Ale Like Champagne


Brut IPA is the niche beer style of the moment in the US and has been the focus of several substantial articles with headlines such as:


Apart from mak­ing us thirsty all this got us think­ing about the ten­den­cy to com­pare beer to Cham­pagne and how far back it goes.

With­out too much dig­ging we found this in an edi­tion of the Dublin Evening Post from 1783:

LEINSTER ALE -- sparkles like champagne.
SOURCE: The British News­pa­per Archive.

Bear­ing in mind that Cham­pagne as we know it was still in the process of being invent­ed in the 18th cen­tu­ry, and that its ten­den­cy to sparkle was still con­sid­ered a fault by many, this rates as pret­ty quick off the marks.

The most famous ref­er­ence to beer resem­bling Cham­pagne is one most of us came to via Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jack­son who said that Napoleon’s troops called Berlin­er Weisse “the Cham­pagne of the North”. As he was­n’t much of a foot­not­er we haven’t been able to iden­ti­fy his source but this Ger­man book from 1822 says (our trans­la­tion, tidied up from Google’s auto­mat­ic effort, so approach with cau­tion):

Berlin’s ‘Weiss­bier’ is a very pop­u­lar drink in Berlin, which, when it is of good qual­i­ty, is dis­tin­guished by a yel­low­ish col­or, a wine-like body, a slight­ly acidic taste, and a strong sparkle, so that the French mil­i­tary gave it a name: Cham­pagne du Nord.

Real­ly, though, it’s just an irre­sistible com­par­i­son, isn’t it?

Often the sim­i­lar­i­ty is mere­ly super­fi­cial – most lagers would look like Cham­pagne at first glance if you poured it into flutes – but some­times there is a real sim­i­lar­i­ty of flavour and mouth­feel. Most­ly, though, it’s just irrev­er­ent fun to sug­gest that the Toffs are wast­ing all that mon­ey and effort acquir­ing Cham­pagne when if only they weren’t such snobs they could have some­thing just as good for a frac­tion of the price.

John Ridd on Beer

We’re both reading R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone at the moment – a pleasingly booze-filled novel.

Pub­lished in 1869, it is set in the 17th cen­tu­ry, and the fol­low­ing pas­sage occurs when the hero, the burly Exmoor gen­tle­man farmer John Ridd, is a guest at the house of a ‘for­eign lady’ near Watch­ett in Som­er­set:

John Ridd, uncredited illustration c.1893.
John Ridd, uncred­it­ed illus­tra­tion c.1893.

Now what will ye please to eat?” she asked, with a live­ly glance at the size of my mouth: “that is always the first thing you peo­ple ask, in these bar­barous places.”

I will tell you by-and-by,” I answered, mis­lik­ing this satire upon us; “but I might begin with a quart of ale, to enable me to speak, madam.”

Very well. One que­vart of be-or;” she called out to a lit­tle maid, who was her eldest child, no doubt. “It is to be expect­ed, sir. Be-or, be-or, be-or, all day long, with you Eng­lish­men!”

Con­tin­ue read­ing “John Ridd on Beer”

Stuttgart: Beer is not the Main Event

Sign advertising Dinkelacker CD-Pils in Stuttgart.

In Frankfurt, we’re told, Apfelwein is the thing to drink rather then the rather bland local pilsners. Similarly Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg, is surrounded by vineyards, and seems more proud of its wine than its beer.

Nonethe­less, there are sev­er­al brew­eries in town, and even more brew­ery brands (takeovers), and so plen­ty to keep a beer geek enter­tained, if not nec­es­sar­i­ly hap­py, for a few days.

We know from our own expe­ri­ence that Ger­man city brew­pubs are often dis­ap­point­ing, with sweet, yeasty beers that make us long for a prop­er­ly made lager, how­ev­er bland. Ron Pat­tin­son’s Euro­pean Beer Guide gave us no rea­son to expect dif­fer­ent­ly of Stuttgart, but – the curse of the beer freak – we just had to find out for our­selves.

There’s not much to say about Cal­w­er Eck’s beer oth­er than it was soupy, sweet and rather ama­teur­ish. The stronger, bar­ley-water-like Braumeis­ter (5.5% ABV) had mar­gin­al­ly more char­ac­ter than the ‘naturtrübes’ pils (5%), but that isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a rec­om­men­da­tion. (The food was­n’t much good either, includ­ing schnitzels which we guessed came from a pack­et in the deep freeze, and a ‘beer sauce’ which tast­ed sus­pi­cious­ly like instant gravy.)

We found Sophie’s Brauhaus a lit­tle more enjoy­able, which isn’t say­ing much. From the out­side, it looked like a knock­ing shop (red neon…) but inside, we found a rea­son­ably cosy space full of excitable stu­dents, most­ly drink­ing rather than eat­ing. The pleas­ant pub-like atmos­phere com­pelled us to stay for a sec­ond round, after which what­ev­er charms we had found in the beer (the nov­el­ty of a Schwarz­bier, and one that actu­al­ly tast­ed dark, per­haps?) began to fade.

Sign advertising Stuttgarter Hofbrau.

Despite the ubiq­ui­ty of huge glow­ing signs adver­tis­ing Stuttgarter Hof­bräu, we did­n’t see their pils for sale any­where oth­er than fast food joints and at the foot­ball sta­di­um. If any­one knows the sto­ry behind why this might be the case, we’d love to hear it. (Some­thing to do with being owned by Rade­berg­er, per­haps?)

Schwaben Brau Das Schwarze beer.The fact that we did­n’t stum­ble upon any Schwaben Bräu is per­haps more under­stand­able: the brew­ery merged with anoth­er local giant, Dinkelack­er, some years ago, and, though SB beers are still brewed, they seem to be ‘sec­ond stringers’. The excep­tion is the classy, cof­feeish ‘Das Schwarze’, which was a favourite of Michael Jack­son’s, and is on sale at the Dinkelack­er brew­ery tap (a pla­s­ticky place on Tübinger­strasse) along­side a slight­ly-hazy Keller­pils under the Cluss brand (fan­cy del­i­cate glass, dis­tinct straw­ber­ry-leaf hop­pi­ness) and a sol­id set of ‘San­wald’ wheat beers.

Dinkelack­er’s own brand is reserved for the main­stream big-sell­ers, CD and Pri­vat, both per­fect­ly pleas­ant pil­sners at 4.9% and 5.1% respec­tive­ly, with the empha­sis firm­ly on gold­en-syrup-malti­ness. Not huge­ly excit­ing, but not utter­ly bland either, and cer­tain­ly not nasty.

It felt odd to be in a Ger­man city where beer is treat­ed either as a replace­ment for water, or a sideshow to wine, which has its own muse­um and des­ig­nat­ed walk­ing route, but we know, real­ly, that Ger­many is far too large and com­plex to be summed up sim­ply as a ‘beer coun­try’.

Stimulus from the World of Wine

Close up of The Thinker

We recent­ly asked peo­ple to rec­om­mend books which weren’t about beer but which could help us bet­ter under­stand beer, prompt­ed by reminders from Knut and Alan that books on oth­er top­ics do actu­al­ly exist and can be all the more illu­mi­nat­ing for their dis­tance from The Obses­sion.

Gareth, who writes the Beer Advice blog, and has a back­ground in wine retail­ing, sug­gest­ed Ques­tions of Taste: the Phi­los­o­phy of Wine (Ed. Bar­ry C. Smith, 2007), a col­lec­tion of essays explor­ing what it real­ly means to ‘taste’ wine. Is it pos­si­ble to taste objec­tive­ly? Which qual­i­ties are an essen­tial part of the wine and which are pro­ject­ed by the taster? Are some wines real­ly bet­ter than oth­ers in an objec­tive sense? And so on.

If you’re aller­gic to the mer­est whiff of pre­ten­sion, you won’t enjoy it, but, so far, like John­ny Five in search of input, we’re find­ing it very thought-pro­vok­ing, and are already itch­ing to write posts based on ideas there­in.

Here’s one exam­ple from the essay ‘The Pow­er of Tastes: Rec­on­cil­ing Sci­ence and Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty’ by Ophe­lia Deroy:

Am I objec­tive when I say that this wine tastes like ripe pineap­ple, or do I just indulge in asso­ci­a­tion of mem­o­ries, con­demned to remain pure­ly per­son­al? Do I try to find rare tastes or fine adjec­tives to con­form to a social rit­u­al, in an arbi­trary and per­haps pre­ten­tious way? But, even if social­ly cod­i­fied, do these prac­tices and ways of talk­ing about wine trans­form the expe­ri­ence we have of it?

This set of all kinds of fire­works in our brains. We’ve cer­tain­ly found our­selves think­ing: “We can’t just call this beer hop­py – peo­ple won’t approve,” and so sipped, sniffed, strug­gled, try­ing to unlock a par­tic­u­lar elu­sive aro­ma or flavour; and we recent­ly saw a novice beer review­er (one with a provoca­tive sense of hubris) shot down for the lack of finesse in his tast­ing notes – for not going deep enough.

What if those elu­sive flavours just aren’t there? Or the label we’re putting on them only makes sense to us because we’re recall­ing a par­tic­u­lar man­go, of a par­tic­u­lar vari­ety, at a spe­cif­ic point of ripeness, that we ate at a par­tic­u­lar time in a par­tic­u­lar place?

Oth­er rec­om­men­da­tions – the fur­ther removed from beer the bet­ter – very wel­come! Pic­ture from Flickr Cre­ative Com­mons.