Session #137: “Banana Beer”

This is our con­tri­bu­tion to Ses­sion #137 host­ed by Roger at Roger’s Beers.

Our introduction to German wheat beer happened long before we were interested in beer and before we’d ever thought of going to Bavaria.

It was at the Fitzroy, a Samuel Smith pub in cen­tral Lon­don, in about 2001, where the house draught wheat beer was a ver­sion of Ayinger brewed under licence in Tad­cast­er, North York­shire.

We had encoun­tered Hoe­gaar­den by this point – it was ubiq­ui­tous in Lon­don at around the turn of the cen­tu­ry – but had­n’t con­sid­ered order­ing any oth­er wheat beer until a friend urged us to try Ayinger. “I call it banana beer,” they said, “because it tastes like puréed banana.”

At first we did­n’t quite get it. To us, it tast­ed like beer. Weird, soupy, sweet beer. So we had a few until we under­stood what he meant. And yes, there it was – the stink of black­ened bananas left too long in the bowl. “It gives you ter­ri­ble hang­overs, though,” he added, a lit­tle too late to save us. We could­n’t think of it for a year or two after that ses­sion with­out feel­ing a lit­tle over­ripe our­selves.

Pin­ning down any­thing relat­ing to the his­to­ry of Samuel Smith beers is trick­i­er than it ought to be but, in the absence of firm evi­dence, we reck­on it’s a safe guess that they start­ed brew­ing Weizen in the 1990s, dur­ing or after the brief craze for wheat beer among the British beer cognoscen­ti (Hook, Dor­ber et al) dur­ing 1994–95. (As always, sol­id intel prov­ing oth­er­wise is very wel­come.)

Sam Smith’s take might not have had the cool of a gen­uine import – the hip kids raved about Schnei­der – but it had the advan­tage of being both acces­si­ble and acces­si­bly priced, and we can’t help but won­der how many oth­er British beer geeks were first intro­duced to Ger­man wheat beer this way.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 28 April 2018: Training, Tadcaster, Telemark

Here’s everything on the subject of beer that piqued our interest in the past week from apprentices to diversity ambassadors, via one or two pubs.

If you like mess­ing around with your beer at the point of con­sump­tion – blend­ing it, adding strange ingre­di­ents – then you might want to try “roar­ing” your beer, Nor­we­gian-styleLars Mar­ius Garshol explains:

The first time I heard about it was in Tele­mark (south­ern Nor­way), where Halvor Nordal said that one of his neigh­bours used to some­times heat the beer very briefly in a saucepan before serv­ing it. His neigh­bour thought it made the beer taste fresh­er… Then, the year after, I vis­it­ed Ras­mus Kjøs Otterdal in Hornin­dal, 300km to the north­west, and he… explained what peo­ple did was to take an emp­ty saucepan and heat it quite well on the stove. Then you took it off the stove and poured the beer straight into the saucepan. The beer would give off a fierce fizzing sound and a thick head would instant­ly form on it. It tastes great if you drink it right away, but does­n’t last long, he said.


For Imbibe Will Hawkes has writ­ten about a new appren­tice­ship scheme for brew­ers ini­ti­at­ed by the peo­ple behind the Brew­house & Kitchen chain but with 25 oth­er brew­eries rang­ing from very big (Heineken) to tiny (Igni­tion) also signed up:

[Simon] Bunn and his team [at B&K] did con­sid­er run­ning the scheme inter­nal­ly, but decid­ed that it was an inno­va­tion that the whole brew­ing indus­try need­ed. There are lots of brew­eries in the UK, but not enough prop­er­ly-trained British brew­ers.… He acknowl­edges, too, that for­mer appren­tices will often seek to move on once they’ve demon­strat­ed their skills.… “They tend to go into jobs at big­ger brew­eries, or as head brew­er at a small start-up,” he says. “We don’t have too much turnover; I think we lose four brew­ers a year.”

Detail from a 1929 German beer advertisement.

For Vine­pair Evan Rail explains why you should be inter­est­ed in Andreas Kren­mair’s new book His­toric Ger­man and Aus­tri­an Beers for the Home­brew­er – that is, because it’s already hav­ing an impact in the real world, among brew­ers eager to find new ter­ri­to­ry to explore:

Though his book has only been out for a cou­ple of weeks, its recipes have already start­ed attract­ing atten­tion from both pro­fes­sion­al and ama­teur brew­ers. Home­brew­ers have reached out to Kren­n­mair with feed­back after brew­ing his 1818-era Bam­berg­er Lager­bier. Lon­don micro­brew­ery The Owl & The Pussy­cat is cur­rent­ly serv­ing its own Merse­burg­er from Krennmair’s recipe, which he cal­cu­lates at a tongue-numb­ing 125 IBUs.

(Dis­clo­sure: Mr Kren­mair is one of our Patre­on sup­port­ers.)

Humphrey Smith

Sam Smith news: the UK Pen­sions Reg­u­la­tor is pros­e­cut­ing the Samuel Smith Old Brew­ery of Tad­cast­er and its chair­man, Humphrey Smith, for “fail­ing to pro­vide infor­ma­tion and doc­u­ments required for an ongo­ing… inves­ti­ga­tion”. Refus­ing to respond to cor­re­spon­dence from jour­nal­ists is one thing but ignor­ing agen­cies of HM Gov­ern­ment is quite anoth­er. We watch with inter­est.

Dr Jackson-Beckham

Progress: the Amer­i­can Brew­ers’ Asso­ci­a­tion (BA) has appoint­ed an aca­d­e­m­ic, Dr J. Nikol Jack­son-Beck­ham, as its first Diver­si­ty Ambas­sador. Dr Jack­son-Beck­ham “will trav­el around the coun­try to state guild and oth­er craft brew­ing com­mu­ni­ty events to speak on best prac­tices for diver­si­fy­ing both cus­tomer bases and staff and to lis­ten to cur­rent chal­lenges in this area.” There’s com­men­tary from Cat Wolin­s­ki and more quotes from Dr Jack­son-Beck­ham in this arti­cle at Vine­pair.

Portman Group logo.

Fur­ther progress, pos­si­bly, depend­ing on your point of view: the Port­man Group, which reg­u­lates pack­ag­ing and adver­tis­ing on behalf of the UK alco­hol indus­try, has launched a con­sul­ta­tion on its code of prac­tice and is keen to hear your views, includ­ing plans to intro­duce “a new rule with sup­port­ing guid­ance address­ing seri­ous and wide­spread offence, such as sex­ism in mar­ket­ing”.

Handpumps at a Bristol pub.

While we strong­ly dis­agree with his asser­tion that “peo­ple have nev­er heard of… Boak & Bai­ley” – we are, in fact, extreme­ly famous, prac­ti­cal­ly house­hold names  – this piece by Mark John­son reflect­ing on the chasm between the so-called beer bub­ble and the wider world of beer drinkers in the con­text of the CAMRA Revi­tal­i­sa­tion vote is a good read. He writes:

Peo­ple like cask beer.

Peo­ple pre­fer cask beer.

There are a large num­ber of peo­ple that are still drawn to pubs that serve a good pint of ale. For them, the fonts (or wick­ets, oh yeah) are where the eyes are pulled. The choic­es are sin­gled out based on colour, strength, famil­iar­i­ty. They know what they like and they know what is good. They don’t always agree upon bit­ter­ness, hazi­ness, adjunct flavour­ings or even sil­ly names but they could pick out off flavours bet­ter than most with­out know­ing their names.

Page spread from the booklet.

Those who enjoy wan­der­ing the streets of Lon­don will want to check out a new pub­li­ca­tion called Beer Bar­rels and Brew­hous­es: explor­ing the brew­ing her­itage of the East End. It’s been put togeth­er by not-for-prof­it organ­i­sa­tion Walk East work­ing with locals, using a Her­itage Lot­tery Fund grant. It is avail­able online as a flip­py-flap­py inter­ac­tive book­let and, we think, in hard copy at Tow­er Ham­lets Archives.

(Via Tim Holt @BeerHasAHistory.)

And final­ly, a chance to buy an heir­loom your fam­i­ly will trea­sure for decades to come…

MINI TASTE-OFF: British Takes on German Wheat Beer

Why aren’t more British breweries tackling German-style wheat beers?’ Adrian Tierney-Jones has asked more than once. Intrigued by that question, we rounded up a few and gave it some thought.

Now, clear­ly, this isn’t one of our full-on, semi-com­pre­hen­sive taste-offs – we did­n’t have the time, incli­na­tion or, frankly, bud­get to get hold of a bot­tle of every Weizen cur­rent­ly being made by a UK brew­ery. One notable omis­sion, for exam­ple, is Top Out Schmankerl, rec­om­mend­ed to us by Dave S, which we could­n’t eas­i­ly get hold of.

But we reck­on, for starters, six is enough to get a bit of a han­dle on what’s going on, and per­haps to make a rec­om­men­da­tion. We say ‘per­haps’ because the under­ly­ing ques­tion is this: why would any­one ever buy a British Weizen when the real thing can be picked up almost any­where for two or three quid a bot­tle? The most excit­ing Ger­man wheat beer we’ve tast­ed recent­ly was a bot­tle of Tuch­er in our local branch of Wether­spoon – per­fect­ly engi­neered, bright and lemo­ny, and £2.49 to drink in. How does any­one com­pete with that?

We drank the fol­low­ing in no par­tic­u­lar order over a cou­ple of nights, using prop­er Ger­man wheat beer vas­es of the appro­pri­ate size. What we were look­ing for was cloudi­ness, banana and/or bub­blegum and/or cloves, a huge fluffy head and, final­ly, a cer­tain chewi­ness of tex­ture. That and basic like­abil­i­ty, of course.

Con­tin­ue read­ingMINI TASTE-OFF: British Takes on Ger­man Wheat Beer”

Comfort Beers: Fuller’s, Young’s, Sam Smith’s

We were in London last week to pick up an award, see friends, work in the library, and look at pub architecture. That didn’t leave much time to drink beer.

When we passed the Red Lion on Duke of York Street at 6 pm it had burst its seams, spilling suit­ed drinkers all over the pave­ment and road. We returned at 9 by which time it was qui­eter and we slipped into the cov­et­ed back room. It’s an amaz­ing pub, the Red Lion – real­ly beau­ti­ful, full of cut glass and mir­rors and warm light. There’s a rea­son Ian Nairn gives it a whole page of soupy swoon­ing in Nairn’s Lon­don. The woman behind the bar pulled the first pint, paused, and said, ‘I’m not serv­ing you that. It does­n’t look right.’ She turned the clip round and sug­gest­ed some­thing else. Impres­sive. Oliv­er’s Island, pale and brewed with orange peel, con­tin­ues to be decent enough with­out ignit­ing any great pas­sion on our part. ESB, on the oth­er hand, seems to get bet­ter every time we have it – rich­er, more bit­ter, ever juici­er. Same again, please. It gave us hang­overs but it was 100 per cent worth it.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Com­fort Beers: Fuller’s, Young’s, Sam Smith’s”

Sam Smith Hits London, 1978

Samuel Smith Brew­ery pubs are a pos­i­tive fix­ture in Lon­don today but 40 years ago, there weren’t any.

Samuel Smith Brewery pubs are a positive fixture in London today but 40 years ago, there weren’t any.

We’ve often won­dered exact­ly how they came to have such a sub­stan­tial estate in the cap­i­tal and had gath­ered that it was a rel­a­tive­ly recent devel­op­ment. Now, thanks to a recent­ly acquired July 1978 edi­tion of the Cam­paign for Real Ale’s What’s Brew­ing news­pa­per, we have all the details. The sto­ry is enti­tled ‘Sam Smith Rapped for “Own Beer” Pub’:

Samuel Smith, the York­shire brew­ers, have run into angry oppo­si­tion to their plans for alter­ing their first ever Greater Lon­don pub.

The Tudor Close in Peter­sham Road, Rich­mond, is a favourite local ale house serv­ing such brews as Wad­worth, Felin­foel, Arkells and Brak­s­pear.

But now its new own­ers want to make big alter­ations to both the out­side and inte­ri­or… and replace the wide range of beers with Old Brew­ery Bit­ter, their only real ale.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Sam Smith Hits Lon­don, 1978”