News, nuggets and longreads for 27 July 2019: Majorca, Manchester, meniscus

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from London brewers in Dublin to Irish pubs in Majorca.

First, some news – recently released statistics on pub closures seem to suggest that the rate at which they’re disappearing has slowed:

There were 42,450 pubs at the beginning of 2018 but 914 fewer by the end of the year, a rate of 76 net closures a month. But 235 vanished during the first half of this year, or nearly 40 a month, according to government statistics… The commercial real estate consultancy Altus Group, which compiled the data, said government measures designed to staunch the flow of pub closures appeared to be having some effect.


The Brown Cow pub.
SOURCE: Manchester’s Estate Pubs

It’s always exciting to see that there’s been a new post by Stephen Marland at Manchester’s Estate Pubs and this week we got two:

There’s the usual poignancy and the usual mix of photography, near poetry and history, now with added spice from notes by the late Alan Winfield.


Beer foam

At The Pursuit of Abbeyness Martin Steward has been reflecting on the magical properties of beer foam:

There is something in cask-ale culture that has long looked with distaste upon an abundance of bubbles. In this world, quite at odds with that of the bottle-conditioning Belgians, fizz is foreign. The bartender who can pump a pint of Bitter to the meniscus-straining lip of a session glass achieves the approbation of the penny-pinching pub-goer… These old geezers were the ur-Icemen… Do I commit an injustice against them? Is this an aesthetic choice, rather than one of economy? Or perhaps an ideological one—a manifesto statement on the seriousness of cask ale?


Alcudia
SOURCE: Lady Sinks the Booze

Kirsty is back! An account of crawling around Irish and English pubs in Spain might not immediately seem as if it’s going to be essential reading but her writing could make notes on a trip to Tesco entertaining:

Like everyone has a favourite ring on the cooker, everyone has a favourite corner of the bar, and mine is front right for both. I think I had a John Smiths, I can’t remember, but it certainly wouldn’t be anything either craft or Spanish. I was on holiday from more than work, I declared myself on holiday from beer geekery… When we returned to O’Malley’s the following day, our host actually greeted us. “How’s life Richi?” asked Darren with a cheery demeanor. Richi shrugged. “You want the real answer or the bullshit customer answer?” We asked for the real answer. “I hate my life, I hate my job, I wish I was on holiday like you, now what do you want?”


Partizan menu at Guinness
SOURCE: The Beer Nut

We hadn’t heard about the collaboration between English craft brewery Partizan and Guinness until the Beer Nut posted a typically sharp review of the beers:

It was odd seeing some internet opprobrium being meted out to London brewer Partizan when they announced they had created a collaboration series of beers with the Guinness Open Gate Brewery. Craft die-hards taking a pop at the macros and anyone too close to them is not unusual, but I didn’t see anyone having a go at another Londoner, 40FT, when it did something similar. Partizan seems to be held to a different standard… Three collaboration brews were created, two at Open Gate and one at Partizan. The theme of the series was Italian-style aperitifs.

Finally, here’s a useful signpost:

For more reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.

Beer with flavours, but not flavoured

La Soccarada beer.

There’s been plenty of thinking recently about whether adding ‘non-beery’ ingredients to beer is a good idea. (Here’s Jeff Alworth on that subject.) Broadly speaking, we tend to agree that throwing in things like cocoa nibs, doughnuts, maple syrup, wasabi and Tunnock’s Teacakes fails more often than it succeeds. This weekend, however, we were reminded that ‘wacky’ ingredients can work, if they’re used well, and we’re willing to broaden our minds a little.

First, on Friday night, we drank a Spanish beer, La Socarrada, imported by a Welsh delicatessen and restaurant chain, Ultracomida. We have pretty low expectations of Spanish ‘artisanal’ beer (based on past experience), and especially when it’s pitched as being ‘for food’ (maximum pretension, minimum flavour). La Soccarada, in a plain bottle with a glossy card tied around its neck, didn’t look promising, and the talk of rosemary and rosemary honey as key ingredients were immediately off-putting.

Things got worse when, on opening, it almost gushed, disturbing the yeast as it surged into the neck, which left us with a glass of cloudy, rather soupy, dark orange liquid. Our first reactions: “Oh, no! Eugh!” But then we thought about that reaction: were we being like those people who rejected Cascade hops for tasting ‘weird’ back in the seventies? We persevered. We find rosemary rather intense and a little nausea-inducing in great amounts; and, of course, we associate it with savouriness, which made it a challenge. (And being ‘challenged’ is overrated.) But we kept sipping, just like we can’t stop eating Twiglets once we start.

By the end, we’d decided that, actually, it was a pretty decent if rather unusual beer. The flavours certainly weren’t ‘dumbed down’ and were actually rather intriguing. In particular, we were interested to note how strongly the honey came through with that throat-catching, medicinal note that sets it apart from simple syrup. They didn’t sit superficially ‘on top’ of the beer, either, at least not any more than a big dry-hop aroma can be said to do so. It might benefit from more obvious hop bitterness, and a spicier yeast, but, in conclusion, we’d be pleased to drink this instead of Estrella Damm in a Spanish restaurant.

On Saturday, hammering the point home, we tasted Harbour Brewing Chocolate & Vanilla Imperial Stout alongside Rebel Brewing Co’s similarly conceived Mexi-Cocoa, and were impressed at the integration of the ‘flavourings’ into the body of both beers. Both were smooth and clean, with those ‘novelty’ ingredients bedded deep down, overlapping seamlessly with the bitterness of dark malts. Harbour’s milkier, sweeter beer was slightly more to our taste, beating Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and probably also Meantime’s take on the same idea.

We didn’t pay for any of these beers: La Soccarada was sent to us by Ultracomida’s PR firm, and Darren ‘Beer Today’ Norbury supplied samples of the stouts at a ‘sample sharing’ session in the back room of a local pub.

Damm launch posh new beer

The Damm brewery in Spain have just launched a posh new beer, Inèdit, which I believe means something like “new” or unknown (pardon my Catalan if not, I’m sure someone will correct!)

It is designed specifically to go with food, “to be an alternative to wine in the best restaurants”. It’s been designed with the help of Ferran Adria and sommeliers from El Bulli, which is supposed to be the best restaurant in the world.

It’s not clear from the Damm press release whether the beer will actually be served at El Bulli — it would look a bit weird on the 150 page wine list. They make a big deal about how this is supposed to be a high end product. That said, the recommended price is starts at 8 Euros for a 75cl bottle — a bargain compared to what Meantime bottles for in London restaurants! The beer itself is bottle-conditioned, containing a mixture of wheat and barley malts, with coriander, orange peel and liquorice flavours.

It certainly sounds interesting. In our humble opinion, Damm already make the best mass-produced beer in Spain, and their Voll-damm (pictured) is an excellent strong amber / maerzen by anyone’s standards. I’m looking forward to reading the first tasting notes…

Story via Culturilla Cervecera – thanks Andres!

Boak