (Or less as part of the cur­rent four-for-the-price-of-three pro­mo­tion.)

But is it a bar­gain, or do we have a Hather­wood sit­u­a­tion on our hands?

Saison in the glass with can nearby.

It is per­fect­ly, almost aston­ish­ing­ly clear in the glass, with a decent head of foam that stops short of Bel­gian volu­mi­nous­ness. (Per­haps it’s hard­er to achieve the nec­es­sary pres­sure in cans.)

On tast­ing, the mod­el is clear: it is an homage to Sai­son Dupont, which is fine by us. There’s the same famil­iar spici­ness from the yeast and the same gold­en colour. It isn’t a slav­ish clone, though: this beer is clean­er, more bit­ter, and seemed to have a lot more orange peel and corian­der char­ac­ter.

In fact by the end of the glass we were won­der­ing if it might not almost be described as a kind of Kristall Wit – that is, an appli­ca­tion of the fil­ter­ing tech­nique used to clar­i­fy cer­tain wheat beers in Ger­many to the spici­er, more cit­rusy Bel­gian equiv­a­lent.

It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing, very enjoy­able beer that could eas­i­ly pass for some­thing gen­uine­ly Bel­gian. (We know St Austell’s head brew­er, Roger Ryman, is a Bel­gian beer fanat­ic.) So, yes, that means it’s good val­ue, and we’ll cer­tain­ly be buy­ing some more next time we pass a branch of M&S.

In gen­er­al, we do like how M&S pack­ages its own-brand beers these days. Quite apart from the cool and colour­ful graph­ic design they’re (a) clear­ly iden­ti­fied as own-brand but (b) with clear infor­ma­tion about who brews them. That means we can make an informed choice about which to take a chance on (Oakham, Adnams, St Austell) and which to avoid (sor­ry, Hogs Back).

Patreon’s Choice #1: Bag of Marbles

This is the first in a series of posts about beers chosen for us by our Patreon subscribers and features beers from Manchester brewery Marble.

It was Steve Lam­ond (@BeersIveKnown) who sug­gest­ed that we try Lost Your Mar­bles and we added a cou­ple of oth­er inter­est­ing look­ing beers from Mar­ble to fill out the box. We bought them (and all the beers for this par­tic­u­lar series of posts) from Beer Ritz because, though the web­site is still mild­ly frus­trat­ing, we like the range on offer and find the ser­vice fuss-free.

The head of a glass of beer with glinting light.

First, as we tack­led these in ascend­ing order of strength, was Sai­son du Pint at 3.9% ABV and £2.80 per 330ml can.

What a clever beer, both in terms of exe­cu­tion and con­cept. It’s the brewery’s stan­dard pale bit­ter, Pint, but fer­ment­ed with the same strain of yeast used for the Bel­gian clas­sic Sai­son du Pont. A sort of unof­fi­cial col­lab­o­ra­tion, we sup­pose.

It comes with a huge cot­ton-wool head, a beau­ti­ful­ly clear gold­en body, and a whiff of some sort of sticky banana dessert. It’s tempt­ing to judge it against Sai­son du Pont to which, unsur­pris­ing­ly, it does indeed bear a fam­i­ly resem­blance, but by that stan­dard it seems a lit­tle thin and lack­ing in lux­u­ry. As a quirky ses­sion ale, how­ev­er – remem­ber, 3.9! – it is absolute­ly a win­ner, with a pep­pery mus­tard-leaf prick­le con­tributed by the yeast com­pli­ment­ing the base beer in won­der­ful ways. Sink­able but strange; made to quench thirsts but cut­ting a dandy­ish dash on the way.

A few years ago we gave some talks on the basics of how beer is made and used Ger­man wheat beer to illus­trate the impact of yeast. This would be even bet­ter, tast­ed side by side with orig­i­nal Pint.

The only seri­ous down­side, real­ly, is that we want to drink it by the pint, and sev­er­al pints in a row, rather than from a did­dy can at home.

A dark old ale in the glass with bottle.

Lost Your Mar­bles is the beer Steve real­ly want­ed us to try: “My beer of the year to date – love what [James Kemp, head brew­er at Mar­ble] is doing with his old ales series.” It’s a 9% ABV ‘Cognac Oak Aged Blend’ and cost £5.38 for 330ml. It comes in a plain bot­tle with an attrac­tive­ly designed card dan­gling round its neck on a black rib­bon.

(How do we know the right card stayed with the right beer through­out its jour­ney? We don’t, but let’s not fret about that.)

This dense, dark beer was fas­ci­nat­ing too, in a less sub­tle way. Like a lot of old ales and impe­r­i­al stouts at around this strength it seems to con­tain a bit of every­thing: demer­ara, the burn of spir­its, bon­fire tof­fee, Cola sweets, dessert wine, cof­fee essence… You get the idea.

The sug­ges­tion of sug­ar that had ‘caught’ in the base of a too-hot pan, and a hot whisky note, meant that it wasn’t quite to our taste, but it is clear­ly a well-made, undoubt­ed­ly inter­est­ing, deeply indul­gent beer that will knock the socks of most peo­ple who drink it. Heck, we’d prob­a­bly buy it again, because it came close enough to wow­ing us that the chances are on a dif­fer­ent day, in a dif­fer­ent mood, it would do just that.

The head of a glass of dark old ale.

In a sim­i­lar vein, at the same price, comes Cas­tle of Udolpho, a blend of young and Pinot Noir bar­rel-aged old ale at 10.4% ABV.

This beer was so dark that if it was badged as stout we wouldn’t argue. It came with an off-white head and dis­tinct aro­ma of some­thing like sour cher­ry, or even rasp­ber­ry vine­gar. There were flavours of con­densed milk, choco­late and even caramel were bal­anced with a liqueur-like heat and bite, and then chased around the mouth by a Harvey’s-like funk­i­ness that took a long time to die away. The body seemed odd­ly thin after Lost Your Mar­bles – per­haps a con­se­quence of some­thing (the source of that funk?) hav­ing chewed through some of the resid­ual sug­ar?

Again, though there’s no doubt­ing its com­plex­i­ty or the skill with which it was put togeth­er, some­thing about it didn’t quite click for us. We liked it, but didn’t love it. Per­haps it struck us as a lit­tle harsh or overblown, but then the same applies to Harvey’s Extra Dou­ble Stout and we can’t get enough of that. Per­haps it’s just that when you turn the vol­ume up like this the back­ground noise is ampli­fied along with the good stuff. Our guess is that a bot­tle of this left alone for five years would come togeth­er rather bet­ter. If you like big, boozy, com­plex beers there’s a very good chance you’ll swoon over this one.

* * *

Over­all, we’re left with our high opin­ion of Mar­ble. It’s a brew­ery that takes risks and does inter­est­ing things, whose beers are rarely less than enjoy­able and often bril­liant.

Magical Mystery Pour #27: Elephant School Sombrero

This passion fruit and chia saison is the third in a series of Essex beers chosen for us by Justin Mason (@1970sBOY) of Get Beer, Drink Beer.

Ele­phant School is a would-be-hip exper­i­men­tal sub-brand of Brent­wood Brew­ing. This beer cost us £3 for 330ml from Essex Food. Justin says:

Brent­wood Brew­ery, even though it’s across the oth­er side of town to me, is my clos­est brew­ery in Essex and their Ele­phant School brand (named after an actu­al ele­phant school in Brent­wood where peo­ple were trained to ride ele­phants by the East India Com­pa­ny pri­or to going to the sub-con­ti­nent ) is their more cre­ative arm. Som­brero is brewed with chia, a mem­ber of the mint fam­i­ly, and pas­sion fruit, the lat­ter ingre­di­ent almost tak­ing the lid off the fer­menter it was so volatile. This is still my favourite of their beers even though I have brewed my own cran­ber­ry Porter with them recent­ly, Porter in a Storm.

What were our prej­u­dices going into this? We’ve often been rather impressed by Brentwood’s cask ales – a 2.8% bit­ter of theirs is per­haps the best low-alco­hol beer we’ve ever had – but can’t recall hav­ing tried their bot­tled prod­ucts, and bot­tled beers from small brew­eries can be a risky busi­ness. Then there’s the style as described: sai­son is a dif­fi­cult, del­i­cate style and we some­times sus­pect that chuck­ing fruit in it is a dis­trac­tion tech­nique. And, final­ly, there’s a mild irri­ta­tion at the idea that Brent­wood, already a tiny inde­pen­dent brew­ery, needs a ‘craft’ spin-off – where does this kind of weird­ness end?

Sombrero Saison in the glass. (Golden beer.)
Pop­ping the orange cap we were answered with an assertive hiss and man­aged to pour (quite eas­i­ly) a pure gold­en glass of beer topped with a glossy meringue-like head.

At first, we were wor­ried by the aro­ma, which caused some nose wrin­kling. There was a whiff of the old first aid kit about it, some­thing chem­i­cal; or per­haps a peati­ness, but some­how with­out the smoke. For a while, that was over­rid­ing, but it either died away or we got used to it.

Zero­ing on the base beer we found some­thing on thin side, dry, and spicy – a decent enough sai­son, but lack­ing the lux­u­ry of the stan­dard-bear­er for the style, Dupont. Per­haps that’s because it’s only 4.5% ABV – either his­tor­i­cal­ly appro­pri­ate or a kind of ses­sion sai­son, depend­ing on the angle you’re com­ing from.

The pas­sion fruit was dialling its per­for­mance in, offer­ing a whis­per of fruit flavour, but cer­tain­ly not earn­ing it’s star billing. It was about right for us, real­ly – inter­est­ing and intrigu­ing rather than like some­thing that ought to be in a car­ton with a straw through the lid. We did won­der if the fruit was respon­si­ble for a mild acid­i­ty which we could have done with­out.

We detect­ed noth­ing remote­ly minty, which is bet­ter, we sup­pose, than get­ting a gob­ful of it and not lik­ing it.

It could do to be clean­er and, at the same time, to be a bit more inter­est­ing over­all, giv­en the expec­ta­tions set up by the label and descrip­tion. But we didn’t dis­like it, even if we couldn’t go out of our way to drink it again.

QUICK REVIEW: Small Saison With German Hops and a British Accent

Among our most recent grab-bag of interesting looking beers was Brew By Numbers Huell Melon Table Saison 17|07 which we bought at £2.79 for 330ml from Beer Hawk.

We find Brew By Num­bers slight­ly frus­trat­ing: they’re respon­si­ble for some great stuff, and some not so great, which makes buy­ing their beer a gam­ble. We have tend­ed to enjoy their pale Bel­gian-inspired beers most, though, and found the idea of a 3.5% ABV sai­son made with an unusu­al, rel­a­tive­ly new Ger­man hop vari­ety irre­sistible.

It looked vague­ly Cham­pagne-like in the glass, with touch­es of pink, herbal green and gold depend­ing on how the light caught it.

We didn’t detect the mel­on aro­mas for which the hop vari­ety is known, and after which it is named, or too much aro­ma at all beyond a snatch of wild, cat­ty hedgerow flow­ers.

The body was thin, not far from watery, the empha­sis being on ‘table’ rather than ‘sai­son’. (His­tor­i­cal­ly saisons were light, refresh­ing beers but these days, with Dupont as the role mod­el, tend to be more like 6.5% and rich­er tast­ing.) Did it also taste a bit like… Aspirin? There was some min­er­al bite any­way, ever so slight­ly jar­ring. But once we’d adjust­ed to the real­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion we began to rev­el in the spicy, bit­ter, ton­ic spritzi­ness of it all. It’s a blunt beer, one-dimen­sion­al real­ly, but that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly bad news – you might also call it focused, or straight­for­ward, or even min­i­mal­is­tic.

The only real prob­lem is – and bear in mind that we’re not pints-only dog­ma­tists – that it real­ly wants to be drunk in greater vol­ume, rather than sipped. Even, per­haps, sloshed out of a five-pint jug, in a farm­yard or field.

On fur­ther reflec­tion, we decid­ed that if we’d been giv­en it blind and asked to cat­e­gorise it by style we reck­on we’d have filed it under pale’n’hoppy Eng­lish ale rather than sai­son, which is odd when you think of its res­olute­ly Euro­pean DNA.

The final ver­dict? We liked it and would drink it again, espe­cial­ly on a thirsty sum­mer day.